Aldermen reject streetcar proposal

The Board of Aldermen rejected a Federal Transit Administration grant funding research on a streetcar system.
The Board of Aldermen rejected a Federal Transit Administration grant funding research on a streetcar system. Photo by Wikimedia Commons .

New Haven will not build a streetcar system anytime soon if the Board of Aldermen’s Monday night vote is any indication.

In a 16 to 6 vote, the Board of Aldermen decided not to accept a grant from the Federal Transit Administration which would have funded a study of the feasibility of a streetcar system in New Haven. The $800,000 grant would have required an estimated $200,000 contribution from the city to assess the best possible route to maximize ease of use and economic benefits. The Board considered the project too costly in the uncertain economic climate.

According to Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson and Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, the majority of the Board decided that the investment required to design and implement a streetcar system would be a misallocation of the city’s limited funds.

“A lot of aldermen didn’t see [the proposed streetcar] affecting their area,” Goldson said. “It would mainly be in the downtown area — it would not affect them in a positive way.”

But City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph said the construction project would have had the potential to become a major asset to the city’s transit system.

“Streetcars in other cities have been major economic catalysts for development,” Joseph said. “The city is facing an economic downturn and now it has two choices — it can plan and grow and prepare for the future, or it can choose not to.”

Since 2008, New Haven has invested $85,000 in an initial study to investigate options for a streetcar route. The result, a proposed three-mile line that would have connected downtown to the medical district, Science Hill and Union Station, was first introduced to the public during a town hall meeting in September 2010. The plan suggested synchronizing streetcar stops with bus routes to enhance flexibility as well as to leave room for route extensions in the future. Its construction would have generated approximately 17,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs, according to Jim Travers, the city’s director of transportation, traffic and parking.

“Streetcars have proven benefits to the economic system by laying down a fixed line of transport,” Travers said. “As a developer, you are able to promote your company to a larger group of people if your property that you’re developing on has a fixed transit system.”

In addition to the jobs it would create, the streetcar line would be accessible to 56,000 employees and students in the area as well as 32,000 residents living within a half-mile radius of the line, Travers said.

Ron Filson, a Tulane University professor who has served on the New Orleans planning commission, said the reinstallation of the streetcar system there has already brought about tangible economic development by capitalizing on local markets that develop around streetcar stops.

“We’ve found that having streetcars run by stores actually increases the traffic to them, rather than having cars go by,” he said. “People are more likely to see a store they want to visit and just hop off whenever.”

Despite the economic rewards other cities have reaped from streetcars, the Elm City would still have been required to make a substantial financial commitment to the venture. Charlotte, N.C., which is implementing a similar plan, has just invested $12 million to accompany a $25 million FTA grant.

John Mrzygod, Charlotte’s streetcar project manager, stressed the difficulty of weighing the project’s potential benefits against its cost.

“We determined that a streetcar would be a good idea as long as we would be able to receive federal support,” Mrzygod said. “But we’ve put some rail down, and we’ve noticed that many businesses have opened up within a half-mile of that track already.”

Constructing the proposed New Haven streetcar line would cost $30 million, according to a city estimate released in 2010.


  • bnt789

    It didn’t help that the proposed route down Temple, to North Frontage, to College, and then down to Church St South and Union Station was not very compelling (that section of North Frontage and College St, leading onto the Oak St Connector, turns into a parking lot every afternoon). Given the short distances involved and the competing goals of the project, I agree with the aldermen that even considering the idea further, at an expense of $200,000 is simply not worth the cost. For even that relatively small sum, one could stripe a darn good set of bike lanes down Church St South and begin to see results right away. A trip from downtown to Union Station on the streetcar would have taken upward of 20 minutes when you factor in wait time. The same trip takes only about ten minutes on a bicycle and would be even quicker if there were a dedicated bike lane, or better yet a two-way bike path. A combination of investment in bicycle infrastructure and improved bus service and bus stop design will be able to achieve all of the project goals at far lower cost.

  • streever

    I agree with BNT, although I am a strong proponent of light rail. This proposal simply was too limited in scope and sadly only would have served mostly affluent individuals who already have reliable transportation–like myself.

    I would much rather see a street car system that brings Newhallville, Dixwell, and the Hill to the major transit hubs.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I rode on the last streetcar in New Haven 60 years ago. If you think telephone wires are eye-pollution, just lower them about 15 feet and string them like laundry lines across regular traffic lanes , with sparks flying and wheels scraping and clanking on the streetcar tracks below (which collect trash like a magnet) : Its a VISUAL and AUDITORY NIGHTMARE.


  • debralombard


    In regards to your article in the Yale Daily News, I’m from New Orleans, grew up there and have used their streetcar system for many years. It is great to ride the streetcar, somehow much nicer than riding a city bus.

    You can see out of the windows well enough to really appreciate the traveling adding agreement with Tulane Professor Filson’s remarks in your article that you can see a place better than while driving, or riding the bus.

    There’s one difference in that the climate in New Orleans lets the windows of the streetcars stay open most all of the year only shutting them when it pours or when it’s very cold, which is maybe for a month or a little longer. The other difference with riding a streetcar over riding a bus is that the streetcars, at least in NOLA, come every 5-6 minutes, so there’s never a long wait, whereas one can be waiting for the New Haven City Bus for as long as 29 minutes or more.

    As a civil engineer, I would have to say that the other biggest problem in New Haven is the
    current layout of the bus lines. If one wants to get from East Rock let’s say to Putnam and Dixwell to shop, one needs to wait forever to get the bus down to the green downtown New Haven, which is going the OPPOSITE direction from where you want to go, and then wait again for yet another bus to go North up Whitney Ave to Putnam to then have to wait again for yet a 3rd bus to go over West to Dixwell, all the while likely taking at least 1-1/2 hours one way. We need buses to go West on Willow St TO Whitney Ave then turn NORTH and go up to Hamden from there. Also, until that is solved we’ll all be riding around in our cars each one of us looking for a parking spot when the roads are not plowed.

    Debra Lombard, LEED AP
    Sustainability Consultant

  • justinelicker

    The article misrepresents my position on the street car. I voted in favor of the city receiving the grant and am a strong supporter of the street car. It will offer an alternative, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive form of transportation. More importantly, the permanence of a street car line helps add predictability for commuters and drive development. As has been pointed out, many cities across the nation have installed or are currently installing street cars again. They recognize the economic benefits of such a project, as it will bring developers into the city and increase tax revenues.

    It’s important to point out that the route has not been decided. In fact, the grant request that was front of the Board of Aldermen was to determine exactly that – whether another route might be more appropriate. Additionally, the federal government requires completion of this study before it allows the City to receive additional grant funding for the street car. In other words, if we don’t implement this grant, we don’t get any federal funding to install a street car. The city can’t afford to install one on its own.

    The city spends millions of dollars on capital projects each year. While every amount we spend should be thoughtfully considered, a $200,000 match is a drop in the bucket compared to the significant benefits a street car could bring to our city in the long run. There is a chance that the Board could reconsider the item, if those who voted against the grant were to change their mind. I would encourage the public, if they cared about this, to reach out to their alderperson.

    Justin Elicker
    Ward 10 Alderman

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