The divide between New Haven’s wealthiest and poorest residents has continued to widen over the past decade, with a recent Bloomberg report ranking New Haven 39th in the country for the highest income inequality. But the inequality extends beyond income, to domains as far reaching as education, housing and transportation. In the third of a three-part series, Stephanie Addenbrooke and Erica Pandey investigate how transportation has failed the unemployed.
At her first annual State of the City address in February 2014, Mayor Toni Harp identified transportation as more than just a city service issue. Transportation, she said, was a civil rights issue.
Gov. Dannel Malloy echoed the mayor’s push, visiting New Haven in January to outline his transportation plans for the city and state. In the Elm City, specifically, the governor stressed promoting cyclist and pedestrian safety as key in helping improve transportation across the city.
But, as transit services provide more than just a means of getting around the city, deficiencies in this area present barriers to entry for New Haven employment. A report published by DataHaven, a nonprofit data analytics organization, in December 2014 revealed that 84 percent of city residents who registered for CTWorks — a statewide job matching program — identified transportation deficiencies as a key obstacle to entering the New Haven workforce. Sixty percent identified child care, 23 percent identified a lack of education and 11 percent identified a lack of job experience as other factors preventing employment.
“Adequate transportation is an economic and civil rights issue — I will not let buses and those who ride them be left behind,” Harp said last February.
Harp added that she wanted to underscore that, without an improved bus system running across the city, New Haven cannot fulfill its promise of providing jobs and opportunity.
Now, a year and a half later, as Harp prepares to run for re-election Nov. 3, progress has been made on several fronts. But inequitable transportation continues to stymie New Haven residents eager to enter the workforce. According to Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, transportation remains a priority for the state, and ought to remain a focal point for city policymakers alike.
“Transportation is an economic lifeblood for people,” Blumenthal said. “It brings communities together and is an important factor in promoting civil rights.”
MEASURING TRANSIT INEQUITIES
In New Haven and similar small urban communities across the U.S. over the past 60 years, city officials have pushed for economic development in outer ring suburbs, in addition to the inner city and the inner ring — areas that border the downtown area — according to Doug Hausladen ’04, the director of the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. But, he added, policymakers in metropolitan areas, including New Haven, have not prioritized transportation planning in economic development strategies, leading to inequitable public transit routes.
The necessity of public transportation is clear — close to 30 percent of New Haven residents do not have access to personal cars, Hausladen said.
“People are commuting more than 90 minutes by bus to over 70 percent of jobs in New Haven,” he said. “We cannot ask our residents to do that. People are willing to think outside the car, but we have to give them the services to do that.”
Indeed, expanding transportation routes to areas outside of downtown is an imminent challenge for the Elm City. According to DataHaven, only 4 percent of living-wage jobs are held by residents in the city’s “lowest-income neighborhoods.” Those areas are also home to more than half of the city’s population. Many of the residents in these communities are forced to search for jobs outside of the city, because 81 percent of the jobs that pay more than a living wage are held by those who live in the surrounding towns. Without adequate transit to those locations outside the downtown area, a significant percentage of residents are kept out of the workforce.
DataHaven’s statistics show that even though three-quarters of New Haven residents live within walking distance of a bus stop that operates during rush hour, the need to transfer buses and routes makes the journey much more cumbersome. Only 27 percent of the jobs in a 90-minute commute radius are accessible by public transport for a typical resident of Greater New Haven. Residents who use CT Transit services are usually closer to transfer points, meaning that they are able to reach 44 percent of jobs. Nonetheless, more than half of jobs are difficult or impossible for city residents to access without a private car, significantly limiting employment opportunities.
“The transit in New Haven, much like the transit in a lot of America, is not readily accessible for people to go to work,” said Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, who represents the Morris Cove area.
Blumenthal said that bolstering mass transit services around urban communities is especially important because these allow residents to seek jobs outside of their neighborhoods and cities. To that end, federal and state agencies plan to spend upward of $900,000 to encourage development along the Hartford Line commuter route, which connects New Haven with Springfield, Massachusetts.
Furthermore, Blumenthal highlighted the progress of another service, the New Haven-Springfield line, where a second set of tracks was added in August to encourage movement between the Elm City, Springfield and Hartford. The project, expected to cost $365 million, is part of a $100 billion statewide investment in transportation spearheaded by Malloy. The governor’s goals for the next 30 years include addressing the failing infrastructure across the state and providing improved links to other parts of the state for commuters.
For New Haven, in particular, Harp said it is also important to focus on a centralized transit center, so that passengers can more readily transfer from one ride to the next.
“We’re also working to realign certain bus routes to make them more responsive to the needs of transit users,” she said.
Results from the DataHaven survey undergird Harp’s point. Thirty-five percent of respondents in the survey said public transportation was not sufficient for accessing job opportunities because the city’s current bus routes do not go to the places where the most jobs are.
DeCola highlighted that the current bus routes are based on an antique system of trolley lines.
“That doesn’t really work today because the world has changed,” he said. “Back then you could be living in New Haven and working in New Haven. That’s not the case anymore.”
Other projects across the region, Blumenthal said, include an ongoing investment in the Metro-North Railroad, specifically to ensure the safety and reliability of the trains. In response to a crash last February, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have jointly loaned $967 million to Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road to implement Positive Train Control technology. The new technology — to be installed on trains — will automatically slow trains in cases of sudden malfunctions.
But improvements to transportation systems, including rail lines and bus services, are not the only changes that need to be made to ensure equitable transit in the Elm City.
Harp added that it was imperative that New Haven also works to engage in projects focused on improving the quality of streets. The Elm City is presently working on a “safe streets” initiative to enhance city roads and sidewalks. This, Harp said, will make walking a more accessible and secure option for residents who could walk to work. To that end, curb bump-outs, speed bumps, planters and other traffic-calming measures have been placed throughout the city with more to come. The city has also done more to identify and raise awareness about its expanding network of bike lanes — and there are more to come.
For Ward 22 residents, walking is already their primary mode of travel. Jeanette Morrison, the ward’s alder, explained that, for most people in the ward, working downtown or at Yale is only a 10–15 minute walk away.
But, she said there is a greater issue at hand. Hiring locals would begin to reduce the need for people to travel all over the city to find work.
“There’s a lot of jobs in New Haven, but the employers aren’t necessarily hiring New Haven residents,” she said.
“A MILLION-DOLLAR CALL FOR HELP”
The city has identified the problems in its existing transit system, Hausladen said, but the solution remains unclear.
One proposal the City Planning Commission has repeatedly brought forward is incorporating a streetcar system into the city’s landscape. Rejected both in 2011 and 2012 by the Board of Alders, the idea of applying for a $760,000 federal grant returned to the table in 2014. The grant would allow for a research team to analyze the city’s potential for such a system. While the proposal initially suggested streetcars, the board moved to analyze the city’s transportation system as a whole.
The federal grant will be supplemented by $100,000 of state funds and $90,000 of city money — totaling $950,000. This “million-dollar call for help” will take the form of the Federal Transit Administration Alternatives Analysis program, Hausladen said.
Through the Alternatives Analysis program, the FTA will finance a comprehensive evaluation of transit needs in New Haven, highlighting areas of inefficiency in the city’s existing infrastructure and identifying ways to promote multimodal alternatives to traditional transit options.
As a pursuit of intermodality, Hausladen said, city officials should encourage walking and biking as modes of transportation. He said that, currently, only 14 percent of city residents walk to and from work and less that 3 percent of residents bike.
The FTA study, Hausladen added, will fill gaps in city officials’ understanding.
“We have an opportunity in New Haven to really tackle intermodality,” he said. “It’s time to rethink the way we handle transit in our region, but we’re not all-knowing.”