City plans for future development between downtown and principal train station
Streetcars last ran in New Haven, Connecticut’s second-biggest city, in 1948. Tracks were torn up and catenaries torn down as lines were replaced by bus routes and an increasingly car-driving public. But interest in a street-running rail system in the city remained, and this year Mayor John DeStefano (D) has made implementing a line one of his major priorities. But the project – so far without dedicated funding and lacking a commitment from the state government – could be stuck in the planning stage for a decade or more.
After studying the city’s downtown, transit consultants TranSystems concluded that a route connecting Union Station, where Amtrak intercity and Metro-North commuter rail trains arrive, with the downtown and medical center, would be most feasible in the short term. Future connections to the city’s less dense neighborhoods would have to wait. The line as proposed would run in a 3.6-mile loop from Union Station, through downtown along Church Street, around Yale Central Campus, up Chapel Street, west on Dwight Street, and then south through the Yale Medical Campus. The route would be popular for employees and students at Yale as well as downtown employees, most of whom work just blocks from the Green at the center of the city.
There are a few details that need to be worked out, including the exact alignment – how will streetcars fit on the very tight Chapel Street; is one-way operation the only option? But the plan would be relatively cheap to build, according to the consultants, at only about $30 million, and it would fit well with the federal government’s Small Start program. It also would mesh perfectly with several development programs the city is preparing at the moment, mostly along the path of the Route 34 highway, which was only partially completed and which the city now wants to tear down. This highway, which the city’s citizens refer to as a route to nowhere, divides the city in two and makes it difficult to walk between downtown and the medical center. Integrating the new development with a streetcar system would be ideal.
While I have confidence that this project would be relatively succesful, having lived in New Haven for four years and understanding traffic patterns well there, one-way operation would be a problem for people attempting to get to the station from downtown, as they’d be forced to go north before heading back south. That’s one easy way to turn off potential riders. Meanwhile, this line is too Yale-centric, a problem for a city that already has some signficant town-gown disparities. But with two-way operation along the loop, there’s no reason why this project couldn’t act as the trunk line for extensions throughout the city as the arrows I’ve added to the map above attest, southeast along Elm and Grand Streets to Wooster Square and East Haven; east to along Whitney to East Rock; north along Chapel to Dwight and Dixwell; and west to the Hill. Such a wide operation, extending from one tip of the city’s 19 square miles to the other, would be a fantastic way to improve the mobility of New Haven’s citizens.