New Haven Proposes New Streetcar and a Highway Tear-Down

City plans for future development between downtown and principal train station

Proposed New Haven Streetcar

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.

12 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Commenter

    Amtrak intercity and Metro-North commuter rail trains arrive

    Don’t forget Shore Line East

  • The Whalley Avenue corridor is extremely densely-populated, and could easily accommodate a spur line running out to Westville. The current bus ridership numbers along that route are very high.

  • Bring back the trolleys!

    An east/west line would maximize the the proven benefits of rebuilidng streetcar lines. Building a line from Whalley to Elm to Grand would connect densely populated neighborhoods to downtown and to the State Street Station. There are many opportunities for infill development along these corridors as well.

  • Commenter

    Also not sure it’s fair to label that huge swath of territory Yale Medical Campus. Much of it is Yale-New Haven Hospital, which, despite the name, is not part of Yale University.

  • jon

    one way transit loops are getting out of control… havent we learned anything from the detroit people mover? there is nothing clearer than two-way operation on 1 or 2 streets total.

    new haven managed to adopt every bad planning and architecture fad in the 1950s and 1960s. when you consider the size of NH, they probably undertook the largest urban renewal program in the country plus highways to nowhere, bad modern architecture, wide auto-centric streets, low income housing towers in the park, parking lots all over downtown, blank walls on the street, letting the 1950s equivalent of starchitects design the city, inward focused downtown mall, massive multi-block parking garages built over multiple streets. they practically managed to eradicate almost every historic neighborhood and building in the city outside of the yale campus. luckily now it seems they’ve realized their mid-century utopia has turned into a nightmare and are spending millions to correct past decisions.

  • Commenter -
    Thanks for that good point – the medical area is operated by both Yale Med School and Yale-New Haven Hospital, separate operations. Corrected on map.

  • Chris G

    I’d love to see this happen. Connecting usable mass transit to the train lines will improve things everywhere.

    Now only if they’d do this for YNH’s other campuses in Bridgeport and Greenwich….

  • brian

    yale has free shuttles that pretty much run this route already (and are free) — maybe the school could be persuaded to fund this project

    if it does get built, it’d be nice if they timed them to coincide with the arrival of trains/buses (greyhound drops off at union station too)

  • Jason S.

    A one-way streetcar makes little sense to me. Getting from the train station to the medical center in the morning would be a major hassle for commuters if they had to first pass through Downtown. If the streetcar can’t be made to run in both directions — even if means taking advantage of adjacent, oppositely-oriented one-way streets, such as Orange and Church — I don’t see how it would be worth the investment for the city.

    I think a much more urgent issue for the city is making the train station feel more welcoming and less embedded in blight. The area around the station is one of the most blighted and unwelcoming in all of Southwestern Connecticut. Hardly an appropriate gateway to a city that badly needs investment and economic activity, and should exploit its rail connections to these ends. Improved pedestrian and bicycle access to the station from Downtown and the medical campus should be a high priority for the city.

    But Union Avenue needs major cosmetic improvements as well. The city should team up with the state to create a huge tax incentive for redevelopment of the concrete bunker housing that beleaguers the eyes of travelers as they emerge from Union Station. In either direction from the station, Union Avenue is barren and uninviting by day, downright intimidating by night. It’s really an appalling state of affairs for a beautiful rail station that could be one of the economic jewels of the entire state, much like Grand Central in NY and Union Station in D.C.

    CT Transit bus service to Union Station should also be expanded and better integrated with arriving Metro North trains. Is the cab drivers’ union lobbying against this or something?

  • Ocean Railroader

    I wonder how would this new system be comparied to the old system if it and a map of the old system were laid on top of one another. Such as how many of the new lines would be following the path of the old lines?

    I’m glad the streetcars are returining to the cities and towns.

  • DeronTheExploder

    New Haven is easily one of the most walkable cities in the Nation, there is little need for any mass transit. If anything, New Haven could use ONE line connecting Westville/Edgewood, to the Med District, to Union Station. Anything more is just a waste of money that could be spent on a thousand other public projects that New Haven needs far more.

  • NHtransportationfan

    I would love a streetcar coming back into new haven. I would love to be able to ride it from hamden in, at some point.
    New haven is a traffic congested city due to poor planning threw the ages. Having trolleys back would be bennificial in that way!
    I aree with the pre-said about union station, as someone who loves to take a drive by, or take the train, it is a s&*t hole, and it has gotten worse over the year. cleaning that up would be dream come true, and seeing new buildings/businesses go in would help out new haven alot.

    Reguarding new haven streetcar map, I like it. One would have to really look and research how long a one way loop would take, as much as Iam for a two way loop, the distance between stations and terminouses, maybe short of enough time from start to finnish. Also living the new haven area for 25 years, the current route around yale and downtown, is clearly the safest route for users. Outside of this area in new haven it gets very bad, and has been known for killings, drugs gangs, worse than many cites of this size. so going else wear for the route, may be too dangerous to go to.
    I hope new haven dose something like this for the development of the city.

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