Sunday, August 26, 2007

Listen to the tracks

Though ultimately rejected, one of the unexpectedly interesting ideas, proposed by Landmark Development for downtown Middletown was an idea to bring trolleys back to Main Street. I told an expert in urban development that I thought it was a good idea, and was informed, that, "It won't work. Middletown does not have the population density to make it successful." I took the chastisement with my usual mix of resentment and resignment. I don't know much about streetcars, much less how to make them feasible in a city, but I like them.

Turns out a lot of people do.

I've ridden trolleys, streetcars and cable cars all over the country, from the famous hill climbers in San Francisco, to the short line transports in Salt Lake and Denver, the the beautiful run down St. Charles on the neutral ground in New Orleans. And I've enjoyed them all. They seem practical, a solution to transit woes, and an attraction in and of themselves.

Fact is, there was a time when, as my father told me, you could ride a trolley (actually a series of trolleys) from Portland Maine to New York City. Middletown had a successful trolley line and some of the rails are still buried beneath the streets. Most larger towns and cities featured successful lines, with companies building many amusement parks at the end of lines to beckon weekend riders. And there is some truth to the urban rumor that the car companies (and the road companies) had something to do with getting rid of the trolleys. (see the sequel to Chinatown for a fictional account). Some say they needed the iron in the rails for wartime armaments during World War II. At any rate, highways and cars spelled the end to most streetcar lines.

I once suggested that the solution to Middletown's "parking problem" would be to build a few large, safe, well-lighted, multi-level garages on the outskirts of town, and connect them to downtown with trolley lines. The idea drew a guffaw from one city leader who said, "Those tracks wreak havoc on the suspension of most cars."

Imagine a line that connected Hartford, Middletown and New Haven. A project for the 21st century inspired from an idea from the 19th.

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