Monday, February 25, 2008

Trolleys to return to Middletown?

There's a persistent rumor about town that an innovative, though a thoroughly retro, solution to transportation and parking problems is on the table in Middletown Connecticut.

At a recent meeting of the town's Economic Development Committee, at which the need for a quick parking fix was discussed yet again, a member of the public suggested an old idea. How about a trolley line down the center of Main Street connected to plentiful parking in a lot on the outskirts?

The members of the committee grumbled, and Council member Bob Santangelo trotted out his usual feeble excuse that modern cars were not designed to drive regularly over rail lines embedded in roadways (I guess that's why people can't drive cars in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Salt Lake City - shall I stop now, Bob?). But the idea, apparently has sunk in.

There is word that leading members of the majority party in town have begun to investigate the idea, and to develop a plan, and that actual drawings and plans are being developed in the town planner's office.

Trolleys? Streetcars? Light rail? In Middletown? Is it possible?

(drawing by C. Johnson)

Yes, and here's why?

A deadline looms for the town to submit a plan for parking and transportation development or lose $15 million in federal dollars that is currently on the table. Right now, despite a claim to the contrary by some town leaders, there is no consensus for a parking plan, or a parking study which has carefully feigned but studiously avoided public input.

What are the advantages?

- Another huge parking edifice could be placed outside the confines of the center city
- A jerry-rigged reconfiguration of the current bus station could be avoided, and it too could be placed outside of the core retail district
- The federal government would happily embrace a proposal which included innovative mass transit plans
- The political figures who produced the plan will be showered with public acclaim for being innovative and creative

But how would a return to a trolley line help Middletown?
- As a first in Connecticut, it would make downtown Middletown a destination for shoppers wanting to ride the rails
- As a first in Connecticut it would garner a huge amount of free publicity for the city
- As public transportation it would provide cheap, clean service for those who need it
- It would connect the entire run of Main Street from North to South
- It could decrease traffic congestion
- It would increase retail traffic and have a huge economic impact on Main Street
- It's an environmentally-sound solution to transit
- Middletown's broad Main Street is the perfect layout for center-line light rail
- It could be the beginning of a light rail system which could connect Middletown to Hartford and New Haven, and perhaps Middletown to the shoreline

With all the advantages, it's no wonder that some of the local leaders are beginning to see it as a winning solution to a decades-old problem.


Anonymous said...

Among the many benefits of the streetcar are:
Installation cost is about the same cost as bus routes to create: $7m per mile vs. $10m/mile (bus).
They coexist comfortably with cars (and with people). They go slowly block to block so people can hop on and off.
There's no disruption to traffic while they're installed: takes less than week for each block.
Ridership is 700% higher with streetcar than buses for identical routes.

The only form of transportation that never required subsidies(including automobiles), and was profitable.

But the biggest is the stimulus to development. The track in the road (not the streetcar) connotes permanence and therefore lower risk to developers. Early streetcar lines were owned by people who became developers as their streetcars fed their developments.

Anonymous said...

This is exciting. Not only does Middletown have a chance to do something profound and long-reaching, WE actually CAN DO THIS because money has been allocated for us. Councilman David Bauer said it best: "What we need to do is think about where we want to be as a city in a generation. We need a vision."

The most beneficial and visionary way to use the money is to install a streetcar on Main St. People love streetcars. They are something special that a "rubber-tire" trolley is not. As Ed described, it would link to the existing bus system, and make transit a real option for many including seniors, teens, caretakers with children, students, travelers, those who work downtown.

A streetcar system would draw more people downtown. It would spark real estate investment in retail, offices, and residential space. Empty lots would be redeveloped. Lesser uses would move upstairs or to side streets. It would be a true destination more times of the week. People would come down to Main Street to do something or just to do absolutely nothing at all. It would come alive.

Justin said...

This is a great idea, especially since we've either got to use the federal money, or lose it.