Diana Li, Jordan Ascher, Jenny Dai
Like arteries of a body, the transportation networks of a city bring it to life and connect important parts into a cohesive whole. The story of New Haven’s rail, road, waterborne and air transportation opens our eyes to the city’s rich history and helps inform our understanding of the city’s infrastructure priorities today. The following section examines individual infrastructure landmarks and networks in New Haven from the Farmington Canal to Tweed Airport with a focus on the organizational structures that have brought them about. And we speculate on the social, political, and cultural implications of changing infrastructural regimes.
- 1 Rails
- 2 Roads
- 3 Water and Air
- 4 Bibliography
Between the 1890s and the 1940s, streetcars ruled in New Haven and Connecticut. In 1899, the Springfield Republican described how an eager rider could travel almost the whole distance between New York and Boston on electric streetcar routes—194 miles of the 246 mile route—in only 30 hours!
The major player in the growth of the New Haven streetcar system was the Connecticut Company, which was a subsidiary of a larger organization: the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company. During the late nineteenth century, that rail company ran several short-haul routes in Connecticut, but as technology advanced, the smoke-free, agile streetcar emerged as a preferred alternative.
New Haven streetcar system map, as of 1928. Dotted lines indicate a trolley route. The network was extensive, plying many of New Haven’s main avenues. Yale VRC.
In 1901, the Consolidated Railway Company began purchasing existing trolley trackage that had previously been used by horse-drawn streetcars, and by 1907, it had merged with the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Company. In 1910, the railroad company transferred ownership of the trolley lines to their subsidiary, the Connecticut Company (which had incorporated as the Thomaston Tramway Company in 1905).
For decades, the Connecticut Company operated what amounted to a legal monopoly on streetcar service in New Haven—in 1907, it owned 90% of all streetcar trackage in Connecticut. The Company was most successful in the 1910s; in 1911, it operated over 2,200 cars and boasted streetcar networks in several major cities, as well as intercity trolley service. As early as the 1920s, however, the street railway was in decline, as buses and autos asserted themselves as viable alternatives. Profit margins grew narrower and in 1948 the last Connecticut streetcars ran in New Haven.
At its height, the Connecticut Company ran several extensive intra-city street railways; New Haven’s was the largest. In 1912, the Company operated over 500 cars in the city, which plied routes along many of the major thoroughfares in the city. A map of the network as it was in 1928 shows lines running from Westville to East Shore. Dixwell Ave., Edgewood Ave., Grand Ave., Whalley Ave., Whitney Ave,. Chapel St., and Church St. all hosted active streetcar routes.
Fairhaven and Westville Co. Streetcar, 1890s. The earliest streetcars ran on tracks, but were pulled by horses. Electrification did not become the norm until the early years of the twentieth century. Yale VRC.
A survey of contemporary images shows how the streetcar system changed over time. In the 1890s, the local Westville and Fair Haven Railway Company operated horse-drawn streetcars. By the 1910s, the tracks had been electrified with overhead lines, and a new breed of electric streetcar was introduced, complete with iconic Victorian detailing. By the 1930s, these had given way to a simpler model that continued to embrace the angular lines and design of the early models. The 1940s-era cars were designed in a sleek, moderne-style which brings to mind the midcentury buses which would replace them.
Try taking the trolley up Science Hill! Trolley on Prospect, looking north, 1908. Note the overhead catenary wires providing electricity to the streetcar, by way of a pantograph. The building behind the streetcar is the current site of the Becton Center. Yale VRC.
Streetcar on Chapel St., 1910s. Note the conductor manually switching the tracks using a pry-bar. This image shows well how streetcars were integrated into the fabric of the street. Note the early automobiles parked, and the dense network of catenary wires. Yale VRC.
The images also reveal much about the texture of the streetcar—how it blended with street life. Streetcars then behaved as buses do now. They were street-running cars, meaning they traveled with traffic, not on separated rights-of-way. The dymanics of streetcar operation are worth noting. Passengers would pass over the tracks with ease; streetcars would need to stop periodically so that the conductors could manually switch the tracks. The streetcars, moreover, were completely integrated into the fabric of life in New Haven. Yalies rode the shuttle to the Yale Bowl, practically falling off the side of an over-packed streetcar. Passengers rushed into and out of the trolleys that stopped by the Green. The streetcar shared the road with horse-drawn carriages, and then early automobiles. While the streetcar has now long been gone and a plan to revive service to downtown failed, this has sparked a discussion about the potential for other modes of travel, such as light rail.
At present, passenger and freight heavy rail runs through New Haven on a dense, mainline track. In New Haven, the trackage enters New Haven from West Haven, runs parallel to I-95 and Long Wharf, passes Union Station, continues north along a dedicated right-of-way parallel to State Street, passes State Street Station, then crosses beneath I-91, runs through Fair Haven, and splits. The southern line exits New Haven to the east, and hugs the south coast of Connecticut, running north toward Boston. The northern line exits New Haven to the north, running through central Connecticut—Meriden and Hartford—north into Massachusetts, and continuing through Vermont to the Canadian Border.
Both routes are part of the Northeast Corridor—a network of tracks and services that extends roughly from Boston in the north to Washington D.C., and Northern Virginia in the south. Amtrak trains run the length of the route, but local commuter networks use it too—in Connecticut, Metro-North and Shore Line East trains share trackage with Amtrak. The Northeast Corridor is the most heavily-used passenger railroad in the nation.
Philip C. Blakeslee, an engineer, fireman, and administrator on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company tells the history of this essential trackage. The first section of line was built by the Hartford and New Haven Railway in 1838, between New Haven and North Haven. It soon was extended north to Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1848, the New York and New Haven railroad opened between New Haven and Williams Bridge, New York. The figure below shows the route survey conducted by the railroad company in 1845. This essential road now is the route of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor and the Metro-North New Haven Line. According to Mr. Blakeslee, that southern trackage was originally single-tracked, with a second track added between 1850 and 1853. The distinctive mainline that exists today was not expanded to four tracks until the early years of the 1900s.
New York and New Haven Rail Road Survey Map, 1845. Drawn four years before the New York-New Haven trackage was laid, this map shows the mid-19th century Connecticut coastline, with a route for the railroad drawn over it. Close observation shows how the train enters the urban network of New Haven. Note also that Central Park in Manhattan had not yet been constructed. Wikimedia Commons.
By the 1880s, four services ran out of New Haven: the New York and New Haven railroad, which ran west to New York City; the New Haven and Northampton railroad, which ran north through Northampton, MA; the Hartford and New Haven railroad, which ran north through Hartford; and the New Haven and New London railroad, which ran east out of New Haven toward New London. This latter line was opened in 1852 and was double-tracked in the 1890s. By 1859, the entire rail route between Boston and New York was complete, with New Haven a key locus.
In 1872, the New York and New Haven Railroad merged with the Hartford and New Haven Railroad to become the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company. This railroad—known colloquially as the New Haven Railroad—operated with varying degrees of financial success for nearly a century. During the first half of the 20th century, the line was electrified between New Haven and New York—though not until 2000 was the line electrified between Boston and New Haven.
By the late 1960s, regional railroads across the northeast, including the New Haven, were failing. In 1970, Congress passed the Rail Passenger Service Act, which chartered the National Railroad Passenger Corporation—known as Amtrak. Amtrak purchased trackage across the northeast and began operation in 1971. While Amtrak has proposed a new high-speed iteration of the Northeast Corridor, this line would pass through Hartford rather than New Haven. However, Amtrak owns the trackage immediately east of New Haven; trackage west is owned jointly by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority. Various freight railroads use the trackage through New Haven, by agreement with the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
New Haven has two major rail stations. Union Station was designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1917 in the beaux-arts style. It was part of a grand plan for New Haven conceived by Gilbert and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., whereby the principal rail station would be linked to the Green by a leafy boulevard. The boulevard never came to fruition, but the station did, and it is now on the National Register of Historic Places. After World War II, the station began to decay; in 1972, it was shuttered. During this time, passengers reached their trains by way of the underground passage still in use. The station was renovated and reopened in 1985, thanks to the appropriation of funds by Congress for the improvement of the Northeast Corridor. The station is now a hub of interstate rail and bus service. The images below shows the station’s façade as well as a bird’s-eye view of the station. A large rail yard and repair shop is located adjacent to Union Station. State Street Station was opened in 2002 and serves a limited number of Metro-North and Shoreline East trains.
Union Station, New Haven, CT. This is the station’s façade, facing Union Ave. Cassgilbertsociety.org.
State Street Station, bird’s-eye view, New Haven. Note that the station only serves two tracks, and can accommodate street traffic through a turn-around linked with State Street. Connecticut DOT.
Intuition suggests that New Haven relies on rail transit more than most cities its size. Currently, three organizations offer rail service to and from New Haven.
Amtrak, formed in 1971, offers regular service along the Northeast Corridor. Northbound service travels to Boston; southbound, to Washington D.C. or Norfolk, VA by way of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Service is also available to northern Vermont via Hartford and Springfield, MA. Along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak offers regional service, as well as the Acela Express, which makes fewer station stops. New Haven is a key component of Amtrak’s regional hierarchy of cities; all local trains stop at Union Station, as well as Acela Express trains, which stop at New Haven between New London and Stamford. The image below shows a Northeast Regional train set.
Amtrak Northeast Regional train, along quadruple-track mainline. Wikimedia Commons.
Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line—a joint venture between New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT)—offers frequent peak and off-peak service between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. Metro-North has existed in its current form since 1983, when it took over operations from the Consolidated Railway Company (Conrail), which conducted service between New Haven and Grand Central since the bankruptcy of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company in 1969. MTA also offers service from New Haven to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ, on football game days. See Fig. 9 for an image of a Metro-North trainset made up of new M8 railcars.
Shore Line East is a commuter rail service funded by ConnDOT, which offers regular service, seven days a week, between New Haven and New London (with limited service extending west to Bridgeport and Stamford). Service has operated since 1990. Though funded by ConnDOT, Shore Line East is operated by Amtrak, which owns the trackage east of New Haven. The image below shows a Shoreline East train in New Haven railroad livery.
Shore Line East train, bearing the livery of the New Haven railroad company. Wikimedia Commons.
New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Co. map, 1945. The intercity rail network was far more extensive in the middle of the twentieth century than today. This map only shows the New Haven network—other companies like the Boston and Albany railroad company ran routes in southern New England. Wikimedia Commons.
Rail in the 21st Century
We turn now to a summary of projects meant to improve or expand New Haven’s rail infrastructure. Some projects are now being implemented; other are under consideration; and still others have been abandoned entirely. Each demonstrates how city, state, and federal actors are reconsidering and prioritizing rail transportation, an infrastructural system with long-term effects on New Haven’s vitality and its potential for economic growth.
A Streetcar Renaissance?
In January 2011, consultants hired by the City of New Haven released a report on the feasibility of bringing streetcar service back to New Haven. The proposed route would begin at Union Station and run north along Church Street where it would merge with Whitney Ave. Planners projected the trolley to run as far as the Peabody Museum, at which point it would reverse direction and travel south along Temple Street, cross Route 34 and travel through the Yale/New Haven Hospital campus before returning to Union Station.
A map of the route for the New Haven streetcar proposal. The red line indicates the Route; the green dotted lines indicate possible expansions of the network. The streetcar was criticized for only serving downtown, and not New Haven’s outlying neighborhoods. City of New Haven.
The lengthy proposal makes a multifaceted argument for restoring streetcar service. A new streetcar would link the train station and the Yale Medical School with downtown and points north, helping reintegrate two halves of the city divided by the Oak Street Connector. The trolley project would dovetail with proposals to turn the grade-separated Route 34 into an urban boulevard, as well as with nascent proposals to build large-scale residential developments adjacent to Union Station and Church St.
The study developed two major arguments: the streetcar would be a boon for commuters seeking to travel around downtown and between the Green and Union Station; and it would spur economic development around the city. An opinion piece in the New Haven Independent summarized less immediately tangible benefits of the project: It would show the city is committed to a prestigious, permanent transit solution for downtown New Haven. Rails implanted into the street would signify investment to residents and visitors. The article suggests that a streetcar system would carry more figurative heft than a bus system—it would have a stronger psychological pull. A transit planner said, to this point, that streetcars are “placemakers, not just people movers,” suggesting that the permanence of a streetcar would endow downtown New Haven with a stronger sense of “place,” which in turn would make the area more desirable and spur development.
Critics of the project pilloried it for its price tag and its limited service area. The total cost to the city of building the service would be around $30 million, with no guaranteed state or federal funding. New Haven in 2011 was not equipped to bear that cost, alleged Aldermen who voted against the project. Moreover, the route itself was a subject of controversy. The proposal linked Union Station with downtown, but did not contemplate providing service to outlying neighborhoods. Therefore, the streetcar could serve commuters arriving at Union Station, but not workers or students commuting from within the city. The contemporary proposal did not suggest service along major thoroughfares like Grand Avenue, Whalley Avenue, or Dixwell Avenue. Many of New Haven’s neighborhoods would not be served, including the parts of the city whose residents most rely on public transit. Additionally, critics cited the fact that the route would not operate in both directions; rather, it would be a one-way loop arcing around downtown, making journeys longer for riders and adding a level of complexity for riders figuring out where to, say, wait for the streetcar. Critics also suggested that the notion that streetcars spur economic development may fall prey to the fallacy that conflates correlation and causation; perhaps cities that installed streetcars did so as a result of forces which were also spurring growth. It is hard to measure whether the infrastructural investment catalyzed economic development.
In October 2011, the Board of Aldermen effectively voted down the proposal by refusing to appropriate matching funds to complement a largely federally-funded study of the project. In April 2012, the Board again voted against the project, on similar grounds—the Alders did not feel that a $90,000 outlay to study the project was warranted in tough economic times. In each case, Alderman and soon-to-be mayoral candidate Justin Elicker advocated for the project. In January 2014, the city’s new director of economic development, Matthew Nemerson, proposed resurrecting the project. His proposal is largely the same as those that preceded it: He would seek about $100,000 from the city to match about $800,000 in federal grant money in order to carry out a study on the streetcar’s feasibility. The Board will need to vote on whether to apply for the funds by September 2014.
An artist’s rendering of a what a streetcar could look like on Church St. The proposal is for a streetcar lane on the right-hand side of the northbound road. It is unclear from this image whether the lane would be dedicated to streetcar travel—in the background, a line of cars is in the lane. A separated streetcar lane would allow for faster travel. City of New Haven.
Above is depicted an artist’s rendering of what the streetcar could look like. When evaluating the merits of the project, New Haven residents should heed the arguments of both its detractors and advocates. There is great imaginative pull to the idea of a sleek, modern streetcar gliding down Church St., connecting the train station and the Green. There is little doubt that such a project would reinforce New Haven’s image as a city ascendant—a growing economic and cultural hub. It would surely be convenient, too. But, we must then ask: how much more convenient than the bus would it be? Would travel times really be faster? Would the fixed streetcar route really take people where they want to go? Is New Haven equipped to take on such enormous cost? The most heavily-used bus route in New Haven runs along Dixwell Avenue. Should the streetcar alignment be there instead? Every New Haven resident should question whether any proposed project will serve the people who need to be served; they should question which sector of the public will benefit. The proposal at present seems a play for out-of-town commerce and investment, a way of making New Haven convenient to the train station, even though there are many quick ways to make this trip already. The downtown streetcar appears to come at the expense of a route that would make New Haven more navigable or intelligible to its own residents. The project as proposed would ask the entire city to subsidize an expensive project that would only benefit a small portion of residents.
Even so, the idea of a streetcar route—one that could, over time, expand into the neighborhoods of the city—is compelling. How could this be made to work? Perhaps if the main beneficiaries of the project—Yale, Yale/New Haven Hospital, and downtown businesses—took on much of the responsibility for funding the project, some of the downsides could be remedied. Businesses downtown could contribute in the form of extra taxes. Yale and Yale/New Haven, both nonprofit institutions, could be asked to contribute as well. This would be a worthy investment in New Haven’s future, especially if the network were built with the understanding that it would expand—perhaps first down Grand Avenue, then down Dixwell, and so on. A streetcar has many practical and psychic benefits; it could well be an engine of economic growth. However, as currently formulated, the project raises serious questions about equity; the disparity between who funds the project and who benefits from it is troublesome. But if the proposal could be reformulated to reflect a narrowly-tailored funding model, its benefits could start to outweigh its costs. New Haven residents should be cautious about the streetcar, but also mindful of its potential. They should hope that their Aldermen proceed with a similarly careful, but open, disposition and try to find a creative way to implement a project that could benefit the city for decades to come.
Amtrak’s High Speed Rail Plan
An artist’s rendering of a proposed high-speed Amtrak trainset. Note the aerodynamic design of the train. The train would travel at a maximum speed of 160 miles per hour, and would be able to travel between Boston and New York, and between New York and Washington, in ninety minutes. Amtrak.
In 2010 and 2012, Amtrak published reports outlining an aspirational plan for a high-speed rail network in the Northeast Corridor. By 2040, Amtrak hopes to improve the corridor in order to allow travel between Boston and New York and between New York and Washington, D.C. in about ninety minutes. The plan is highly ambitious and would require the creation of a new double-tracked corridor for a new generation of high-speed trainsets (an artist’s rendering of a new high-speed train can be seen in the image above). The report also calls for the construction of new stations, or extensive renovation of existing stations, in Boston, New York, Providence, and Washington D.C. Most notably, the proposal calls for an entirely new right-of-way between Providence, Rhode Island, and New Rochelle, NY, as well as a new approach from Westchester County into New York City. This right of way would be entirely grade-separated—meaning no street-level crossings for cars or pedestrians. The new right-of-way would allow for a straighter track and dramatically faster travel times. The project, if approved by Congress, is expected to cost more than $150 billion in 2011 dollars.
Crucially, this new right-of-way would pass through Hartford and central Connecticut, bypassing New Haven entirely. Amtrak envisions four tiers of service. The first would run express between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. The second would along the new right-of-way, adding stops in Hartford, Danbury, and Waterbury. The third service, called the “Shoreline Express,” would make the same station stops as the current Acela Express service—including a stop in New Haven. The fourth service would operate identical service to the current regional local train—including a stop in New Haven. The figure below shows a map of this service scheme.
Streetcar at Union Station, 1945. Taken near the end of the streetcar’s reign in New Haven, this image indicates how the streetcar network linked with the interstate and intercity transport network in New Haven. Compare the sleek, midcentury streetcar design featured here to the more Victorian streetcar design in Figures 2 and 3. Yale VRC.
The thought that the Northeast Corridor would come to largely bypass New Haven is discouraging. A strictly “game-theory” approach, however, suggests that a rational New Havener would welcome the plan. If the proposal comes to fruition in its entirely, New Haven will enjoy the same service it enjoys today; the new express service will not detrimentally affect the old lines that run through New Haven. New Haven residents should lobby their federal representatives to encourage Amtrak to study running high speed rail through the city; but the density of the urban landscape on Connecticut’s southern coast, and the entrenched nature of the rail mainline would make it difficult to run true high-speed rail—which requires straight track—along the current route.
High-speed rail in this case is not a zero-sum game. Harford’s benefit is not New Haven’s loss. A new, fast rail link between Hartford and New Haven is under construction (see below) that would serve to further integrate the network. However, in response to the plan, cities along the Connecticut coastline and major institutions like Yale University have suggested that Southern Connecticut is a major economic hub that depends on public transportation—they argue in letters to the Federal Railroad Administration that this region should benefit from improvements to the Northeast Corridor. The New Haven Register described the response to the plan as a “polite ruckus.” Anthony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said, “I think that we need to be included. We’re a major city in this state and for it to circumvent New Haven just doesn’t make sense. … If we’re going to progress as a region here, we need to have the infrastructure that everybody else has.”
Critics of the High Speed Rail project allege that New Haven’s rail infrastructure is aging, and that any major rail investment that bypasses New Haven will slow economic growth. Advocates say that the new Northeast Corridor will accelerate economic growth in the major hubs of the northeast: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. They argue that the rail network in New Haven and along the Connecticut coastline could not handle the technical demands of high-speed rail. Both advocates and detractors agree that this is a large-scale regional and national plan, and that New Haven is at bottom an incidental factor in a project with many major moving parts—and including players more powerful and influential than New Haven policymakers.
At this point the future of the project is unclear. Congress would need to appropriate billions of dollars even to begin such an endeavor. A huge number of state, local, and federal agencies will need to work in concert in order to set in motion a project of this scale, which will require new trains and tracks as well as new rights-of-way and new stations. In the current political climate, action so ambitious seems unlikely. High-speed rail—and rapid travel between major economic hubs—is in the national interest. Residents should be cautious, however, about a plan that directs major transport investments away from New Haven. Perhaps the most effective strategy would be to lobby for improvements to the existing rail infrastructure in order to ensure that New Haven will still enjoy above-average rail service no matter what the federal government decides,
High-Speed Commuter Trains to Springfield and Hartford
The State of Connecticut has partnered with Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to advance a project called the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Program, which would introduce high-frequency, fast commuter service through central Connecticut between New Haven and Springfield, Massachusetts. Currently, Amtrak offers a shuttle between New Haven and Springfield, though the trip is made only seven times per day, and the route is in four locations only single-tracked.
The new project would be funded jointly by the federal government and the State of Connecticut and would provide commuter service with 45-minute headways at peak hours and 90-minute headways during off-peak hours. In order to bring the plan to fruition, the line will need to be entirely double-tracked so that trains can pass one another, and stations will be built in Newington, North Haven, West Hartford, and Enfield, Connecticut. The two maps below show this line.
A regional map showing the new rail link between New Haven and Springfield. Dotted purple lines represent planned or proposed rail projects. The Springfield-New Haven line is envisioned as the first in a network of rail connections in New England. Nhhsrail.com
A detailed map of the proposed New Haven/Springfield route, including new stations in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford, and Enfield. Nhhsrail.com
As of September 2013, the project was under construction and had reached half of its funding goal: $366 million raised with $384 remaining. These funds will go toward three purposes: upgrading existing trackage, grade crossings, and bridges; new stations; and new trainsets. The new line is scheduled to be operational by late 2016.
The project purports to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing car use; catalyze transit-oriented-development near stations throughout central Connecticut; and spur economic growth by linking the regional hubs of Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven in approximately 70 minutes. The project is part of a “regional vision” that imagines a network of high-quality passenger rail across New England. The new route will link with Amtrak’s planned high-speed network and future lines might connect with points in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec. Transport advocates in Connecticut and Massachusetts also envision an “inland route” that will link New York and Boston by way of Springfield and Hartford.
As with other projects, the funding for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is not assured, but construction has begun, and the state is optimistic that the line will open on schedule. New Haveners should welcome the new line. For minimal outlay on the part of residents (in the form of taxes that would be paid in any case), a new, convenient line would link New Haven with urban centers throughout southern New England’s post-industrial spine, expanding the city’s reach and its attractiveness for commercial and residential developers. The Springfield line would also benefit communities to the north, with links to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Finally, the Springfield line has the potential to catalyze growth in a similar fashion (though perhaps not to the same extent) as the Metro-North’s New Haven Line.
Improvements to the New Haven Line
In 2010, Metro-North began upgrading the rolling stock on the New Haven Line, replacing the old M2, M4 and M6 railcars with sleek M8s. So far, 318 of the 405 ordered cars have been delivered and more than half of all Metro-North service is provided by the new M8 trainsets. The new cars draw power from a third rail or from catenary wires, and are considered more spacious, light, and attractive than their forbears.
Metro-North Train on the New Haven line. This trainset features new M8 rail cars. Infrastructureusa.org
In 2011, Bruce Becker, developer of the 360 State Street residential complex, expressed interest in bringing more Metro-North service north to the State Street Station, directly across the street. He told the New Haven Independent, “When we have 1,000 people living in this building, you’ll see more trains servicing the station.”
In late 2013, then-mayoral candidate Toni Harp, in a 10-point plan for economic development, proposed the introduction of a one-hour express route between New Haven and New York. Harp’s plan would accomplish the short trip by skipping stops between New York and New Haven. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut endorsed the proposal, but a Metro-North spokesperson said that such an express train was “not possible.” As it stands, Metro-North offers excellent service to New Haven; these improvements would be either minor or cosmetic.
The Future of Rail Transit in New Haven
New Haven enjoys high-quality, frequent rail service relative to other cities its size. What becomes clear in analyzing trends in rail transit is that questions related to New Haven’s infrastructure are deeply bound up in a complex web of local, state, and federal politics and policies. New Haven does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it have complete agency over its own fate—national and regional agencies have plans that could benefit or harm New Haven’s economy.
In order to assess rail projects as they are proposed, the citizenry of New Haven must develop a critical disposition and engage with the substantive questions that surround new investment. Will the proposed project likely lead to economic growth? Will it serve populations who genuinely require transport service? What are unintended consequences of investment? Is the city, state, or federal government prepared to take on the costs of new investment?
New Haveners must not only assess projects placed before them; they must also advocate for new investment. Participatory democracy demands that citizens make their voices heard by policymakers and policy implementers. Public rail transportation is efficient and environmentally responsible—and it’s a tool for social justice and geographic equality. New Haven lucky to have access to such high-quality rail service, but its citizens should demand public transit in the name of economic and social justice.
A schematic map representing the four tiers of Northeast Corridor service proposed under Amtrak’s 2012 high-speed rail plan. Current regional and express service would continue, with the addition of two new services: Express and Super Express, which would travel along a new right-of-way at speeds as high as 160 miles per hour. Amtrak.
The early turnpikes
As Connecticut and New England were being settled, colonial governments developed post roads as the earliest long-distance routes to deliver mail. These routes eventually formed an armature that connected emerging cities and towns. The first postal trips were made in the 1670s and the first service started in present-day New York City and moved through New Haven and Hartford to Boston.
In the wake of the American Revolution, many roads were unusable but were necessary for the society’s growing prosperity and business. The Connecticut state government had spent most of its money on the war and could not finance the repair and building of roads and thus turned to the private sector: from 1792 to 1839, Connecticut gave charters to 100 private corporations which constructed 1,600 miles of toll roads in the state and over 40% of the turnpike mileage in New England.
The tollgate for Derby Turnpike (which became West Chapel St. and Derby Ave.), Yale VRC.
Chartered corporations had the right to construct and maintain certain roads while raising funds through bond issues to finance new roads and tolls to generate revenue. The first regular lines of stages between New Haven, Hartford, and Boston were established in the 1780s. The Hartford Turnpike, chartered in 1798 by James Hillhouse, connected New Haven to Hartford and served as a wide and accessible entrance to New Haven from the North. Both Hillhouse and co-owner Eli Whitney understood the value of the Turnpike in improving real estate values in the vicinity and thus maintained the turnpike. Between 1795 and 1853, 121 turnpike franchises were granted to companies like the New Haven Turnpike Company.
Hartford and New Haven Turnpike Tickets, 1801, Connecticut Historical Society.
Known for inadequate service and high prices, however, these roads ultimately failed to satisfy the public’s needs. Starting in the mid-1800s, the need for government action to coordinate and maintain roads started to become clear. Private corporations were forced to relinquish their franchises to local governments, often as a penalty for failing to maintain the roads. With the arrival of the steamboat and the opening of the Farmington Canal in the early 1800s, New Haven started to become an industrial and distributing center, and this meant that efficient transportation became even more imperative to New Haven’s success. Additionally, the arrival and increasing popularity of bicycles contributed to the clamor for better roads, which were seen by travelers as disorganized and difficult to navigate.
Many of New Haven’s most familiar streets originated as turnpikes. The Middletown Turnpike became State Street; the Hartford Turnpike became Whitney Avenue; the Litchfield Turnpike developed into Whalley Avenue and Broadway; the Derby Turnpike was an extension of Chapel Street and was eventually renamed Derby Avenue. The modern arterial streets of New Haven can thus be traced back to the history of turnpikes that started in the 1700s and 1800s.
The rise of the automobile
In the early twentieth century, New Haven was an innovation hearth for early automotive technology. New Haven resident John Petrie helped create technology to enable car engines to self-start, eliminating the need to carry 70-pound battery packs in the car. Tube bending companies in New Haven also helped create technology to build more compact engines. By 1920, the horse and carriage culture had been largely replaced by automobiles, which became a cultural symbol of success, progress, and democracy. Car ownership became a new goal of the working class as cars were widely adopted by citizens in the early years of the twentieth century: people spent a large portion of their wages maintaining cars, in some cases mortgaging their homes so they could keep their car, and started to take longer vacations and day-long trips with their automobiles.
In a 1923 message, Mayor David Fitzgerald noted the increased traffic in New Haven due to the “thousands of automobiles” and explained that no one anticipated the “curb lines of the streets of our city, for blocks and blocks, would be lined up with the number of motor vehicles one sees, as he travels about today.” Part of the traffic congestion came from the design of highways. For example, Highway 1 between Boston and New York brought traffic through local New Haven streets and contributed to traffic congestion.
Between 1920 and 1940, traffic volume increased 600%, by one estimate, on Connecticut’s roads, something the original builders and planners of roads did not anticipate, and the development in the speeds and types of vehicles constantly posed new challenges for city planners. The necessity of building and maintaining roads also helped with the rise of government and bureaucracy: highway improvements in Connecticut were partially funded by a gasoline tax started in 1923, and these tax proceeds, along with other fees (e.g. motor vehicle licenses) were explicitly funneled to improving highway maintenance.
Highways and Urban Renewal
As New Haven planners and politicians began to think more about how to improve traffic flow and road quality, the forces of decentralization and suburbanization also raised questions of how to bring people back into the city to promote prosperity. In the mid-twentieth century, New Haven embarked on an ambitious urban renewal program that deployed infrastructural projects as a tool in its attempts to reverse the trend of people leaving for the suburbs. While these were not solely New Haven-based projects, Interstates 91 and 95 impacted the layout of the city: I-91 opened in 1966 and enters from Hartford in the North, while I-95 travels across the bottom of New Haven and was opened in 1958. In the 1950s, many urban planners believed that the way to bring people back to the city was to build highways that would facilitate automotive access to the city, with the idea that this would encourage people to shop in the city rather than outside the city in the suburbs.
This type of logic to the building of the Oak Street Connector (a one-mile section of Route 34) in 1959 after the Oak Street area was condemned as a slum. This construction displaced 800 families in the area and severed downtown from the Yale medical district and the Hill neighborhood, which has languished since the construction of the Connector as a result of people being unwilling to cross the hazardous roads and highways to reach the area. Original plans for Route 34 called for its extension from New Haven to the Naugatuck Valley, but that portion of the road was never completed. This development was part of then-Mayor Richard Lee’s goal to completely eliminate blight and slums from the city. This construction has become particularly controversial because of its impact in severing ethnic communities bringing huge streams of traffic into the middle of the city, as the area now sees 72,000 speeding cars a day.
The Oak Street Connector (Route 34) looking west. After the Oak Street area was condemned as a slum, this 1-mile section of Route 34 was built in 1959 and displaced 800 families. Yale VRC.
Rethinking the Oak Street Connector
The impact of the city’s mid-century highway construction program is still evident today as New Haven addresses the question of how to redevelop roads and highways through projects like Downtown Crossing, an attempt to re-examine Route 34 and the Oak Street Connector. The city won a $16 million grant for its work to transform the Oak Street Connector into urban boulevards and free up space for the development of new buildings and businesses. By converting the six-lane stretch of Route 34 back to two boulevards, city planners hope to make the area friendlier to pedestrians, safer, and less of a divider between downtown and other neighborhoods. The boulevards will feature lower speed limits, bike lanes, and bigger sidewalks. Still, some groups, such as Elm City Cycling, have raised questions about the new plans because they felt the plans were not as progressive as they could be with regards to bike and pedestrian friendliness, as the crossings in some areas will still be long distances.
The city website for Downtown Crossing says the plan will reclaim 10 acres of land “currently occupied by expressway stubs and ramps, and make it available for development, including residential, retail, and health care and research facilities.” The goal is to restitch the two sides split by the connector, bringing the Hill and the Medical District back closer to the downtown area. The plan is also looking to bring in new businesses and jobs as it opens up new valuable downtown space. This development plan also includes building 100 College, a new medical lab and office building that will anchor the development and serve as home to Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a company that originally started in New Haven but moved to Cheshire. Former Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said that the development is expected to create 2,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs.
Architect’s rendering of 100 College Street, the building that is planned to be built as part of the Downtown Crossing project to reconnect the Hill and Medical District to downtown by redeveloping the Oak Street Connector. New Haven Independent.
Decades later, most people acknowledge that building the connector, while originally seen as a way to revitalize the area, was a mistake that tore apart and devastated certain neighborhoods. The Oak Street Connector is an example of the city tackling questions about how to share city space with cars and highways and how to amend large-scale developments that took place years ago.
Privatization and Road Pricing
As the city and state governments struggle with gaining new revenue sources and paying for infrastructure improvements with its strained and limited budgets, planners have started to look at policies that take advantage of the private sector. This includes privatizing the very roads themselves: in June 2013, the Board of Aldermen voted to sell portions of High and Wall Streets to Yale for $3 million. While the Board voted in 1990 to lease the streets to New Haven for 20 years, the new decision hands ownership over to Yale indefinitely. Symbolic of the often contentious relationship between Yale and New Haven, the sale of the streets raised questions of whether the city should allow actors like Yale to privatize streets. Then-alderwoman Jackie James argued that the streets are “actually already a part of Yale” as New Haven residents rarely use the portions on High and Wall Streets in question. Opponents of the street sale, such as former mayoral candidate Justin Elicker and current head of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Doug Hausladen argued that the city would be losing public access to its own streets and that the $3 million paled in comparison to the potential parking meter revenue from the streets in question. Though activists protested at City Hall and a poll on the New Haven Independent website shows 60.5% of 830 voters against the sale of the streets, the deal still went through. The sale raises questions of whether the city is making short-sighted decisions to raise revenue that may not benefit them in the long run.
Protestors outside City Hall against the sale of portions of High and Wall Streets to Yale. The sale highlighted perceptions of tensions between the city and Yale, and the streets were sold to Yale indefinitely for $3 million. New Haven Independent
Another potential revenue stream city officials are looking at is road pricing, metering access to highways through tolls and other measures. Built decades ago, portions of the I-95 are deteriorating, as built highways are starting to reach their lifespans and need repairs and maintenance to continue carrying large amounts of traffic: the average daily traffic on the I-95, for example, is about 150,000 vehicles in the New Haven area. However, these efforts all require revenue, raising the question of how the city and state can raise the necessary money to carry out these projects. New Haven state representative Pat Dillon announced last year that she was bringing a bill to the state legislature to reinstate tolls after they were abolished on I-95 in 1985 (other highways in Connecticut soon after got rid of their tolls as well). The move to abolish tolls came in the wake of an accident, where a truck driver crashed into a line of cars waiting to pay tolls. Now, however, the rise of EZ-passes means these lines are not as much of a problem.
Yet Connecticut has also started to look at solutions beyond simply making the whole highway a toll road. The Connecticut Department of Transportation commissioned a study recently to look at the idea of “congestion pricing” – a scheme that would allow the state to charge tolls for access to one or two express lanes that would allow those willing to spend extra to bypass traffic to do so at a fee. This type of congestion pricing is already in effect on other portions of the I-95 (e.g. by Miami). Congestion pricing would simultaneously help the state generate more revenue to use towards infrastructure and highway improvements while encouraging motorists to find alternate ways of transportation to decrease traffic on these heavily-used highways. The Department of Transportation is studying both options of implementing tolls and congestion pricing on I-84 in the Hartford area and I-95 between New York and New Haven, and while no change has been made yet, the state is still in the process of debating and fully understanding how these processes would work.
With the rise of the automobile came the need for space for all the new cars to park. In 1947, there was a proposal to create an underground parking garage beneath the lower New Haven Green. Downtown business leaders believed they were losing customers due to a lack of parking and supported the idea. New Haven could not afford underground parking, however, because much of the land is built on boggy land with a high water table. Nonetheless, this episode accentuated the need to improve parking options. Surface parking alone was insufficient to accommodate the growing number of cars and the city embarked on an ambitious program of garage (structured parking) construction.
The Temple Street Parking Garage, designed by the noted modernist architect Paul Rudolph opened in 1961. The Crown Court Parking Garage opened in 1965. The New Haven Coliseum, a grand parking structure that included helical ramps leading to raised parking levels designed by Kevin Roche, was constructed in 1968 but demolished in 2007. Today, there are over twenty public parking garages (managed by the New Haven Parking Authority). Built to serve the car’s presence in the city, parking garages in New Haven are also viewed as impressive architectural accomplishments.
Temple Street Garage, drawing of the exterior. Cities started building purpose-built municipal garages in the 1950s as cars became ubiquitous and people started associating cars and garages with modernity; the city commissioned Paul Rudolph, a well-known modernist architect, to do the project. Yale VRC.
The New Haven Coliseum, demolished in 2007, had high-level parking accessible by helical ramps. Designed by Kevin Roche, the Coliseum was an icon of the rise of parking garages and hosted a number of events before its demolition. Connecticut History
As part of the city’s attempts to ensure sufficient parking, the city’s zoning code insist that new developments make space for car parking. Every apartment buildding is required to have one corresponding parking space per unit. Developers argued at public meetings last year, however, that this requirement may no longer apply given the increasing number of people in New Haven who do not own cars and instead opt to use cycling and public transportation. The parking requirement can thus stifle new housing construction in New Haven, especially for large apartment buildings, since the requirements for parking are difficult to meet. Mayor John DeStefano’s economic development chief Kelly Murphy acknowledged that if the zoning code were to change and stopped requiring one parking space per apartment, large apartment complexes could be built in the downtown area that could fulfill the need for housing; currently, there simply isn’t enough space for parking to allow those projects to happen, since they wouldn’t meet the zoning requirement.
The zoning code also stipulates formulas for the amount of parking required for new commercial development project. While the requirements vary from development to development, developers argued that the zoning requirements are a heavy burden on those seeking to embark on new projects in New Haven. Patrick Lee, co-founder of Trinity Financial, a real estate development company, testified at a meeting last year: “Market research shows [the amount of parking] needed is X. [Then] we flip open the zoning code and find out the requirement in the zoning code is two times that,” he said. Along with other developers present, Lee argued that this often dissuades developers from pursuing projects in New Haven altogether, and that serious changes in the zoning code would increase the city’s ability to attract development projects that would create jobs and economic development.
Bridges and tunnels
New Haven has a modest collection of bridges and tunnels that link neighborhoods across the area’s network of rivers. In many cases, the bridges are continuations of the street and highway systems.
One of New Haven’s most iconic bridges, the Quinnipiac Bridge, also known as the “Q Bridge,” makes up a portion of the I-95 and crosses the New Haven Harbor. A critical transportation corridor for greater New Haven, the Q Bridge was built in 1958 and was one of the very first bridges in the US designed for high-speed traffic. While the bridge was built for 40,000 cars a day, it now services over 140,000 cars passing through each day, as the bridge is on a main route between New York and Boston. What used to be a 6-lane bridge is being replaced by a 10-lane bridge, as $2 billion has been dedicated to redoing a 7-mile portion of the highway crossing the New Haven Harbor.
Next to the Q Bridge, the Tomlinson Lift Bridge is another bridge that crosses the New Haven Harbor and is the largest lift bridge east of the Mississippi River. Built over the span of 10 years using over 17 million pounds of steel and completed in 2002, the bridge carries four lanes of traffic and is a part of Route 1. Pedestrians and bikers have often had trouble with this bridge because of heavy and fast traffic as well as the absence of a shoulder/sidewalk, and these factors have contributed to Route 1 being known as a particularly dangerous road for pedestrians. Now, however, the bridge is serving as a site for potential innovation with biking and pedestrian friendly routes: in May last year, the city announced that there will be a sidewalk for bikes only over the bridge, in addition to other changes to make roads in the city more bike-friendly.
The Ferry Street Bridge is another key bridge in the city that connects to Fair Haven. When the bridge was closed in 2002 for repairs, the closure accentuated the reliance of Fair Haven residents on the bridge system to connect to the center city. With the Ferry Street Bridge closed, traffic redirected itself to the nearby Grand Avenue Bridge. Built initially as a wood and stone drawbridge in 1791 powered by oxen, the Grand Avenue Bridge provided the nearest possible crossing of the Quinnipiac River for displaced Ferry Street Bridge commuters.
This caused traffic problems and jams especially when the drawbridge allowed boats to pass by, and the Ferry Street Bridge’s long-awaited reopening finally came six years later in 2008. Bridge closures have been a theme over the past few years in New Haven, with the State Street Bridge closed since 2010 and businesses claiming that the traffic jams and detours are hurting their sales.
Ferry Street Bridge in 2008, New Haven Register.
New Haven’s bridges remind us that water is an indelible aspect of the local environment and how any transportation must account for the necessity to cross these rivers. Tunnels are similarly necessary to deal with natural obstacles. The West Rock Tunnel in New Haven is the only highway tunnel that goes underneath a land feature, as building the route over the hill would have required more work than simply tunneling through the land. In 1949, the tunnel opened as part of the scenic Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways.
Downtown planning and transportation
Map of New Haven in 1748, which shows the nine-square plan at the center of the city. Much of the development beyond these nine squares radiate from this central area. Library of Congress
New Haven was originally planned as a nine-square grid by surveyor John Brockett in 1639. New Haven was one of the first planned cities, where the basic form was established in anticipation of other buildings eventually filling the space. The nine-square plan illustrates an approach to developing cities through grid structures and the was first of its kind in colonial North America, a format later used by cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and New Orleans. The center square functioned as a town marketplace (also known as the New Haven Green); the other squares were largely used for residential purposes. However, as the city developed, the roads radiated outward from these nine squares. While this original grid still serves as the downtown area and includes many of New Haven’s biggest and busiest arterial roads, the nine squares were bisected by additional roads starting in the 1800s and have changed over time. An aerial view of a map shows that the development of New Haven entailed branching out from this central grid structure.
Map of roads extending outwards from the 9-square plan at the center of New Haven. This image is part of a series created by French planner Maurice Rotival to establish a development plan for the city. Yale VRC.
As the downtown area became busier with the addition of new streets, city planners increasingly had to deal with questions of how to make traffic flow more smoothly. The rise of automobiles through the 20th century introduced the need for traffic calming, and New Haven city planners decided to convert two-way streets to one-way streets in the downtown area grid because they believed these conversions would make travel quicker and more efficient by “decoupling” two-way streets into separate one-way streets. Planners saw downtown as an area where people came in for work and then left afterwards, leading them to believe that one-way streets would allow people to clear out of the downtown area quickly into residential areas.
Recently, however, the debate about one-way and two-way streets has resurfaced, as the downtown area serves as home to thousands of people and visitors who come by outside of business hours. Two-way streets are generally better at calming traffic and ease of visitor travel, as two-way streets give access to both sides of businesses and allow visitors to easily navigate the city without a confusing network of one-way streets. This is especially true, as the one-way streets are not laid out in any particularly predictable fashion, making it difficult for residents and visitors to easily explore the city.
The city has considered converting some streets back to two-way streets, and at the end of 2013, announced plans to convert 10 one way streets into two-way streets: Dwight, Howe, Park, York, College, Church, Hillhouse, George, Crown and Grove. While many agree that this conversion will be beneficial for the city, there are still years of planning and work to come before all these conversions become a reality.
Depiction of what York Street would look like after converted from a one-way street to a two-way street, provided by Fuss & Oneill, an engineering company working with the city to evaluate the potential for street conversions. Converting from one-way to two-way streets may calm traffic, lower speeds, and make streets safer for pedestrians and bikers. New Haven Independent
A report by the South Central Regional Council of Governments in the late 1980s also explained the importance of two-way streets from the perspective of bus routes in downtown New Haven. Bus service, which was started in the early 20th century, faced declining ridership in the middle of the century as cars began to increase in popularity and traffic and congestion especially in the downtown area increased bus route times and lowered people’s willingness to use public transit. William Dickinson, the chairman of the Regional Council, wrote in a letter to Mayor DiLieto in 1987 that good bus service and major public investment in bus stops would greatly assist and complement efforts at redeveloping downtown and calm automobile demand and use.
Today, CT Transit operates over 22 local routes in the city and connects with other bus services in nearby areas such as Milford, Wallingford, and Meriden. Together with Metro North and Shore Line East, the buses attempt to connect people without car access to the city and surrounding neighborhoods and are key to economic development, and the buses are wheelchair accessible and equipped with bike racks. New transportation chief Doug Hausladen, who took office earlier this year, is hoping to make the bus system more reliable for riders by improving signage and adding a GPS system to buses so people can tell where the buses are and when they are coming, similar to a system Yale currently uses for its shuttles. While there has also been discussion about building a streetcar system to link Union Station to the downtown area, there currently exists a free shuttle making similar stops.
Accessibility and safety of streets
Discussions about issues such as one- and two-way streets and the Oak Street Connector are pieces of a larger debate about how to calm traffic and keep pedestrians and bikers safe on the roads. Organizations such as Elm City Cycling and the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition advocate for safer streets with better traffic calming measures. The New Haven Safe Streets Coalition describes itself as a “broad coalition of individual organizations, elected officials and residents who are all advocating for streets that are livable, walkable, bikeable, economically viable, environmentally sound, and safe.” High-profile traffic deaths in 2008 of 11-year old Gabrielle Lee and Yale medical student Mila Rainof have mobilized these groups and New Haven citizens to spread the message of traffic safety. Then-head of New Haven Department of Transportation Jim Travers worked with grassroots organizations and movements to launch the city’s Street Smarts campaign in 2008. Street Smarts focuses on redesigning streets to include bike lanes, decrease crossing distances, and discourage speeding: all measures that advocates hope will prevent accidents and crashes. The building of bike lanes points to the vision of separating bikes and cars on streets and allowing cyclists to take back street space from cars. Street Smarts continues to organize regular events such as mural-painting on busy intersections and other art projects to encourage cars to slow down and be aware of pedestrians. Slowing down cars seems to be a commonly agreed upon goal: at a mayoral debate for the 2013 election, all five mayoral candidates agreed to enforcing 20 mile-per-hour speed limits citywide in an attempt to calm traffic and decrease the likelihood of accidents.
The city has also recently been making an effort to become more bike-accessible. In June 2008, New Haven received a $10,000 grant from the Bikes Belong Foundation to make Union Station more bike-friendly through the construction of a bike route and parking facility at the station. Now, the city is looking into constructing bike lanes that will connect the station to downtown more easily. Before the grant, the station only had 62 bike parking spaces that were at full capacity, demonstrating a demand for bike parking and access at the train station. Later in 2011, the city released a handbook, “Smart Cycling,” which was the product of collaboration between City Hall and advocacy groups like Elm City Cycling. The handbook includes advice about how to ride safely and cyclists’ rights and responsibilities. According to Travers, over 15.5 percent of people walk or bike to work, making street accessibility issues particularly important.
Over the last few years since the launch of the Street Smarts campaign in 2008, New Haven has increased its marked bike routes tenfold, from 4 to 40 miles in routes. When Elm Street was repaved in 2013, the work included a new bike lane dedicated solely to cyclists. And in late 2013, the city converted one downtown parking spot to a bike rack of 16 parking spots for bicycles. Travers said the change was “not about creating a bike rack, but about creating a sense of place.” While the idea started with suggestions and crowdsourced funding from SeeClickFix, a community activism website, the city adopted SeeClickFix’s work and made the introduction of the bike rack into an event: the first 50 people to park their bike at the rack got a free “I Bike New Haven” mug and a bike taillight. Other initiatives the Department of Transportation rolled include letting restaurants rent out parking spaces and using those spaces to allow customers to dine literally in parking spots.
While New Haven is considering initiatives to make the city more bike-friendly, planners are also looking at the potential to create a bike-sharing program to increase bike usage itself. Yale started its own bike share program in April 2013 and saw over 1,500 rentals in just its first 3 months of making 50 bikes available to Yale-affiliated people. The city acknowledged the success of Yale’s program and convened a working group to discuss the possibility of bringing a bike-share program to New Haven. The city applied for a grant to start a city bike-share in 2012 but did not win the grant, and Yale’s initiatives have sparked the city to re-examine the potential program. If New Haven adopted a bike-share program, it would join a national trend of cities introducing these programs in an attempt to increase access to bicycles and encourage people to walk and bike as opposed to always driving in their cars: New York City’s bike share program, also implemented in the middle of 2013, logged over 30,000 trips per day just eight weeks after its introduction. Philadelphia and Chicago also launched bike share programs in 2013, while cities like Atlanta are in the process of rolling out a program.
These efforts to improve pedestrian and bike safety and accessibility are part of a larger trend of people advocating to take space on the streets back from cars and increase sustainable transportation options. While the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century caused city planners to widen streets, increase lanes of traffic, build highways, and focus on how to make streets accommodate as many cars as possible, a more recent movement has been rising against the preponderance with automobile traffic, as citizens start to raise questions of accessibility and safety. As people ask questions about whether the placement of certain highways decades ago was prudent for the city’s development, they have also started tackling related questions about general street planning and redistributing space on the road.
New Haven is moving into a new era in which people are starting to resist the idea of a car-dominated society. This desire for different and more sustainable methods of transportation can be seen in a number of ways: grassroots organizing and debate about Route 34, advocacy against requiring such strict parking regulations in zoning, the increased focus on how to make buses more viable, and the public efforts to take back street space for bikes and pedestrians. Ultimately, city planners seem to understand the importance of city infrastructure in attracting economic development and new business, and combined with efforts to improve its zoning and tax policies, changing the city’s infrastructure can translate to economic opportunity. The homecoming of Alexion Pharmaceuticals back from Cheshire to 100 College St., the dedication to convert one-way streets back to two-way streets, and the massive Downtown Crossing project are all good examples of the initiatives New Haven can take to encourage development and bring jobs into the city.
Water and Air
Port of New Haven & Long Wharf
Nestled in the Long Island Sound, the harbors and wharfs of New Haven have played key roles in the development of the city since its genesis. Located on opposite ends of the Connecticut Turnpike, the Port of New Haven and Long Wharf share similar histories as powerhouses of the New Haven economy. In the past four centuries, both have evolved in terms of their physical appearances, economic roles and status in the city. The trajectory of these landmarks not only reflects larger changes in New Haven but also provides lessons about meaning of urban infrastructure.
Going back at least as far as 1614, the Port of New Haven had always been an important gateway for trade between the Old and the New World. In fact, it stood as the largest shipping harbor between New York and Boston, with famed traders like Thomas Trowbridge sailing between New Haven and the West Indies for goods like spices, rum and molasses. Just across the water, Long Wharf (sometimes also known as Union Wharf) was also born out of demand in transatlantic trade. Throughout the decades and centuries, different industries dominated the New Haven ports, from fishing in the 1860s, coal between 1870-1890s and later oysters as well as heavy industry.
Because these industries were so important to the city, these waves not only changed the image of the docks but also the culture of the city.
Besides commercial trade, the ports had multidimensional functions whereby it was used as gateways for people traveling by steamboat, area for recreation and later supply depots during times of war. The steamboat era began in 1815, when the first steamship from New York sailed into the New Haven Port and it carried on 105 years for passengers, from 1815 to 1920 and 131 years for freight, from 1815 to 1946. During the height of the steamboat era, the Fall River Line, depicted below, ran from New York to Fall River in Massachusetts and competed with the Joy Line, which traveled from New York to Boston. There had also been national and public uses by U.S. Post Office and as a war depot in the Civil War through WWI. Thus, at the same time that the ports served the city by bringing in economic opportunities, they were also adapted for other uses depending on circumstances.
Fall River Line, one of the two prominent steamboat routes traveling between New York and Fall River, Massachusetts. New Have Historical Society.
The charter for the Port of New Haven was first granted as a private venture. Similarly, Long Wharf was the sum of two land grants, the first to Mr. Samuel Bache and subsequently, an adjacent plot to Mr. Thomas Trowbridge. Even though the original owners incurred most of the cost, the charter was granted with the condition of allowing public use of the docks. Thus, for the private supporters of the port, public benefit was now associated with private profit. This was very much in line with the mentality of the time where the prosperity of harbor commerce was very much considered to be a public interest since the income of a significant portion of the town depended on the trade that happened at the docks. However, over time, low revenue and high costs of operation, maintenance, repair and technological improvements such as dredging the harbor were only possible with the help of public funding. While prominent individuals such as Townshend were instrumental, the institutions that carried the port through were also important. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the New Haven Chamber of Commerce, for example, frequently played an active role in securing more funding by lobbying the federal government. Today, the Port of New Haven is made up of a group of privately owned facilities that continue to contribute to the local economy. Long Wharf, on the other hand, is a patchwork of public and private property owned by the State of Connecticut as well as private entities such as Ikea.
Long Wharf Redevelopment Area. New Haven Historical Society
Given the heterogeneity in land ownership along the water, the Board of Alderman established the Port Authority of New Haven in 2003 in order to push the port to be more economically competitive. As a public agency, the Port Authority manages the port, supervises the land use development in the Port District and acts as an advocate for the Port before potential private interests as a well as the general public.
With the support of public and private institutions alike, both harbors have undergone expansion and technical improvement to keep up with the forces of modernization and the expansion of commerce. At Long Wharf, the age of steamboats not only changed its revenue streams but also contributed to its identity as a landmark. At the time of its initial establishment, Long Wharf supported trade by fulfilling the specific need for a deep-water dock where ships could lie in safety regardless of the tide. Later, the steamboat travel industry allowed other types of businesses such as restaurants and hotels to come up in the area, eventually turning it into a staple leisure area for evening strolls or even swimming at the “first rung.”
Besides the infrastructure of the dock, another interesting comparison is that between the first and the last steamboats on the renowned Fall River Line. In 1847, the steamship called Bay State was 317 feet, carried 250 passengers and 25 carloads of freight, has horsepower of 1,500 and costs $200,000. In contrast, the Commonwealth, which made the last boat on the well-known Fall River Line in 1908 was 455 feet long, had a horse power of 5,400, could carry 2000 passengers (almost 10 times as much) and could carry 75 loads of freight capacity. The technological contrast between the first and the last boat not only highlights the progress in science and engineering but the increased demand for travel and capacity to carry out the networks between New England cities.
Ports in Present Day
Steamship in Long Wharf. The Liberty Belle still docks at Long Wharf today whenever it takes a historical tour. New Haven Historical Society.
Despite its historical importance, Long Wharf demonstrates that infrastructure has life cycles. The first half of the twentieth century saw Long Wharf in decline, partly as result of loss of business and partly because of physical deterioration as the wharf came to be increasingly shallow. Consequently, recreational businesses shifted away to Belle Dock though Long Wharf still hosts the historical Liberty Belle, shown above, whenever it tours around the Long Island Sound. As such, even in the present day, one of the harbor improvement projects that has actually been carried out is the dredging projects have restored the harbor that has become only 27 feet deep to the federal standard of 35 feet deep. The Port Authority also crafted a master development plan in 2007 to maintain industrial employment and build infrastructure that would support further growth of the industrial harbor. Concretely speaking, improvement projects focus on optimizing the use land near the Port Area, improving landside transportation facilities such as the I-95/ Q Bridge Project in order to better serve the port, prioritizing security and exploring market opportunities to diversify economic activity and further develop port.
In the larger context of the city, Long Wharf interacted and evolved alongside other New Haven infrastructure throughout the decades. In fact, the development of other types of transportation systems had important impacts on Long Wharf. Just as the rise of railroads competed with the steamboat industry, the construction of the Connecticut Turnpike cut across Long Wharf and shortened it in 1977. At the same time, other contemporary projects like the Water St. reconstruction project teach us that transportation networks are not isolated in their function or route but need to be interwoven with other systems in order to have maximum efficiency. The fact that the Port of New Haven supplies Bradley International Airport with jet fuel via pipeline further demonstrates the complementary nature of different structures in the city.
- The bark Atlantic, circa 1865, was owned by H. Trowbridge and Sons, the leading West Indies trading house in New Haven. New Haven Colony Historical Society.
- The Isabella, 1907. A gasoline-powered dredge used to Harvest New Haven’s oyster crop. New Haven Colony Historical Society.
- The Smith Brothers’ oyster business, 1907. New Haven Colony Historical Society.
Today, the port occupies presently occupies 366 acres of port district on the East of the New Haven Harbor with most activity focused south of the I-95 highway corridor. As the 51st largest port in the U.S. and 5th largest in the volume of domestic refined petroleum products shipped and the largest deep-water port in Connecticut, 7,807,423 tons of goods such general cargo, copper, zinc, lumber, steel and waste paper moved through New Haven in 2012. Thus, the ports of New Haven work with other infrastructure as if in a common ecosystem but also stand as one node in region and global commerce, as part of the infrastructure system that delivers goods that we find on store shelves.
Lastly, Long Wharf has become much more just an income-generating trading port. The commercial activities at the port diversified while the means in which these activities establish themselves have moved beyond the top down approach of private interests or municipal plans. The Long Wharf Theatre represents the initiative of a group of active community members who reused an old warehouse and adapted it to a cultural center that hosted plays like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The line of food courts that currently stand along the waterfront also demonstrates another type of informal design. Both are equally valid in embedding Long Wharf in the urban fabric of New Haven, a place for trade and for the people’s leisure.
1999 Development Plan of Long Wharf, the numbered lots refer to plots of land owned by different entities, as listed in the table below. This demonstrates the heterogeneity of ownership status on buildings and land in Long Wharf. New Haven Free Public Library.
As greenery and bike lanes trim the Farmington Canal today, its history and development in the centuries past reflect the path of two of the most significant transportation revolutions in the nineteenth century: canal and railroad transportation.
Drawn to the economic opportunities that would be brought by canal transportation as seen with the success of the Erie Canal, New Haven businessmen developed their own Farmington Canal in order to create an economic advantage over Hartford, which benefited from its proximity to the Connecticut River. In 1828, the Farmington Canal, with New Haven as its entrance in the south, connected the port through the state of Connecticut to Northampton, Massachusetts. Fifty-six miles long, the canal quickly grew to be a landmark. Goods were constantly flowing in and out while people looked forward to using it to go to church or town meetings. Nevertheless, the canal still faced obstacles. Even with the support of the Connecticut Assembly’s tax-free stock option where stockholders would not have to pay for the hundred dollars per share price up front, the Farmington Canal Company had difficulty raising sufficient funds. In 1829, the mayor of New Haven had to borrow $100,000 on credit of the city to help maintain the canal for public use. Moreover, because the revenue came only from tolls, the cost of repairs, $150, 000 in the four years from 1836-1839, was greater than the revenue. Soon enough, even as business improved, railroads also rose at the expense of the canal. In 1847, the proposed railroads secured the charter and in1848, the last of the canal boats had docked for the last time.
Greenway trail of Farmington Canal. New Haven Free Public Library.
The locks of the canal are the most interesting elements from an engineering perspective. At its construction, the canal was 20 feet wide at the bottom, 34-35 feet wide at the top and 4 feet deep with a two path of 10 feet wide. Between New Haven and Northampton, sixty locks were constructed so that “a northbound boat had to be lifted a total of 310 feet and lowered 213 feet” even though Northampton is only 97 feet above New Haven. Among the locks, there were also differences in term of the materials from which they were built. The early ones were built from stone while later locks were constructed of masonry, which proved to be very durable.
Besides changes in the structure of the canal itself, the boats that ran along it also updated over the years. At first, the Farmington Canal was only for horse-drawn boats owned by teamsters and carried no more than twenty to twenty-five tons. Later, in 1835, the company voted to allow steamboats as well even though they “churched up a backwash that might damage the canal banks.” Both of these examples demonstrate that while the nineteenth century was an exciting period of transportation innovation, it was also a period of constant adjustment in order to maintain revenue streams through tolls.
The Canal Today
As car and highway culture advanced in the late 1950s and 1960s, rail transportation faded and Farmington Canal was abandoned. Presently, only a short segment in Plainville and Southington remains in use while many parts of the original path have been turned into greenways or trails. In reviewing how the Farmington Canal has changed since its heyday, themes from the transformation of Long Wharf emerge again: the city and infrastructure systems mutually mold each other and being part of the urban ecosystem, infrastructure often reflects significant changes to the city. Today, as the Farmington Canal reorients its identity and re-embeds itself into the everyday lives of New Haven residents as a green, public space, it also raises new questions of how best to play to the public interest and whom the “public” refers to.
In the life cycle of such a piece of infrastructure it is important to think not only about the service that it was provided the city but also how it is shaped by local context. Bringing back the idea of multiple publics, the space has would have to be safe for runners but simultaneously accessible by any resident. For example, it should also be a place where licensed small vendors can do business. In such a diverse space, not only can people bring the space to life but vendors, as constant presences, can also act as what Jane Jacobs would call, “eyes on the street.” As such, infrastructure becomes a platform and has a lot of potential in contributing to the culture of the area.
At the same time, besides thinking about the people who merely use the Greenway, the physical context is also important. In the northern segments of the trail, the greenway must be established in a way that also accounts for the preferences of nearby homeowners. In certain parts, this greenway project has been useful in creating paths for pedestrians away from vehicular traffic and contributing the landscape of the community. Thinking about the Farmington Canal as a component of the larger part of the city is also important from a practical point of view because different elements in a city can complement each other or collaborate to better serve the public. In this case, the strategic plan of 1999 expressed the goal that by encouraging alternative types of transportation such as biking, the Greenway can alleviate the pressure on Dixwell Avenue Corridor, which currently has the highest bus ridership in New Haven. These scenes highlight the transformation where the infrastructure that used to primarily serve New Haven businesses now serve as a public space for many different types of people.
These new projects are not without challenges. The Greenways and Cycling Systems, FCL from the municipal government concluded with three points of direction and priority: fund the off-road sections of the Farmington Canal Greenway, rebuilt the Vision Trail, and create links to the Orange Street bicycle route. These priorities are characteristic of New Haven because its shortage of funds requires a plan that calls upon both private and public sources. The report also showed how the public and private share the Greenway. For example, the Orange Street- Lock Street segment breaks down to the Arts Center Minipark and the railroad right-of-way is owned by the City except for the segment between Temple and Prospect Street while that said exception is owned by Yale. The challenge lies in channeling these spaces to benefit the public while making all of these spaces equally accessible and inclusive.
Tweed-New Haven Airport
Just as development of the Port of New Haven and the Farmington Canal were motivated in part by the desire to establish New Haven’s position in the regional hierarchy of cities in Connecticut and New England, the history of Tweed-New Haven Airport is also a story of regional competition with Bridgeport, local neighbor dynamics with East Haven and the role of governing institutions.
Since the conception of a regional airport in 1922, the growth of Tweed-New Haven has been shaped by economic conditions of the city and its organizational structure. First conceived by Mayor David E. Fitzgerald, the New Haven Municipal Airport began with a purchase of 220-acres of land four and a half miles from City Hall with part of the property in East Haven near Morris Cove.
The municipal airport opened on September 29, 1931 and in the fall of 1934, American Airlines began providing passenger service and first Air Mail out of New Haven.,
The airport began as the New Haven Municipal Airport and was renamed Tweed after its first manager, John Hancock “Jack” Tweed on June 25th, 1961.
Political and financial obstacles present at the establishment of the airport continued to plague Tweed’s development throughout the decades. The city planners of the 1930s selected this location as they prioritized having an airport that is accessible from downtown over leaving open space for future expansions. Because part of the airport property was within East Haven but New Haven had made the airport except from land tax, East Haven constantly thought legal or even judicial measures to block expansion. Inability to expand consequently prevented the airport from scaling up as needed. Tweed has one of the two shortest runways among all airports in the country with scheduled passenger air service. The airport has been told many times that although the New Haven market is attractive, the fleet owned by the carrier in question cannot operate on a 5,600′ runway.” In fact, flights rarely break even and the airport does not even have the capacity to host flights that are filled enough to break even because there are weight restrictions given the physical constraint of the runways. This problem is seen, even today, in the airport’s most recent project to add a wildlife fence after a deer accident last year renews this issue of property lines.
Another weakness that caused Tweed to fall behind other airports in the area is lack of proper governance and financial institutions to support its growth. In the beginning, the Board of Alderman created a Board of Airport Commissioners (the Airport Board) that consisted of six New Haven residents appointed by the Mayor to run the New Airport. Due to the general downturn of the Great Depression and other needs for municipal funds, the City of New Haven had never been able to provide sufficient funding that would have allowed Tweed to expand and kept up with the technological advances in the aviation industry. Thus, Tweed relied on the Federal government’s designation as a “preferred civil defense airport” for the War Department to surfaced the runways and improved infrastructure such as the lighting, drainage and fencing and even built a new hangar to increase capacity.
Still, the 4200 feet runways that WPA projects had helped build quickly became outdated when the airport needed longer runways. Furthermore, Tweed did not have a control tower until 1969 while Bridgeport had constructed one earlier on, which only made the latter seem like a more worthwhile entity to invest in.
Tweed Airport about 1940 as W.P.A crews worked on hard surfaced runway construction. Looking North. New Haven Historical Society.
Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority was created in 1997 and AFCO AvPORTS, a private company that specializes in the operation and management of airports, was hired to manage the airport on behalf of the Airport Authority in 1998. The creation of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority is significant because it represented the city’s decision to abandoned its long-standing insistence on local control and spearheaded an effort to create a regional authority separate from city government to control the airport.”
Nevertheless, the regional mentality is important in this case in order to represent the interest of a broader audience, especially given that the airport crosses municipalities. In fact, regional organizations such as the South Central regional Council of Government (SCRCOG) are more appropriate planners than a New Haven city department because the airport’s economic and environmental impact will not be limited to New Haven but spread out towards Southern Connecticut in general. However, that is not to say that a regional governance organization is the panacea to Tweed’s troubles. In fact, because the city no longer feels exclusively responsible for this public entity nor does the State want to take it up, in some respects, it has found itself in an awkward limbo that has demonstrated little advantage in terms of gaining additional funds. For example, in 2013 Tweed Board of Directors meeting discussed how the State funding had fallen short of the required funding to the extent that this might threaten the safety of operations. The board concluded, “Although the airport is a public transportation facility, neither the City nor the State feels responsible for funding it.” Thus, the lesson here is that an organizational framework is necessary but certainly not sufficient.
Operations at Tweed
Despite frequent institutional challenges and funding shortages, the operations of Tweed have evolved over the decades. Similar to the Port of New Haven, Tweed played a role during WWII and became the 429th air base and headquarters of the east coast defense zone during WWII. In peacetime, Tweed’s business has a history of working with big businesses such as Standard Oil, Proctor & Gamble, and New York Daily News in the 1950s. Today, management seeks to continue that genre of income while adding other lines of business such as helicopter traffic and small-scale cargo. Tweed has also used a geographic targeting approach to focus on gaining business with flights going in and out of nearby regional hubs such as Washington D.C.
Whether its real estate or technology, these cycles of consistently falling short culminated in an airport that is basically always in the red. Nevertheless, the story of Tweed-New Haven airport has not ended even as many airlines have withdrew their business. While organizational reform aims to alleviate root problems, the restrictions that come with location remain an issue. This returns to a theme found in the Farmington Canal section whereby there are many different “publics” to cater to. While businesses may support the expansion of Tweed and see it as necessary to establish New Haven as a modern metropolis, the nearby East Haven residents would disagree profoundly. Dilemmas like these once again underscore the importance of governance structure because it takes a strong entity to mediate these conflicting interests while acting as the airport’s advocate in front of legislative bodies as well as private citizens.
Looking north-west at Tweed-New Haven Airport about 1981, showing extension of runway #2 (lower left). Photo by Virginia Welch. New Haven Historical Society.
This section of the guide has provided a brief urban history in tracing the progress and development of water and air infrastructure to the present day. Moreover, it sought to highlight more profound effects of infrastructure and their meaning to the city. Looking forward, our understanding of organizational structure will serve as a foundation for dealing with increasingly urgent issues such as impact of the climate change on infrastructure, whether it means building with more durable materials, building additional infrastructure to guard against effects of climate change or diversifying modes of transport. Regardless, the substance and analytical frames of this guide provides the tools for a deeper understanding of the potential of infrastructure.
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