Connecticut Says ‘No’ To Transit-Oriented Development

State DOT leaders want a second parking garage near New Haven's train station and transit advocates are fuming

Union Station in New Haven. Photo: Pi.1415926535
Union Station in New Haven. Photo: Pi.1415926535

Connecticut leaders are moving ahead with a $60-million parking garage next to another garage at New Haven’s Union Station instead of housing because the state’s transportation commissioner doesn’t think people want to live within walking distance of a train station.

“Putting a [transit-oriented development] next to an active rail yard has never worked successfully because of the constant noise of the trains moving, the horns blowing — all the things that people don’t want to live next to,” state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti, said at an unrelated press conference in New Haven last week.

“I am saying we need another garage,” Giulietti added. “But we are willing to work with the city to find a solution that will work for both sides.”

The Nutmeg State plans to construct a hulking six-story 1,000-space garage down the street from an existing five-story garage on Union Avenue. The structure would contain retail stores at the street level, according to New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, but transit advocates hoped it would be scrapped entirely because the structure will only attract more gas-spewing vehicles clogging downtown streets. The construction of housing and office space — plus improving bus transit to the station — are better solutions, advocates say.

“That’s why we have sound-proof glass,” New Haven Urban Design League president Anstress Farwell told Streetsblog. “This is an area that is a diesel hot zone. If you do something that will add even more traffic where there’s elderly people and you have a street that’s not functioning properly with poor traffic and no bike lanes you’re just going to be compounding the problem.

In January, the New Haven Urban Design League argued in a 37-page report that the garage project would not only “snarl major city streets” and have little impact reducing highway traffic, it would also employ few workers and contribute no taxes.

“Since the new state garage was proposed, studies by transportation experts have shown that building a garage has the same result as building new highway lanes — both induce more demand, and the congestion and parking supply problems are amplified,” the report said. “The solution to congestion and parking supply problems is to build all manner of alternatives — walkable streets, mixed-use developments near stations, improved public transit, and safe bike lanes.”

Unlike parking spaces, transit-oriented development can generate a hefty economic returns for cities especially if government supports it through rezoning to encourage housing, creating a plan for the area, and promoting the transit. For instance, Cleveland turned a $50-million investment in bus rapid transit into $5.8-billion in new development by putting the bus route in a strategic corridor linking downtown with the Cleveland Clinic, spurring redevelopment there, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found in a 2013 study.

Lamont seems to recognize the value of having development near a train station and high-speed rail service between Boston and New York, explaining it “brings back our cities to life,” and “it makes it easier for young people here, easier for people to give up an auto to get to work” while promoting his bus fare-for-tolls plan.”

The Lamont administration may be given the benefit of the doubt, since Giulietti has a rail background as the former MetroNorth president, but it remains unclear whether the state legislature will want to pump tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into a parking garage with vocal opposition. And with Harp facing re-election in November, her opponents could make the city’s transit problems an issue in the race.

“We’re fighting back. We’re probably going to have a public forum soon,” Farwell said. “I think this will end up being an issue that some of her opponents will bring up and use against her.”

17 thoughts on Connecticut Says ‘No’ To Transit-Oriented Development

  1. “Putting a [transit-oriented development] next to an active rail yard has never worked successfully because of the constant noise of the trains moving, the horns blowing — all the things that people don’t want to live next to.”

    Counterpoint: basically all of NYC

  2. Another counterpoint on the other coast: Several stations along the Caltrain route have added significant housing which was quickly occupied right next to busy stations: San Francisco, Mt. View, Sunnyvale, San Jose.

    If the CT government is still convinced that people won’t want to live next to busy railways then how about considering commercial office buildings? That’s another zoning that benefits from proximity to fast, high volume rail transit.

    It sounds like that the decision makers here are more interested in addressing complaints about parking at this New Haven station than they are with fixing the city. Park+ride might work in the suburbs but in a dense city it just fights for space with everybody else on the surface streets.

  3. Play this scavenger hunt. 10 TOD near heavy rail. Successful? I’ll let you decide.
    Providence, RI 41.830649 -71.4118495
    Freiburg im Breisgau 47.9990077 7.8421043
    Cologne, Germany 50.9446542 6.9570675
    Portland, OR 45.5292711 -122.6769905
    Santa Monica, CA 34.0295231 -118.4623154
    Denver, CO 39.7531617 -105.0001705
    Pittsburg, PA 40.4591308 -79.9228657
    Walnut Creek, CA 37.927442 -122.0556109
    Randstad, Netherlands 52.3312745 4.9615304
    Chatsworth, Austrailia -33.797728 151.181036

  4. Look, there is always going to be traffic-snarl to any hub, whether airport or train station. Here the traffic snarl will be to the train station and will alleviate traffic snarl further down the line by having drivers now become train passengers. For people going to work or going home from work, public transportation is very efficient.

    But for other purposes of travel, what people are forgetting is that once a public transportation passenger arrives proximately to their destination they either have to walk to their final destination or they use either an autonomous vehicle, like a rent-a-bike or a cattle cart called a bus which brings them to their final destination. The autonomous vehicle will bring you to the doorstep while the cattle cart bus will bring you to proximate distance from your ultimate travel destination. The consequence of ugly, loud smelly people with babies crying all carrying bags from shopping jostling for a spot to stand while the cattle-cart bus sways from left to right and pouring rain or heavy snow or icy conditions is not being factored into the equation of public travel because of communist dogma.

    Personally, I don’t want to be inconvenienced during my travel from point a to point b. This idea that there are millions of people just dying to use public transportation is the equivalent of saying there are millions of people dying to use candles for house lighting instead of electric light bulbs. There is no doubt that public transportation is an integral part of civilized modern day transportation but public transportation is not the “whole-picture” total solution to human transportation.

  5. Noise? Pollution? I can hear THREE freeways from our house in a suburb of Portland, OR. I’d love to live close to rail–fuck cars, fuck driving, fuck Hitler’s invention, the freeway!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Frankly it seems like both sides are seeing half the picture and missing the other.

    New Haven is the terminus of commuter service into NYC, and secondarily on the Amtrak Northeast Corridor route, and to a more limited extent the CT DOT Shoreline East and Hartford Line trains. In other words, it is to a large degree a place people DRIVE to in order to get on the train, and take public transit for an inter-city trip, something that should be ENCOURAGED.

    As someone who has walked from there into the center of New Haven, that part of New Haven is not nice and does not have good cycling connections to the interesting parts. At present, someone who chose to live there would likely be commuting into NYC – and feeling cut off from New Haven, which makes living that far out kind of pointless.

    Changing the character of the area around Union Station to feel more human and less highway would be a great thing; but it should probably be lead by commercial development like the proposed shopping in the parking garage, and by building real bike paths into the city center. Once the area starts being more attractive – starts offering a real balance of long range transit and local walking, then that is the time to start talking about building housing there.

    Maybe the garage can be structured in such a way it could eventually have a residential tower built on top; views fro high up would likely be wonderful.

  7. You can also add Denver Union Station as a very successful TOD next to an active rail yard (freight and passenger)

  8. @ohan karagzian
    I like your “who’s going to use candles when electric lights are available” analogy. But just imagine if candles were not available to most people, and that lightbulbs cost 11,000 dollars per year, while candles (which most people can’t buy) cost pennies. That’s a lot of people made poor by lighbulb mafias.

  9. I dont see any of the key issues being resolved really. Is there a parking shortage? Are there better places to add parking or is this ideal? I would think suburban locations are the best fit but maybe not. What is the housing market like in the area. How many daily boardings are we seeing at the station, are those trips filling up heading South? What transit connections are there from the train station to downtown New Haven? Can they be improved or is it unnecessary?

  10. Yeah, as bigwheel says, a lot of these comments are not aware of the particular position of New Haven Union Station. As bigwheel says, New Haven is the end of the Metro-North, and so people from hundreds of miles around drive to that station to get inexpensive trains to New York – often even people from further up the Amtrak line, because of the massive differential between Amtrak fares and M-N fares.

    The station is also in an unpleasant, slightly scary area boxed off by a public housing complex, the Brutalist police headquarters, and a highway overpass, from downtown. It is not nice, and to make it nice you’d have to take down the Oak Street Connector. Good luck with that.

    New Haven DOES have a pleasant little downtown train station perfect for TOD – the State Street station, which is on the better side of the highway, right by the Ninth Square redevelopment area and walking distance from the Green and from Yale. If Connecticut is focusing TOD efforts in New Haven, that’s really what it should be centering around.

  11. Townie doesn’t sound like he/she has been in town in years. The public housing complex was razed and is to be a new development. The Oak St connector is getting dismantled in large part as the multi-phase Downtown Crossing development. We also now have commuter rail between Hartford and New Haven north-south, as well as have had the Shore Line East rail east of NHV: the answer is to further increase service frequency on these rail lines so folks can get on the rails sooner/closer to their origin (eg anywhere between Hartford and New Haven or anywhere between New London and New Haven) and then transfer to a Metro North or Amtrak train at New Haven Union Station INSTEAD OF driving down to NHV Union Station and parking there.

  12. I know someone who drives down from MA and parks at the New Haven Station to get in to NYC. TOD isn’t going to cut it at this station, people aren’t going to go away. Parking is necessary.

  13. Gary, not sure where in Mass your friend is coming from, but he’d be better off parking closer to Hartford (or Springfield for that matter (or New London if coming from SE Mass)), taking the Hartford Line (or SLE) to New Haven, and then connecting trains to MetroNorth. Old habits die hard, but it’d less wear and tear on his car, better on his wallet, and less stressful by dealing with highway traffic.

  14. Since 1993 the City has put multiple plans and studies in front of the state to promote TOD at Union Station. The plans have been backed up with economic and structural feasibility studies and were met with interest from a number of real estate developers. The state has stuck to their mega-garage scheme, which would continue the lifeless streetscape that exists currently. In addition to restoring vital pedestrian friendly connections to the rest of New Haven, and providing commercial and housing space, a TOD would eventually return revenue (beyond parking fees) to a State and City which are perennially strapped for cash. More importantly it would increase value in the surrounding area which includes the now vacant 11 acre site across the street. Where are Yale University & Yale New Haven Hospital on this issue of vital important to their home City?

  15. Thanks to the Hartford line, 100s of millions of $ have gone into TOD in places like Berlin and Meriden. CTDOT doesn’t even know whats going on in their own state.

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