Friday, March 30, 2012

Op-Ed: Federal transit grants are key to New Haven jobs access

Expanded transportation options, particularly within our city's core, are critical to creating a more equitable and integrated city. A streetcar is one way to improve the performance of the local bus system and expand access for residents. The Transport Politic published this graphic of a possible New Haven Streetcar line several years ago, showing a route that connects employment centers and neighborhoods right near Downtown (e.g., the Hill), plus lines expanding into surrounding neighborhoods such as Fair Haven and Dixwell.

Below is a slightly edited version of a Safe Streets Coalition op-ed piece that appeared in the New Haven Register this week. Please call your Alderperson and ask them to support the grant.

For additional background on the project itself, please see this link on the Streetcar Plan.

FORUM: Federal transit grants key to New Haven jobs access

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 By Mark Abraham

The new members of the New Haven Board of Aldermen are aware that creating equal access to economic opportunity has never been more important. Recently, they voted to adopt a three-part policy platform calling for New Haven to ensure jobs, youth opportunities and public safety for all residents.

According to Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink, a national research institute, such a focus on expanding opportunity for all is the superior economic growth model — for our city and for the nation as a whole. Research suggests that building an inclusive prosperity advances the well-being of all citizens over time, whereas erecting barriers to opportunity causes a place to wither on the vine.

The aldermen understand that transportation is one of the foremost barriers for our residents. This is especially true in an urban area like Greater New Haven where only 27 percent of jobs are reachable with a 90-minute public transit commute. This represents a lower than average degree of access when compared to the 99 other cities included in the Brookings Institution’s 2011 Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America report.

Among certain populations, the inequities are even more striking. For example, in the New Haven metropolitan area, 13 percent of black workers rely on public transit to get to work, including 22 percent within New Haven, versus just 2 percent of white non-Hispanic workers.

Over the coming weeks, the Board of Aldermen must consider whether it should accept nearly $1 million in Federal Transit Authority grants to study improved transportation within the central area of New Haven. The grant will be used to conduct an in-depth design analysis of the feasibility of a streetcar system, including alternatives such as improved bus service.

Unfortunately, some have questioned the acceptance of this grant on the grounds that it will not benefit residents.

Even though transportation improvements might initially take place downtown, residents throughout New Haven will benefit from properly planned transit systems that integrate buses and trains with streetcars, even well before they can be expanded into each neighborhood.

This is especially true for residents like myself who make transfers across existing bus lines, which this FTA grant can make more efficient, as well as for those who walk to the city center from adjacent neighborhoods.

Our aldermen do not need local experts to tell them that this grant is important. They should look to the leadership of President Barack Obama. Under Obama’s new initiatives, the administration has made this funding available because it knows that equitable city planning is the only way to sustain our nation’s human development, public health, and national security goals as gasoline prices rise.

Related to this grant, New Haven also recently received Federal Sustainable Communities Initiative funding to allow the local community to prioritize its vision for interconnected mixed-income housing, job centers, and transit improvements.

Streetcars are a tried-and-true way to make existing regional bus systems more efficient and accessible, a step which can improve employment and affordable housing opportunities for lower-income and disabled residents. Over the past year, the aldermen and citizens have raised many excellent questions about our transportation system.

The board should ensure that citizens can provide additional input into the planning process, including on land use decisions and health effects.

New Haven should not become one of the few cities to turn down this grant, and in doing so, close the door on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to promote a more equitable and inclusive city.

Mark Abraham received the Environmental Justice Network’s 2008 award for coordinating the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition. Readers may write him at 129 Church St., Suite 605, New Haven 06510. His email address is newhavensafestreets at /