The city's new economic development leadership wants a study on bringing a three-mile trolley car line downtown to get back on track.
Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson, at his first Development Commission meeting Tuesday morning, remarked in passing about the trolleys as Susmitha Attota went through a survey of residents' opinions on a wide range of topics, including transportation improvements.
Attota, a City Plan staffer, said the survey found, "many people feel the city needs more passenger service such as light rail, shuttle service, bus. Unfortunately our streetcar didn't go through."
"Don't give up. It's coming back," Nemerson said.
At the meeting, Attota detailed the survey she took to get feedback on a new comprehensive plan of development for New Haven that likely will be finished in a year's time.
An application for a $1 million study of a downtown streetcar failed in October 2011 over concerns that the city couldn't afford matching funds for the project.
At that time, the request was for an $800,000 grant to study a 3-mile, 12-stop "starter" streetcar system that would run up Church Street to Whitney Avenue to the Science Hill area at Yale, back downtown and around the medical district to Union Station.
The city's share would have been $200,000. The system, if implemented, could take five to 10 years to complete.
There is a short window to re-apply for the federal money, with aldermanic action likely needed by late February.
"We are definitely going to be reaching out back to the Board of Aldermen and to all the folks who were involved in the conversation last time and see if we can get people's support to resubmit for the money," Nemerson said.
He said the city got a commitment from the state to provide about half of the local match, so New Haven's portion would be less than $100,000.
Nemerson said as people have seen the city's Hill to Downtown plan and continuing expansion of the Yale-New Haven Hospital campus, "I think it is something we owe it to ourselves to revisit."
The new administrator said advocates for light rail around the world point to the fact "there is no investment that cities can make that increases the property value more than a light rail system."
An older one is the system in Boston, while the more recent ones have been installed in Portland, Ore., and Denver, Colo.
Nemerson said just from the standpoint of return on investment, trolleys are No. 1.
He said beyond that, it would make it easier for residents to efficiently move eight or 10 blocks without having to get back into their cars and would be particularly helpful to visitors. Nemerson said it would give residents who complain about parking in the city more transportation options.
The new economic development administrator cautioned, however, that after the study, it might be apparent that an advanced bus system could be a better way to go.
"There clearly are competing points of view between enhanced bus systems or trolley-like bus systems. ... This is not saying that trolleys are the only way to do it," Nemerson said.
He said the first thing he plans to do is talk to alders about the study for this short-distance option.
Nemerson said people do talk about the hassle of finding parking as they move from a restaurant to an entertainment venue or other places downtown.
"There is an energy level about trolleys in every city that has a trolley. It's fun," Nemerson said, but more importantly they are an economic driver.
Nemerson said the Denver model used light rail to connect to the inner-ring of suburbs.
He said that goes back to the original trolleys in New Haven in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when areas such as West Haven, Amity and Spring Glen in Hamden were known as streetcar suburbs that used trolleys to connect to downtown.
Nemerson said the study for which money is available would concentrate on the shorter-distance model.