More than development. Norwalk redevelopment.


TIGER III Application

Another connectivity strategy in the plan is implementing a high-frequency transit service connecting the urban corridor’s uptown and downtown areas.  An effective high-frequency transit service — or, a “circulator” — would siphon off some portion of the everyday car traffic, provide a dry/warm alternative for that portion of the downtown population that, in good weather, normally bikes or walks, and promote an environmentally-friendly urban lifestyle in the city’s center.  Demographic trends in Norwalk strongly favor developing better transit, and, like most towns of a certain size in American history, Norwalk used to have such service.

What makes the idea particularly poignant for Norwalk is the city’s peculiar and unfortunate estrangement of its two major transit hubs, i.e., the Norwalk Transit District’s “Pulse Point,” in the Wall Street area, and Metro North’s South Norwalk Rail Station in SoNo.  While the riderships of these two transit systems may today have little overlap, the fact is that the “car-less” urban Norwalk resident (which an ever-denser and more trafficked Norwalk will want as many of as it can get) will occasionally need access not just to and from Norwalk, but also around Norwalk — and sometimes within the same trip.  But, currently, only one bus — the Route 10, leaving once every 20 minutes, and only until 7PM — connects the two hubs.  (One device that has been shown to defray the negative effects of long wait-times is making the schedule widely accessible, which the Norwalk Transit District did this year by joining the Google Transit network.)

What makes the idea particularly interesting for Norwalk is the stimulative effect such transit investments usually have on economic development.  Perhaps one way transit stimulates new development (in relevant ways for Norwalk) is via the significant cost savings related to the production of expensive structured parking spaces for new development.  In the absence of viable alternatives, Norwalk and its developers have been considering construction of up to $200 Million of new parking spaces.  As we have seen elsewhere, for that money, you could buy the Portland Streetcar system — twice (and quickly recoup the investment).

For many of these reasons, the Agency commissioned a feasibility study for a West Avenue Circulator a couple years ago.  After finding that such a concept was feasible, the Agency applied unsuccessfully for a federal grant to develop it.  The idea remains, however, and is discussed and refined in the Task A, Task B, and Task C reports.  Core concepts for the circulator are that it should be branded to be distinct from regular bus service, that it should be free to the user, and that it must run no less frequently than 5-7 minutes.  Vehicle type — trolley/fixed-guideway systems versus rubber-tire approaches — remains an open question.  Examples like Chattanooga and Cleveland show that you don’t necessarily have to have a trolley system to succeed with your circulator.

Wll Street trolley on mill hill-c.1900