"I think everyone here still thinks providing trolleys or some kind of light-rail is a good way to grow the city," says Travers. He adds that Mayor John DeStefano's administration, which is on its way out, will leave a recommendation for a streetcar system for the incoming administration.
In Stamford, which has now displaced Hartford as Connecticut's third-largest city, concerns about how a trolley line would impact local real estate were a major issue, Fedeli says. Despite predictions that it would improve property values, some residents worried the rails would eat up needed street space and feared there wouldn't be enough riders to make it pay.
"It's really just very expensive," says Jim Cameron, a spokesman for the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. "You really have to provide a high-ridership density."
Some planning gurus have shifted their aim from trolleys to buses as a cheaper, quicker fix to our transportation troubles.
"In a lot of cities like New Haven, I think we would do better improving and amplifying the bus systems," says Rubin. Buses are more flexible, they're getting more environmentally friendly, and it doesn't cost near as much to create new bus programs as it does to build a new trolley line.
Well, except for the New Britain-to-Hartford Busway that is. That $560 million project involves tearing up an existing rail line to put in a new bus-only route of less than 10 miles. The busway is intended to relieve the ever-increasing gridlock along I-84 between those two cities.
The problem is, critics point out, that no one knows for sure how many motorists will give up their cars to ride those buses.
"The bus has an image problem," says Rubin. "It's not as hip, not as cool as light-rail."
There is also a racial tinge to the bus issue. "In New Haven," explains Rubin, "our transportation system is segregated… It's an income-based segregation that often correlates to race."
It isn't isolated to New Haven. In Hartford, Bridgeport and other cities, poor people are mostly the ones who ride buses, and poor people in Connecticut tend to be black or Hispanic.
Middle and upper-class folks (mostly white people, in other words) drive cars in this state. "If I had my way, I'd give buses a whole new image uplift," Rubin says.
That could happen as the traffic grows worse on Connecticut highways and roads, as it's certain to do. And when that occurs, maybe spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new busways and trolley lines won't seem so impossible.
"People will start getting out of their cars when they can't handle the traffic anymore," Rubin says. "But you have to create viable options."
"If the barrier to entry [into a mass transit system] is at all high," he warns, "people will say 'Screw it – I'd rather sit in traffic and listen to the radio.'"