Bring Trolleys to Haverstraw

I wrote this Opinion Article for the Journal News in 2005. I made some changes to keep the content up-to-date. I hope you enjoy my optimism!

Trolley Car in Downtown
Trolley Car in Downtown

The Haverstraw Revitalization is on its way and the vision for this project is vast. Proposals include an aerial gondola, Haverstraw Bay Performing Arts Center, restaurants, a 20-foot wide/2-mile long waterfront promenade, 850-units of luxury housing, an expanded community center and village pool, tree-lined streets, outdoor dining, artist lofts, bed and breakfasts, novelty shops, a new hotel and spa, outdoor amphitheatre, an incredible fishing and ferry pier and increased ferry access to Westchester, Yonkers, Manhattan and beyond. Haverstraw is finally reclaiming is long lost fame. Just recently, in the Journal, residents at a village meeting about the Revitalization raised questions about parking and traffic flow.

The Village of Haverstraw’s street grid dates to the 1700’s and during that time period, parking lots didn’t exist. During the mid 19th century the village became even more dense with the influx of workers needed to labor in the brickyards. The creation of the railroad gave villagers a chance to travel into the city for work and play, another advance in the growth of Haverstraw. Today, the call for parking is obvious since American life goes hand-in-hand with our automobiles. For the village to continue its economic expansion it must increase its patron resources by giving patrons and residents modes of transportation into and out of the downtown. The creation of parking lots is an understandable answer to this need, but is it the right answer? My thought would be no. To create parking lots in a downtown, if they are at street level and not buried below the ground (which is expensive), takes away from the amount of land available for development and cuts the village off for further growth. The amount of new parking spaces available may never be adequate, once the popularity of the village increases. We’ve seen this happen in Nyack’s downtown. What is next after this? Build more parking lots?

Why not make Broadway and Main Street, and surrounding streets one-way to accommodate the higher flow in traffic and keep parking lots out of the center of the village to again decrease that traffic surge? The village can build large parking structures at its perimeter, where land value is not as high. The village can sell off its downtown lots in order to pay for these structures. Land value is now at its highest in history (obviously, this article is from 2005; I left this in for laughs). The amount of space available beneath asphalt in the village is incredible. Now, the next question is how can we carry patrons from the outskirts of the village into the downtown, waterfront and many of the above mentioned attractions? The answer is walking, bicycling, or use of a shuttle – mass transit – of some sort.

Federal studies have shown that the best mode of shuttle in a downtown historical area is a vintage trolley that runs on rails and overhead or internal electricity. If Main Street and Broadway were one-way traffic or pedestrian thoroughfares a vintage trolley system would fit snugly. A street rail system is dynamic and the options are limitless. The system would not only serve as a mode of transport, but would add to the character of the village and increase the desire to be in the village. Increased automobile traffic can only lead to pedestrian conflict and lower air quality.

A vintage trolley system would be novel to Southern New York. The vision of massive vehicular traffic jams at the end of rush hour, when the Haverstraw Ferry is working at its limit, would be eliminated. Instead, a high volume of pedestrian traffic would be funneled through the business section of the village, and trolley riders would be tempted by restaurants and stores that will line Main and Broadway. This idea would take traffic and transform it into economic stimuli and more money that could fuel the trolley system and municipalities. Again, it has been proven by the federal government that commerce along vintage trolley routes significantly increases, as do property values.

Handicapped visitors would have a means by which they can make their way around town to see all the shops and eat in all the restaurants. Visitors that arrived from Manhattan via mass transit (the NY Waterway Ferry and Water Taxi) will not need a car to make their way around the village. The trolley is capable of speeds of up to 30 mph. It would blend easily into the traffic that already exists downtown. The trolley can run seasonally or year-round. Again, the options are never-ending.
Generally, heritage trolley systems bring excitement and unification to a downtown district. For anyone who has ridden on a streetcar, like in San Francisco, this excitement is familiar. The trolleys act as working time capsules that send riders into the past. If you have a chance, stand on the corner of Broadway and New Main in the Village of Haverstraw, close your eyes, and imagine the ringing of a trolley bell.


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