Downtown Manchester rail loop proposal

FrankLloydMike

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I posted this in the Manchester Developments thread yesterday, but there's already a second news story about it, and given how important and exciting this could be, I think it deserves its own thread:

This is some of the most exciting news I've heard for Manchester ever: Dean Kamen is proposing a rail loop for the Millyard and downtown, and hosted a meeting last night to discuss it with many of the biggest names in Manchester business and development.

From the Union Leader:
Train idea for downtown Manchester is coming down the track again

MANCHESTER — Entrepreneur Dean Kamen has resurrected his idea for a small rail system to serve the Millyard and downtown Manchester.

Two decades ago, Kamen proposed a small steam railroad that would bring visitors to and from Millyard parking lots and possibly up to Elm Street.

A meeting, the second in the past month convened by Kamen, is set for Monday night to discuss the idea.

“The starting point was the plan that was discussed 20 years ago, and clearly, if this is something we are going to move forward, we are going to want to explore changes in technology that have occurred since then,” Jay Minkarah, Manchester’s director of economic development, said in a telephone interview.

Mayor Ted Gatsas attended the initial gathering of Millyard building owners and business tenants, he said.

Kamen is best known as the technology guru behind DEKA Research and Development and his role in creating and promoting the FIRST robotics competition, but he and his partners also own buildings in the Millyard.

Kamen-inspired technologies include the first wearable insulin pump, the iBot self-balancing wheelchair, the Segway Human Transporter and the Luke robotic arm.

Most recently, Kamen and partners spent $10 million renovating the former Pandora building. The Pandora is the seventh building Kamen has brought to life in the Manchester Millyard.

Arthur Sullivan, a principal in Brady Sullivan Properties, said, “It’d be a nice novelty for the city. I could see people coming in to the city wanting to ride the train. It also serves the purpose of moving people around in the Millyard.’’

Brady Sullivan is developing another Millyard building, 300 Bedford Street, for residential use. “I think residential is going to be the next wave downtown. It would be a nice amenity,” Sullivan said of the train. “You could jump on the little train; it would bring you up to Elm Street and have dinner and cocktails. I see it as being a good success.”

Other Millyard property owners and tenants include Anagnost Properties (33 S. Commercial St.), the University of New Hampshire-Manchester and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats minor league baseball team at Northeast Delta Dental stadium.

Neville Pereira, co-owner of Ignite Bar and Grille and Hooked seafood restaurant off Hanover Street, said he is working with Kamen on the idea. “It will be a real track with a real train, very similar to what you see at DisneyWorld,” Pereira said.

A potential loop could include the Millyard from Dow Street to the baseball stadium, running along Commercial and either Chestnut or Elm streets, with crossovers at Granite Street on the south end and possibly Dow Street on the north end.

The project could involve up to three miles of track that could run down the middle of the street on any paved surface.

“This is really very preliminary,” Minkarah said. “It’s in the discussion phase. There are no cost estimates, there is no proposed route, really nothing hard and fast at this point.

“Right now, this is a conversation among some property owners,” he said.

As originally envisioned, small trains would have a 19th-century vintage look.

Besides the mayor, the Dec. 19 meeting was attended by Sullivan, Anagnost, Ben Gamache, Steven Singer and Stephen Talarico.

“The response was exceptionally positive,’’ Pereira said.

“We are now having the second meeting to see logistically if this can actually happen.

“It was a good idea 20 years ago, but it’s an even better idea now, given the problems of traffic flow and parking in the downtown area,” Pereira said.

Entrepreneur Dean Kamen and other Manchester Millyard building owners and tenants plan to meet Monday to discuss the idea of creating a small rail system that would loop around the Millyard area, above.
 

FrankLloydMike

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An update from the Union Leader (print only) today about last night's meeting:

In the loop:
Dean Kamen gets a private study group talking.


Staff report


MANCHESTER — Much work remains to be done after a meeting of Millyard train advocates Monday night with entrepreneur Dean Kamen.

“We’re still at a very early stage,” Jay Minkarah, Manchester’s director of economic development, said Tuesday.

“We expect to be making additional progress in understanding the broader range of issues and what makes sense from a technical point of view,” he said.

“We still have a fair amount of work to do before we can fully grasp what makes sense and what might be viable before we could actually make a proposal,” he said.

Minkarah said he is working with Ken Rhodes, senior vice president and director of client services for CLD Consulting Engineers Inc. as well as Don Clark, director of property management and development for Gateway Technology Center.“ We will continue to basically investigate and study this issue and see what we can come up with,” Minkarah said. But he noted the study is private and not an official city activity.

“This is an initiative that Dean Kamen brought forward. People were asked to participate,” he said. “From our perspective in the economic development office, there is an economic link here, so participating in this process seems to be both prudent and reasonable,” Minkarah said.

No future meetings are currently scheduled, he said.

As originally envisioned, small trains would have a 19th century vintage look.

A potential loop could include the Millyard from Dow Street to Northeast Delta Dental stadium running along Commercial and either Chestnut or Elm streets, with crossovers at Granite Street on the south end and possibly Dow Street on the north end.

A historical streetcar from Manchester on-display and in-use at the Seashore Trolley Museum

And here's a quick take on the project from LivableMHT. I hope to follow up with more info soon.
 

FrankLloydMike

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It's not rail, but the MTA and Chamber of Commerce held a press conference yesterday to promote the free Green DASH downtown circulator bus service. The route of the service is pretty similar to the one mentioned in the UL article about the potential rail loop.

In the meantime, the Green DASH is a great service for anyone working or living downtown. I only wish its hours were extended weekend nights (Friday and Saturday at least) and during major downtown events even on a less-frequent schedule. Actually, that and that the buses looked more like traditional city buses but with the new wrapper. Especially with a free service, multiple doors and a low-platform, flat-fronted bus would probably be more appealing and eye-catching.

Here's the scoop from the UL:

There in a flash, on Green Dash

Free ride: Federal funds pay for shuttle tickets.

Staff Report

MANCHESTER — City officials and businesses are hoping a new name, marketing campaign and remodel of a free downtown shuttle will boost ridership.

The Manchester Transit Authority, together with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, yesterday held a press conference touting the success of the Green DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle), which was relaunched in August after the number of riders dropped from a high of 3,500 in November 2010 to 1,600 in August 2011.

Since then, ridership on the redesigned shuttle — complete with its Green Dash crusader caricature on the side — has steadily climbed to reach 2,200 riders in December.

“The MTA found some federal funds to let people ride free,” Mayor Ted Gatsas explained at a press conference geared at marketing the bus and which was held at the chamber’s offices. “That’s right, it’s free. Nothing wrong with free.”

Originally, the shuttle was called the “Downtown Circulator” and was wrapped in white and black historical photos of the Millyard. Funded with a $180,000 federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant and $36,000 from the city, the shuttle was aimed at reducing traffic and auto emissions in the downtown area. The buses, however, became less inviting after becoming dingy in the winter from snow and slush, said MTA Executive Director Mike Whitten.

The two more contempo*rary buses came about after the MTA partnered with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce in an effort to rebrand the service and get more people — residents and downtown workers, particularly those in the Millyard — to take advantage of the free service.

The chamber’s Downtown Committee came up with the Green DASH name because the bus is hybrid electric and brought in MESH Interactive Agency of Nashua to design the new wrap, making it more inviting to residents and the public. The bus now has transparent windows, is brighter, emphasizes its hybrid technology and promotes its free service.

“Through this partnership we hope to encourage more people to get outside during their lunch hour, run errands, visit local businesses and grab a bite to eat,” said Robin Comstock, the chamber’s president and CEO.

Whitten said people need only to park once and then take the shuttle to various downtown locations, hopping on and off when they want.

The buses, which operate Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., run a 10- to 20-minute, figure-8 loop between Granite and West Brook streets along Elm Street and Commercial Street. The bus will stop anywhere along the route but has scheduled stops at Veterans Park, the corner of Commercial and Spring streets and the corner of Commercial and West Brook streets.

The three-year federal grant ends on June 30, 2013, at which time the federal government will pick up 50 percent of the cost and the city will have to pay the remainder. Whitten said the taxpayer isn’t paying anything toward the service since the 20 percent is covered by parking fees.

He said the city will never be able to charge a fee for the service, per federal requirements, but once the grant expires it will allow for some leeway in hours of operation and routes.
Here are some photos of the event.

The Green DASH is good for now--extending hours would make it great--and eventually replacing or supplementing it with a rail loop would be incredible.
 

Corey

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Thanks for the updates, FrankLloydMike. That's exciting news about the rail proposal. At the very least, at least it's something that is on the radar. The Green DASH sounds like a great investment in the city, too. I admire the transit authority's ability to secure funding from federal funds and parking fees which allow them to offer free rides.
 

MonopolyBag

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The rail things is cool to hear about. However, it seems to be like it is more focused towards attracting people to ride it as an attraction versus practicality. Which I have mixed feelings about. Manchester which is an ok city, doesn't necessarily have anything that people will come to the city for site seeing. Making the use of a rail loop intended more for attraction less appealing to the riders. I would rather see something being talked about which seems more modern for the sake of practicality. Getting people from point A to point B in the most efficient manner. I also think that if it is this vintage look that they talk about, I think this may cause a lack of ridership simply because people don't see it as a form of transportation but rather a ride like at Disney world. And in turn, would not help with traffic as much.

I think the loop and everything else sounds fine, just I got an issue with the actual vintage style train. I would much rather see the most modern good looking style streetcar on the rail. I think it will yell to people "transportation" a lot better than the vintage train that I think may be calling "kids ride" and be avoided by many because of this, consciously or subconsciously.

Although a loop is something, I fear that ridership may be next to nothing being only a small loop. Resulting in little backing from the city and other big people for any expansion. However, if a proper rail was installed (similar to FLMike, maybe not that extensive to start with though) I think more people would ride it. Big places where I see people using it would be obviously the Downtown area, but most anyone can walk the downtown area comfortably. St. Anslems College, UNH and SNHU are places where I see them needing transportation, the large hospitals, and similar places like this.

I also wonder if this vintage style train would be something that actually protects passengers from the elements of New England. You have posted a picture of an old trolley, and something like that in the winter or on rainy days surely wouldn't get used as much as a bus or better yet, more modern fully enclosed streetcar.
 

MonopolyBag

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To comment on the shuttle, I think I said this before (which seems like common sense to me) when you have a shuttle wrapped in brown and gray historical graphics, although cool, people miss it. If you have a flashy red, yellow, blue, white and green bus, people will use it. Marketing, bus stops that are clearly labeled, and maps at all the bus stops will be an easy way to guarantee increased ridership. Buses are not used to their potential when they look trashy, bus stops are not clearly defined, or the buses are not properly labeled, and in Manchester's case, come only once an hour if that.
 

FrankLloydMike

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The rail things is cool to hear about. However, it seems to be like it is more focused towards attracting people to ride it as an attraction versus practicality. Which I have mixed feelings about. Manchester which is an ok city, doesn't necessarily have anything that people will come to the city for site seeing. Making the use of a rail loop intended more for attraction less appealing to the riders. I would rather see something being talked about which seems more modern for the sake of practicality. Getting people from point A to point B in the most efficient manner. I also think that if it is this vintage look that they talk about, I think this may cause a lack of ridership simply because people don't see it as a form of transportation but rather a ride like at Disney world. And in turn, would not help with traffic as much.

I think the loop and everything else sounds fine, just I got an issue with the actual vintage style train. I would much rather see the most modern good looking style streetcar on the rail. I think it will yell to people "transportation" a lot better than the vintage train that I think may be calling "kids ride" and be avoided by many because of this, consciously or subconsciously.

Although a loop is something, I fear that ridership may be next to nothing being only a small loop. Resulting in little backing from the city and other big people for any expansion. However, if a proper rail was installed (similar to FLMike, maybe not that extensive to start with though) I think more people would ride it. Big places where I see people using it would be obviously the Downtown area, but most anyone can walk the downtown area comfortably. St. Anslems College, UNH and SNHU are places where I see them needing transportation, the large hospitals, and similar places like this.

I also wonder if this vintage style train would be something that actually protects passengers from the elements of New England. You have posted a picture of an old trolley, and something like that in the winter or on rainy days surely wouldn't get used as much as a bus or better yet, more modern fully enclosed streetcar.
I'm basically in complete agreement, so I hope that the idea isn't strictly a train as an attraction but also functions practically as public transit--even if it's quasi- or entirely privately owned. Given the interest of Millyard businesses and the economic development office, though, I'd guess that it will be some combination of the two. For a city like Manchester, where tourism isn't big and public transit is generally lacking, I think that's not a bad balance if it's done right.

I don't think neighboring businesses or residents will care much about what would essentially be an urban version of the Conway Scenic Railroad--they'll want something that will get people to their businesses and apartments. If it's designed also as a minor attraction and brings in some visitors, even better.

I haven't used them, but the Seashore Trolley Museum runs a trolley through the millyard in Lowell. It functions as a tourist attraction, but a city planning document has suggested extending and modernizing it as public transit from downtown to UMass and so forth. A similar balance could work in Manchester. Personally, I'd prefer a modern-looking streetcar to something vintage-looking, but if vintage is what it takes to get it, I'm happy with that. In that case, though, I'd prefer using actual antique streetcars. The one I included above was a car used by the city for special events, I believe. There used to be open summer cars and enclosed winter ones, but several cities run modernized, weatherproof antique streetcars as a combination of public transit and tourist attraction.

Manchester is not inherently or presently a major tourist destination the same way that Portsmouth, Portland or even Burlington are, but there are plenty of people who visit the city and plenty of attractions that the city could build on. A rail loop that functions as transit/attraction could get some of the people who come to a show or game at the Verizon to see more of town or spend the evening; it could be billed as an incentive for conventions and business meetings and events like the chili championships; existing attractions like the Currier, SEE Science Center and others along with restaurants could coordinate with it somehow; and it could get the city to look at boosting tourism more, which could help lead to completion of the Riverwalk and other amenities and projects.

To be worth it and beneficial, though, it will also need to be functional and affordable as public transit. It will need to run more often and later than the MTA buses, and it will need to serve the nighttime crowd and downtown residents as much as it will downtown workers and visitors. I'd love it if it would extend out to St. Anselm's and through the dense Rimmon Heights neighborhood (which should be a model transit-oriented neighborhood, but currently suffers from pathetically poor public transit). Still, I don't see that happening--there aren't enough private interests along the route and it's too far out of the city center. A downtown rail loop would be a good start, and one which could potentially be extended later on. The Portland Streetcar in Oregon is a good example of a city center loop that is be extended further out now. A downtown loop could eventually be extended across the river, or probably even more likely further down Elm Street toward Rivers Edge.

Not that any expansion will necessarily happen, but a combination attraction/transit rail loop could function well on its own. It's pretty easy to walk from various points downtown, but it's a long way from the Verizon to Dow St--a rail loop would be a good alternative to driving, and it would help tie the Millyard and downtown. It would also bring people to areas other than the heart of Elm Street, which could help spur infill development. It would also be an incredible amenity and marketing tool for downtown residents, whether they live in mill lofts, high-end Elm Street apartments, or rehabbed buildings a few blocks away. A properly functioning rail loop--even a slightly hokey vintage one--would almost certainly lead to increased higher-end housing downtown.

A lot will depend on the details of the plan, but this sounds like the best bet to restore some sort of streetcar service to downtown Manchester. It could also mean something more like the current trolley in Lowell, which basically has two stops, but I don't think all the big name developers mentioned in the UL article would be very interested if that's all it meant. I'm hopeful, but waiting to hear more before I'll pass judgement either way.
 

JohnAKeith

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It sounds exciting. This and the Lowell rail ideas are interesting.

I think it's funny they say Dean Kamen is "best known" for blah blah blah when anyone outside of the area only knows him from the Segways.

I had a Segway for a month (rental). It was alright, but you just feel so stupid riding it. It's a bit tough on your back, too, because you have to stand upright - so, good posture counts. It was a smooth ride and easy to learn to use but it had limited practicality. Taking it from South Boston to the South End for work was a chore. I probably used the thing three times during the month. Once you get to where you're going, you have to figure out what to do with it. It comes apart in three pieces but weight probably 150 lbs.

I still remember reading the patent back when it was still rumors. I printed it all out and read it on a long trip to Maine. The idea seemed incredible.
 

MonopolyBag

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Segways are cool though, kind of have their own personality. A bit geeky I guess.

I would much rather prefer a historically accurate trolley over some tacky touristy train, but would MUCH rather prefer a modern up to date practical streetcar train over a historically accurate trolley. Manchester, although it has history, has many many new more modern style buildings and I really do not think a vintage type transportation will fit in entirely. And I just don't see a night crowd of young adults and college kids looking forward to hoping on a trolley versus a streetcar. I could see many thinking they are "stupid" or "childish." And if there is a lack of ridership in this, there will be only more less of a chance for any further expansion or better public transportation. It needs to be done right, not just done (which may end up hurting public transportation's image more.)

The Chili competitions were only the past two years, they move on to some other city this coming summer.

Lowell's trolley service, as an example, I have NEVER heard of. Lack of advertising and it is not necessarily a large attraction I guess.
 

found5dollar

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I think there is nothing wrong with a historic looking trolley instead of a modern one as long as the fare is low. In laconia in the summer there is a tourist train. it makes a stop near my old apartment, one across the street from my theater, and one like a ten minute walk from my office and workshop. The problem is a ticket is like $40 because it is a "sightseeing train." if i could get on for two or three dollars i would use that thing like mad. The same would happen with this i feel.
 

MonopolyBag

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Very true. Price is definitely an issue. However mentioned in the article is the thought of reducing traffic, to do this, it would need to be transportation oriented versus sightseeing.

Doesn't San Fransisco still have trolley's over something more modern? Or maybe they did and upgraded them recently? I know their original transportation streetcars was like one of the first or something. And I think they had more old fashioned style for a long time. Anyone know?
 

vanshnookenraggen

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Most of San Fran's trolleys are modern light rail. When they built the BART down Market St they built a bi level tunnel with BART trains running on the lower level and Muni street cars running the upper. They have a switch which allows the light rail cars to go from high level platform operations to street level operations by flattening out the stairs, it's pretty ingenious.

There is also the historic cable cars which is what most people think of. I don't know what the cost is for those and with the Pats game on now I won't take the 5 seconds to look it up.
 
P

Patrick

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Cost is always an issue, but then again public transportation is always cheaper than private. In Portland, for instance, riding the bus to and from work each day would amount to under $1,000 annually. Whereas a car comes with its own payments, insurance rates, registration fees, and maintenance, all before the weekly gas price. And then there's the cost of parking. And road maintenance. And the cost of social isolation, or opportunity cost of not socializing or working on something more productive than driving. It really is a much more wise choice to invest in public transportation, and America is the only place that doesn't get this, even a little, despite a few anomalous cases.
 

FrankLloydMike

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I agree with most of what is being said--the details of how this pans out will be incredibly important in determining how successful it will be.

Patrick is right that public transportation is always cheaper than using a personal automobile. Still, it will be especially important for something like a downtown rail loop to be affordable enough to attract daytime and nighttime riders who have already likely driven into downtown, who will almost certainly be a majority of riders for the first few years at least. Eventually, if it's run well and affordable to ride, it will almost certainly lead to more people choosing to live downtown, helping to offset the number of riders who drive into downtown.

It could also get more people using transit (only if, as others have said, it works well), which could lead to better funding of the MTA, which could help bring more rail loop riders downtown via more frequent and better bus routes, especially if the likely private rail loop and MTA can work together somehow. Plenty of entities in other cities where there are multiple transit agencies and companies do this fairly well. Portland, again, is a good example, where the streetcar is run by the city, but works with the regional transit agency.

If it's run like a scenic train like those in Laconia and Conway, it will not be successful. But again, I doubt so many local business owners and developers would be very interested unless it would be affordable enough to get people around and to their businesses and developments easily and cheaply. I also don't think there would be any mention of alleviating parking issues if it ran on a limited schedule with high fares and only a few stops. I could be wrong, but that optimistically leads me to believe they're thinking more something along the lines of a heritage streetcar.

The River Rail system in Little Rock seems like a great precedent for Manchester--a fairly simple, roughly 3-mile loop through the city center that runs frequently and for a low fare using historic trolley cars. (Hell, Little Rock's downtown arena is even called the Verizon, like Manchester). Again, I'd prefer a purely modern system, but I'm also happy with historic streetcars if that makes more sense and can attract some tourists and visitors as well as downtown workers and residents.



Also, as far as the UL's audience, I think Dean Kamen is probably better known locally for his association with DEKA and FIRST, which are big downtown employers, and his ownership of many buildings in the Millyard than for the Segway. He was fairly famous locally before the Segway, and I think his connection to and involvement in downtown Manchester is important in this proposal.
 

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Cost is always an issue, but then again public transportation is always cheaper than private. In Portland, for instance, riding the bus to and from work each day would amount to under $1,000 annually. Whereas a car comes with its own payments, insurance rates, registration fees, and maintenance, all before the weekly gas price. And then there's the cost of parking. And road maintenance. And the cost of social isolation, or opportunity cost of not socializing or working on something more productive than driving. It really is a much more wise choice to invest in public transportation, and America is the only place that doesn't get this, even a little, despite a few anomalous cases.
But many will disagree on this concept, and argue that the flexibility and freedom of their private car is priceless. (I am not one who would argue with you Pat. I could live without a car, kinda, it would be hard, I would be mroe likely to own a car and just almost never use it. It is hard to not own a car in this day and age simply with the way things work.)


Regarding FLM post, I could live with that car that you posted in that pic of the River Rail. The heritage streetcar picture though, I don't know about. I think it needs to be less "Mr. Rogers Trolley" and more "I will bring you somewhere." I also fear 3 mi. is not enough. It needs more destination. Like one that also travels down the southern end of Elm towards the Elliot.

And although it is called the Verizon there too, theirs is at least landscaped with trees and bushes.
 

FrankLloydMike

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Of course Little Rock also has the Clinton Presidential Library as a major destination on their trolley. Manchester would really stand to benefit from the Josiah Bartlet Presidential Library in the Millyard.

As far as car ownership goes, I am someone who owns a car but rarely uses it. I take the T everyday and use the car basically only when going out of town. Along with a monthly T pass covering my commuting costs for $59, I pay less in car insurance because the car is used infrequently, plus obviously gas and maintenance costs are lower. I think most people will get this, and at least for the foreseeable future, potential rail loop and transit riders in Manchester will see transit as a compliment to rather than a replacement for the car. I think that's probably the case in most cities anyway.

I also think a 3.5-mile or so line is sufficient to begin with (again--as long as it is affordable, efficient and frequent). The Portland Streetcar in a much larger city began as a 4.8-mile loop, and is currently being expanded after about a decade in service. It also followed a vintage streetcar service that began in 1991. Since development often follows streetcar and light-rail lines, I think it would make plenty of sense to start with a downtown loop with the possibility to extend further south (or elsewhere) in the future.
 

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