Red Hook

De Blasio lines up support for Brooklyn-Queens streetcar plan

February 16, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The mayor’s proposal to build a streetcar service between Brooklyn and Queens drew extensive, though cautious, support from officials and organizations. New York Mayor's Office, Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector

Officials call for community input from the onset

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal for a new, self-financed streetcar service that would connect the waterfront from Brooklyn to Queens has drawn a chorus of cautious support from Brooklyn officials, transportation advocates and civic organizations.

Even as they threw their support behind the plan, however, elected officials called for “robust” community input on location, design and financing issues.

The new transit line could be a game-changer for emerging waterfront neighborhoods and those who want to reach them. It would stretch 16 miles from Astoria in Queens to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, linking hard-to-reach neighborhoods, like Red Hook, with some of the city’s fastest-growing job hubs, such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The line, estimated to cost $2.5 billion and not open until 2024, is expected to have a top speed of 12 mph. When fully built-out, it could serve almost 50,000 passengers per day, the city said, making it one of the biggest urban streetcar systems in the nation.

Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix Ortiz called the proposal, dubbed the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, “visionary” and “transformative.”

“While job creation and economic development opportunities along the Brooklyn Queens waterfront have expanded in recent years – including large parts of my district in Sunset Park and Red Hook – our century old transportation infrastructure has failed to keep pace,” Ortiz said in a statement on Tuesday.

Like most officials expressing support for the plan, however, Ortiz said there were many questions to be answered. Still, “I think that this can be incredibly positive for Red Hook, Sunset Park and residents of many other waterfront communities,” he said.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said that he supports the idea of emissions-free transit in proximity to a large percentage of public housing residents.

“In a 21st century Brooklyn, we need 21st century transportation solutions to meet the historic challenges that have faced underserved communities. The Brooklyn Queens Connector, like Bus Rapid Transit and the Utica Avenue subway line, is an innovative and laudable project that fits into our shared vision for a better connected borough and city,” he said in a statement.

Like Ortiz, Adams called for a “robust public process [that] will allow us to strengthen the BQX through a thoughtful conversation about the design and financing of this important proposal.”

Assemblymember Joseph Lentol said, “The economic vibrancy that will result from a project like this is boundless.”

He also stressed the necessity of gathering community input before acting on the plan.

“What must happen with a project of this size is to have maximized public participation from the earliest stages. We need to safeguard the quality of life for those that surround the proposed construction,” Lentol said in a statement.

Joseph Lhota, former chairman of the MTA, said that traveling between growing waterfront neighborhoods is “next to impossible, and this vision and investment is exactly what we need to keep Brooklyn and Queens growing.”

NYCEDC President Maria Torres-Springer said the BQX would spark more than $25 billion in economic impact over the next three decades.

Elected officials from Southern Brooklyn, however, including Councilmembers Mark Treyger, Chaim Deutsch and Vincent Gentile, as well as state Sen. Diane J. Savino and Assemblymembers William Colton and Pamela Harris, have argued that the mayor should be paying closer attention to transportation needs in their area.

“We will not tolerate city administration transportation proposals that leave out Southern Brooklyn and other areas of the city that are in dire need of transit upgrades. These are areas dealing with a lack of transportation options, lengthy, delay-ridden commutes and overcrowding,” the statement reads in part.

More details emerge

On Tuesday, de Blasio released more details about the plan at a press conference with tenants of NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses, along with transit advocates and officials.

“Anyone can see the enormous growth happening [in Red Hook] – it’s time we brought new transit to these neighborhoods for all those people and jobs,” de Blasio said.

The administration said it will begin engaging communities along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront this year to develop the new service’s exact route, operations and a phasing plan for implementation.

The city foresees breaking ground on the project in 2019-2020.

The BQX would run along a 16-mile corridor through Astoria, Ravenswood, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Navy Yard, DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Red Hook, Gowanus and Sunset Park.

With a majority of the streetcar service operating in a reserved right of way, the average rider on the BQX will save 15-20 minutes each way compared to their current transit options, according to the city.

The city will raise capital through the creation of a non-profit with the authority to issue tax-exempt bonds, according to a release. The city said it is expecting to pay off this debt by capturing a percentage of the increase in values of existing and new development along the corridor.

Fares from riders are expected to cover approximately two-thirds of yearly operating costs. The city will consider additional revenue streams, such as advertising, to offset remaining costs.