City makes latest push for BQX streetcar
“If you’re going to reduce dependency on cars … you’ve got to replace it with other options.”
BY CHARLIE INNIS
RED HOOK — City workers gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Thursday to make their latest pitch for the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a proposed 11-mile streetcar line that would run along the waterfront, connecting Redhook to Astoria.
The workshop, a joint effort between the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Transportation, spanned two floors, with explanatory poster boards propped up along the walls and activities led by project workers in a separate room.
A steady stream of supporters and skeptics of the $2.7 billion streetcar plan arrived throughout the evening to probe EDC representatives about the project, which is currently running a series of public workshops as it readies to enter an environmental review phase.
“Right now, the goal is that we take additional feedback and we do additional work. We have a consultant team on board to do additional planning and engineering work,” said Rebecca Gafvert, Vice President of Neighborhood Strategies at EDC.
The streetcar, as it’s currently proposed, would cross through Long Island City and northern Brooklyn, travel by the Brooklyn Navy Yard and through Downtown Brooklyn, and end in Red Hook, one block away from the Gowanus Canal, before looping back to Queens. It would be in the general vicinity of 13 subway lines, over 30 bus routes and nine ferry stations.
Roughly 400,000 New Yorkers live along the proposed route, including 40,000 NYCHA residents. About 30,000 people work nearby the corridor, according to the city’s 2018 conceptual design report.
With the aim to finish the design phase by mid-2024 and break ground in January of that year, the city estimates the BQX would start operating in June of 2029, the design report states.
At the workshop, several elements of the BQX’s design plan were up for discussion, including its operational hours, its appearance, its street position and its ultimate path through Brooklyn and Queens.
“We really do want people to look at the route and tell us where they think it should move or change,” Gafvert said.
Some business owners and advocates see the BQX as an opportunity to boost economic activity, produce jobs and provide a new means of transportation to neighborhoods short of subway lines, such as Red Hook.
“There shouldn’t be one mode of transportation. There shouldn’t be just buses, there shouldn’t be just subways, it shouldn’t be just bicycles. It needs to be very diverse,” said Randy Peers, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
Peers sees the BQX proposal as a possible boost for other transit priorities in the city, like cutting lanes from the rapidly deteriorating Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and part of a long-term shift away from car culture and toward less polluting forms of transit.
“There are a lot of really strong recommendations in the BQE report, and number one on the list is, how do we reduce the amount of traffic?” Peers said. “If you’re going to reduce that dependency on cars, which we should, then you’ve got to replace it with other options, and I think this project represents big picture, visionary thinking about what the future could look like and what those alternatives could be.”
Dawn Skeet, owner of Jam’it Bistro in Red Hook, expressed support for the streetcar.
“It’s my hope that the BQX would be a major boon for us and other small businesses in our neighborhood and along the route,” Skeet said through a spokesperson for the project. “It’ll increase foot traffic and allow more people to get here by mass transit.”
Other attendees, like Jason Salmon, who’s running for retiring State Senator Velmanette Montgomery’s seat in the 25th District, seemed less keen on the idea.
“It’s a tax boondoggle,” said Salmon, who suggested the city invest in the subway and bus systems instead. “Spending a whole bunch of money on a train that goes up and down the shoreline, where you can see that it’s the major developers that own the property of that shoreline, it’s obvious who this train is for. It’s not for everyday New Yorkers. It’s for the developers and whoever they want to actually live on the shoreline.”
A few residents who live along the BQX corridor came to show their support for the streetcar project.
“I think with the traffic in New York, we really need to think about the bigger picture of our transit systems,” said Clinton Hill resident Alia Mckee.
“It is a big price tag, but the idea is that the city would look for federal funding to support it,” she said, in reference to the roughly $1.4 billion city officials hope to procure from the White House to bankroll the project.
“We need to pay for infrastructure that’s going to last the next hundred years. You know, we have to be cathedral builders,” she added.
The next public BQX workshop is slated for Thursday, Feb. 13 at P.S. 676, 27 Huntington St. in Red Hook.
This story was updated with a quote from Dawn Skeet, a small business owner near the proposed route.
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