UPDATED: Mayor proposes streetcar line that would stretch along waterfront

The mayor is hopping on the streetcar.

Weeks after it was leaked that Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) — a nonprofit organization consisting of individuals in real estate firms, other businesspeople and transit experts — was backing a light rail route to stretch along the waterfront for 16 miles between Sunset Park and Astoria, Queens, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed the plan during his State of the City Address on Thursday, February 4.

“I am announcing the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, a state-of-the-art streetcar that will run from Astoria to Sunset Park, and has the potential to generate over $25 billion of economic impact for our city over 30 years,” de Blasio said. “The neighborhoods that run along the East River from northern Queens to Sunset Park are home to over 400,000 people, including over 40,000 NYCHA residents; and major employment hubs like Downtown Brooklyn, the Navy Yard, and the Sunset Park industrial cluster. The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”

According to plans, after completion, the BQX will be one of the largest urban streetcar systems in the country and will operate primarily in a dedicated lane that avoids conflicts with general traffic. It would make stops at waterfront neighborhoods such as Astoria, Ravenswood, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Navy Yard, DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Red Hook, Gowanus and Sunset Park.

The streetcar system, which would likely mirror San Francisco’s successful trolley lines, is expected to cost an estimated $2.5 billion, and would need to go through a public review process. Adding several years of construction into the timeline, the service wouldn’t begin until at least 2024.

Still, some believe that if the plan finally comes to fruition, Brooklyn will benefit from the new light rails.

“The people of South Brooklyn have been shut out of the city’s overall economic growth because we don’t have quick or reliable access to transportation,” said Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee. “This streetcar could help to create equity, more livable communities and provide opportunities for people and businesses alike to thrive.”

President of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Carlo Scissura also discussed the vast potential of a line that would directly link Brooklyn and Queens. “As Brooklyn has grown and become a world-class place to live and work, our infrastructure has not kept up,” he said. “Now Mayor de Blasio has proposed a world-class transit option that will drive sustainable economic growth and deliver tens of thousands of jobs. It’s a vision we wholeheartedly support.”

Sunset and Industry City, which continues to grow in its retail spaces and services, would benefit as the commute there isn’t ideal for non-drivers. “They have the potential to bring lots of new jobs to Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods,” investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and another member of the nonprofit told this paper when word of the study was leaked.

NYU Lutheran Medical Center also chimed in on the plan. “NYU Lutheran supports Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to build a streetcar that will create a direct connection between Brooklyn and Queens,” said Claudia Caine, president of the hospital. “Not only will this new transit option accelerate the revitalization of neighborhoods along the Brooklyn waterfront, but neighborhoods like Red Hook will have better access to critical services, including medical care. We hope, however, that this project will not upend the culturally diverse neighborhoods that we cherish in Brooklyn, and will instead allow for stronger preservation efforts.”

Jill Eisenhard, founder and executive director of Red Hook Initiative and also a member of Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector said last month that too much of the city is underserved by the current transit system, and alternative ideas needed to be looked at in order to modernize transportation.

“At the Red Hook Initiative, we know how desperately the thousands of young people we work with need access to good jobs,” she said. “Mayor de Blasio’s streetcar plan addresses that problem head on by connecting our community to thousands of job opportunities along the waterfront, significantly improving the quality of life for Red Hook residents.”

The project wouldn’t require state approval, which means that Governor Andrew Cuomo would not be able to weigh in on it.

Updated on 2/5/16 to reflect Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments from the State of the City Address

Photo courtesy of the New York City Mayor’s Office
Photo courtesy of the New York City Mayor’s Office

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