Streetcar not desired?
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held a public meeting at Community Board 7 on Tuesday, May 3 to give both board members and residents an update on plans for the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), a streetcar that would stretch along the waterfront for 16 miles between Sunset Park and Astoria, Queens, but many of those present at the meeting left unimpressed by the plans.
“We have sinking sidewalks over Fifth Avenue from 39th Street for a good 10 blocks,” said Maria Roca, founder of Friends of Sunset Park. “That affects the way that people get to work, get their children to school, but those issues are ignored. Yet there is money for salaries to work on BQX. The limited resources that you have are being used in looking at the future but you’re not taking care of the present and that is no way to run a city. That’s why people are angry.”
CB 10 Chair Daniel Murphy concurred. “If EDC wants to display a capacity to do this in the best possible way for this community, focus on the issues you’ve got right now,” he said. “We’ve got a backlog. How much of your limited energy is going into this project instead of others?”
However, Lydon Sleeper, senior vice president for government and community relations for EDC, contended that the project is a necessary one. “This waterfront is a very dense urban area. There are about 400,000 people that live and about 300,000 people that work along the corridor,” he said. “While there’s a lot of east-west transportation, there’s actually not a lot of north-south transportation.”
Sleeper also stated there are also a lot of neighborhoods along the corridor that are considered transit-starved. “Some people don’t have access to good transportation within a half mile from a subway and the missing links in poor transit access lead to limited connectivity to things like job centers and academic institutions,” he said.
According to the EDC’s presentation, the 16-mile streetcar route would fix those issues. “We think there’s an opportunity for state-of-the-art transit to support these waterfront neighborhoods,” Sleeper said. “It would run along or close to 13 different NYCHA developments with 40,000 residents in those. It would run through or along innovation clusters in Long Island City, Astoria, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and then down here in Sunset Park along the waterfront.”
Although plans are preliminary, the EDC estimated the BQX would include 30 stops about a half mile apart, and travel every five to 10 minutes during peak hours with 60 vehicles in operation. “We think streetcars can carry as much as twice or three times as many passengers as buses which make them an interesting mode to consider in such a dense, urban area,” Sleeper said.
Sleeper also mentioned a possible boost in the economy. “We think this will generate a lot of economic activity up and down the corridor, including $25 billion over the next 30 years, over 20,000 construction jobs throughout the buildout,” he said.
However, many of the attendees did not buy into to the presentation. “I wanted to see if they could explain BQX in a way that makes sense to somebody who lives there and they didn’t,” said board member Michael Gsovski. “Connecting under-served areas is great, but we have a better way, the subway and buses. But buses don’t raise the property values.”
According to the EDC, another meeting will take place in June.