The great streetcar debate rides on.
The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) hosted a visioning session on the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) on Tuesday, June 21 in Sunset Park.
The meeting, which was highly attended by Sunset residents, organizations and elected officials, presented the opportunity to discuss the concerns and benefits of the proposed streetcar that would stretch along the waterfront for 16 miles between Sunset Park and Astoria, Queens.
During the two-hour long session, held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, elected officials and DOT and EDC representatives spoke about the project followed by attendees discussing their opinions and improvements that could be made to the proposal, estimated to cost $2.5 billion.
However, some weren’t impressed by the effort.
“It’s the same old song and dance,” said Community Board 7 member Michael Gsovski, who felt that organizers didn’t come up with any new information. “It seemed like the one thing that came out last time was to tell us more, like whether or not the existing transit infrastructure is faster than this route for the majority of residents in the area, and they didn’t.
“It was nice that they provided more of an opportunity for feedback, but I was disappointed that it was structured in terms of this is happening, not, ‘would it be nice if it happened?'” he went on. “It’s a clear assumption they made and it feels a little condescending.”
Maria Roca, founder of Friends of Sunset Park, agreed. “I’m quite insulted actually,” she said. “They’re going to have the community here and not ask if we want it, but how we can tweak it so that they can still say that we had input in the process. It negates the voice of the community.”
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visited tables during the workshop portion to address concerns of attendees. “We want to try and repair our streets, but we also want to continue with mass transit options because people are coming, buildings are going up, industry is growing,” she said. “You may not agree with that set of priorities but it’s not trying to be either/or, it’s trying to tackle everything on a host of fronts.”
Towards the end of the session, a person from each table briefly discussed three concerns raised about the BQX. The issue brought up most often was displacement.
“There’s been a long need for transportation between these communities in Brooklyn and Queens, and communities have been asking for transportation actions for decades,” said attendee Ana Orozco. “I think that it’s interesting now there are luxury development along these routes, now is when we’re talking about this as a viable option.”
President of EDC Maria Torres-Springer explained to the crowd why the BQX could benefit the needs of the community. “Our city is changing and we’ve seen tremendous growth along that corridor but a transportation system that has not kept pace with that growth, and what we need to do is fill those gaps so the people of the city can get to where they need to be to work, to live and to play in the most affordable fashion,” she said.
“Tonight was definitely the most passionate community session that I’ve seen to date,” said Ya-Ting Liu, executive director of Friends of Brooklyn Queens Connector, who addressed one concern. “I heard a lot during the report-back sessions about resiliency and that issue,” she said. “The fact is that after a flood event, the street car will be running faster than the subway does. That’s just the fact. It’s comparable to buses.
Although elected officials didn’t support or reject the BQX proposal, they stressed the importance of community involvement.
“This particular project will not happen unless we address a few issues,” said Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. “One, there is intense concern about displacement in our community. It’s not just our residents, but businesses, and we need to ensure that our working waterfront is kept pristine and dedicated to our community.”
“Your participation is going to be very important whether this moves forward or not,” added Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. “I’m not going to tell you what my position is at this time but I think you have to be very vigilant. Our union folks should be part of the process and our community should be represented as well.”