The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) — a $2.8 billion proposed streetcar that would stretch along the waterfront for 16 miles between Sunset Park and Astoria, Queens — continues to generate divided opinions.
The Friends of the BQX, an independent non-profit organization formed to advocate for the streetcar, has aided the proposal by launching a website and hosting several visioning sessions throughout the two boroughs, among other efforts.
Despite some opposition, Executive Director of the Friends Ya-Ting Liu discussed the initiative and how she got involved with the group with this paper.
Liu, who spent three years at the New York League of Conservation Voters working on the city’s sustainability policy, including transportation, was asked if she would be interested in getting involved in the BQX effort and helping a streetcar in New York becoming a reality. She’s been with the group for over two months.
“It has been a start-up environment,” Liu said when joining the BQX. “It’s taken us a while to try to build up infrastructure, and we have been immediately engaging our board members and our network to publicize and let as many residents and groups know about the city’s community visioning sessions we’ve been doing.”
Liu states that she spent about a decade trying to push for a fully funded transit system, but faced a lack of political will in Albany to make it a priority.
“What ends up happening a lot of times is temporary solutions or band aids or taking out more debt to keep the MTA going and buses and trains running,” she said, adding that she’s always been passionate about transit. “It’s not just a way of getting around. To me, transit is about access to economic opportunity, access to educational and recreational opportunity that impacts your quality of life.”
She believes that the BQX would improve a dated mass transit system. “The existing transit system is not meeting the needs of communities of the corridor. There is lots of frustration, whether it’s overcrowding or the fact that the current network isn’t meeting travel needs,” Liu said. “It is mind boggling to think that a city of 8.5 million people is relying on something that was built over a century ago.”
As a result, Liu believes the City’s best option to adapt is the streetcar, citing examples of where the system is effective. “[During visioning sessions] we show examples of the streetcar in Toronto to show that it snows there like in New York City and they’re able to keep the system running. It can handle the same kind of weather elements that the city does.”
Despite pros mentioned, residents that have attended sessions and meetings have voiced various concerns. “It has been really interesting to see New Yorkers’ reactions to what a 21st century streetcar can look like,” Liu said. “They’re narrow, slim, have no overhead wires and quiet compared to the subway.”
The main concerns in various areas, such as Sunset Park, include displacement. “Gentrification concerns are understandable,” she said. “I think that not having a streetcar here and not having this transit connection and new transit infrastructure is not going to stop gentrification.”
Community input is also vital in such an undertaking, according to Liu.
“This is part of the importance of participating and getting engaged so that these other economic development policies are in place that compliments this transit investment and that really protects the existing residents and communities,” she said.
Now that the visioning sessions have concluded, the Friends group will continue to spread the message and information. “We are going to focus on engaging in communities up and down the corridor and building our grass roots,” said Liu.