Astoria, Featured, Long Island City, Transportation
Jan 15, 2016

The Brooklyn Queens Connector Streetcar – A Transit Idea Revived Yet Again

Hello, BQX streetcar mockup. By now you no doubt have heard about the idea of a light rail/streetcar along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. This is an idea that has been bandied (…)

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Hello, BQX streetcar mockup.

By now you no doubt have heard about the idea of a light rail/streetcar along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. This is an idea that has been bandied about for years—you could look to urban planner Alex Garvin, who suggested it over a decade ago. Or look to the streetcar lines that existed in Brooklyn, Manhattan (barely), and Queens in the first half of the twentieth century to see how extensive they were. Side note: apparently the Brooklyn Dodgers were referred to as the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers at one point in time (more on the “terror of the trolley“). Here’s the map of trolley lines in the Brooklyn and Queens Transit map (click to enlarge):


I will also say that my recent trip to Portland afforded me the opportunity to ride streetcars (both the Streetcar itself and the MAX, which serves as both a light rail and a streetcar, depending on where you are in the area) on the regular. They are particularly effective when they have their own dedicated track (duh) but they worked well for us when they were on city streets—mostly. On evening, we experienced an incident of delayed service because the streetcar ahead of ours had hit a car on the tracks and totaled it (good news is that the driver of the car was OK). We waited for about 20 minutes for them to clear the tracks.

I certainly learned about the unique challenges that come with trains sharing the road with cars in this instance. This is definitely something to be considered if NYC is going to implement streetcars. Also: no turnstiles, which is drastically different from how most of our transit (save all but one SIR station on Staten Island) operates. I was impressed by how people just came on and off without showing proof of fare (later I heard that if you get caught it’s a $160 fine). As an aside, I did admire how easy it was for disabled folks to use streetcars in Portland—no stairs to deal with, easy to enter and exit, too.

According to the NY Daily News article (they obtained the proposal for the $1.7 billion streetcar route) a streetcar could possibly maybe be in NYC’s future. Sounds like it would be called, at least colloquially, the Brooklyn Queens Connector. Here’s a summary, as a reminder:

A study commissioned for a nonprofit called the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector — whose members include transit experts, community leaders and business giants like Doug Steiner of Steiner Studios, investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization real estate firm — envisions sleek streetcars zipping through 10 neighborhoods along the 17-mile stretch of waterfront land between Sunset Park and Astoria.

I am certainly curious to read this nonprofit’s About page (too bad there’s no website for them). Gothamist linked to a July 2015 story from Politico New York that said “an advisory committee of some of the city’s more prominent developers, transportation experts and community organizers” commissioned a study by HR&A Advisors “to study the economic impact of a streetcar or lightrail connecting Brooklyn’s Sunset Park to Astoria, Queens.” Sounds like it could be the study behind the proposal.

The advisory committee included:

Regional Plan Association president Tom Wright, traffic engineer [Gridlock] Sam Schwartz, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president Tucker Reed, Industry City executive Andrew Kimball, urban planner Alex Garvin, Fifth Avenue Committee executive director and City Planning Commission member Michelle de la Uz and Red Hook Initiative founder Jill Eisenhard.

I agree with Gothamist that it’s unclear if these two groups—the advisory committee and the nonprofit—are one in the same, or even working together.

A commenter on The Real Deal‘s article on the Brooklyn Queens Connector made some interesting points about the members of the nonprofit:

I love that the group proposing this is called a “non-profit.” Doug Steiner owns a movie studio complex in the Navy Yard that is not well-served by public transportation. The streetcar would run right past his business complex and bring him easier access to his growing workforce. Durst is a real estate company looking to increase the value of its Brooklyn/Queens holdings with better transportation. And so on. These entities have very strong profit-driven motives when they ask taxpayers to spend money to construct a streetcar system that would serve their individual business needs.

Let’s look at the BQX map.


And just the Queens and north Brooklyn segment:


It’s a little different than the one suggested by architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, in this very interesting NY Times video, which takes the streetcar all the way to Astoria Park.

He also suggests a separate bridge from the Pulaski that would be for streetcar, pedestrians, and cyclists (can the Pulaski handle having additional vehicular traffic?). The line also turns onto Vernon Blvd in LIC and eventually heads to 21st Street, to match the route proposed by the Brooklyn Queens Connector.

As far as Astoria goes, this streetcar would serve a mixed populace—newcomers to the far western side of Queens who will live in the new developments at Astoria Cove and Hallets Point, though new ferry service will also be an option for them. It will also serve those who live around 21st Street to Vernon, including the Queensbridge, Ravenswood, and Astoria Houses, as well as North Queensview. Not to mention all the folks that live in apartments and houses that were not part of a big housing project. It could also be good for those who want to visit the restaurants, parks, and cultural spots in LIC and Astoria, including the Dorsky Gallery, Gantry Park, Rainey Park, Queensbridge Park, The Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, MoMA PS1, and many little galleries that dot the west side of LIC and Astoria.

But what else will come of it? Higher rents are the first thing that comes to mind. Also, it’s not certain that this would be an MTA project. And if everyone who has the power to approve the project and and make it real, construction could start as early as 2019. Let’s hope the MTA’s subway station shutdown project is done by then. Also—does this contribute to the feeling that Astoria is over?

How about you—what are your thoughts on the idea of a streetcar coming to the west side of Astoria? Leave us a comment.

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

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