Mayor offers some more detail on BQX streetcar project

By Bill Parry

Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied supporters Tuesday in Red Hook, Brooklyn for his proposed $2.5 billion Brooklyn Queens Connector, the 16-mile-long streetcar system that would serve communities from Astoria to Sunset Park, along the East River waterfront. The mayor called the corridor one of the fastest-growing parts of the city, with more than 405,000 residents and 296,000 workers, where transit capacity has not kept pace.

“This is an area that is so important to the future of New York City because more and more we’ve seen that innovative people, creative people, entreprenurial people want to be here,” de Blasio said. “They see tremendous promise. You can see the amazing job growth and business growth that’s happened here in the last decade or two and there’s a lot more where that came from and that’s why we need to be ready for it by providing the type of transportation that will allow that growth to benefit all.”

He vowed to have “shovels in the ground” on the zero-emission, green and clean, state-of-the-art system by 2019. When the line is fully constructed, the mayor said the BQX would serve 50,000 riders per weekday connecting 13 NYCHA developments, 10 ferry landings, 15 subway routes and more than 30 bus lines.

A ticket will cost the same as a Metrocard swipe, but it is unclear whether there will be free transfers between the streetcars and subways and buses. The mayor said discussions with the state-run MTA are ongoing.

The project would finance itself, with the city raising money by creating a non-profit with authority to issue tax-exempt bonds. The city would pay off debt by taking in increased real estate tax revenues based on the value of existing and new developments, officials said.

Many details of the project remain unclear, such as the exact route and location of stops, the amount of parking spaces that would be lost and how much the self-propelled, battery-operated BQX would interfere with traffic.

City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called the system a “hybrid” between light rail and a mixed-traffic streetcar.

“Our goal here is to have streetcars move in traffic,” she said. “But as much as we can a right-of-way where we’ll be keeping traffic out so we can achieve speeds that are going to make the real travel time savings that we’re talking about.”

While the mayor had plenty of support at his Red Hook event, the project is causing some trepidation among transit advocates here in Queens.

“The $2.5 billion, 12-miles-per-hour streetcar recently propopsed by the mayor is a major concern for commuters who drive,” Queens Public Transit Committee Phil McManus said. “This streetcar idea reminds us of the proposed Select Bus Service for Woodhaven Boulevard. Combined, both plans stand to cost the public almost $3 billion, yet may leave our roads in worse condition then they are now.”

Mike Scala, vice president of QPTC, said the grassroots group favors more transit options, such as the reactivation of the Long Island Rail Road Rockaway line, but he wants to learn more about the BQX plan.

“Will we lose lanes of traffic, consequently causing more congestion?” he asked. “Is it worthwhile to make this investment now when projects like QueensRail, serving areas that more urgently need transportation improvements, remain unfunded?”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.