$2.5 billion for streetcar might be better used elsewhere: Transit expert


Last year, Mayor de Blasio called for the revival of plans for a subway line along Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue, first proposed over a century ago.  This year, in effect, he brought back an older plan for the development of a streetcar line along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront.

The streetcar plan isn’t a bad idea.  There is a need to expand transit service to this area, and light rail transit such as streetcars or trolleys shouldn’t have been removed from this city to begin with.

The problem is that other parts of Queens have equal, if not greater needs for an expansion of the rail transit system.

For over a century, plans were made to extend the subway lines serving Queens beyond their terminal points and build other lines.  The 7 Line was originally planned to run to Northeast Queens.  The Queens Boulevard Line was meant to run to Eastern Queens.  The Archer Avenue Line was meant to run to Rosedale.  For reasons discussed in my book, The Routes Not Taken, this didn’t happen, and today close to half of the borough lacks sufficient rail service.

The need for the extension of these routes and more continues to grow.  It hasn’t diminished.  Every day, huge numbers of people ride buses into Downtown Flushing to transfer to the 7 Line and stations in Jamaica to transfer to the E, F and J/Z Lines.  There are other Queens stations that are major connection points for bus riders coming from areas out of reach of the subways.  Elected officials and civic groups have strongly called for the reactivation of the The Long Island Railroad’s Rockaway Beach Branch and for the development of a light rail line along the LIRR’s Montauk Line.  These are areas that need relief and must take priority.  Obviously, other boroughs have similar needs.

Don’t get me wrong. Any expansion of the rail transit system, light or heavy, is good.  However, given the estimated price tag of $2.5 billion for the waterfront streetcar project, we should first make sure that the money for a project of this scope is best spent there, or if it would have a greater impact financing an extension of the 7, E or F Lines or developing new rail service elsewhere.

Under any circumstances, Queens’ transit needs extend well beyond the waterfront streetcar line.

Joseph B. Raskin was in the MTA’s Division of Government and Community Relations before retiring last year. He is the author of The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System.

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