Astoria residents filled the Variety Boys & Girls Club on Monday to discuss the proposed Brooklyn Queens Connector, and many had differing opinions on where the car would run — and if it would be worth the effort.
The packed room was split into eight groups where representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) helped lead a discussion about what specifics residents would like to see.
The group of about 60 did not definitively agree on which main thoroughfare the streetcar system should be placed. Neil Herdan, an Astoria resident since 1989, said Vernon Boulevard is the most viable option since 21st Street is congested with car traffic.
Other groups suggested 21st Street or 11th Street, but there was no strong consensus.
“You want to put it somewhere where it’s going to affect the least amount of people,” said Pete Trivilivas, an Astoria resident since 1955. “You try to keep it away from where major congestion is now.”
Though he suggested Vernon Boulevard as an option, Trivilivas said he is opposed to the plan, which he argued would cause “havoc” when the city begins to dig up 16 miles of street for the tracks.
“How many years is this going to take? 10 years?” Trivilivas asked. “If you’re telling me it’s going to take 10 years ― I was in construction for 40 and it’s going to be 20 years.”
He said adding a new bus route is a more viable option and would be less costly. He also added that developers who are investing heavily in the neighborhood should also be paying for infrastructure upgrades.
Another resident, Arin, said he was pro-street car but is concerned about the increase in property taxes.
“Astoria is based upon middle-class homeowners,” he said. “Do our taxes increase? It’s easy to say we’re going to put in new infrastructure. I’m not someone that’s saying that we shouldn’t have infrastructure, but I’m saying there’s a cost associated with it … and we’re leaving out Astoria’s common people, our demographic: homeowners.”
Several attendees also said they would like to see the Brooklyn Queens Connector provide access to LaGuardia Airport and existing transportation options like the G train.
Mary McClary, a Ravenswood Houses resident since 1990, hopes that the streetcar is accessible to people who live in the housing projects along the waterfront like Astoria Houses and Queensbridge Houses.
“The concerns are that the beautiful neighborhood that’s about to become [a reality] will not be accessible, affordable to me and my neighbors,” McClary said. “A lot of people who are in the community have been here all of these years and so we’re really feeling kind of displaced. It feels like gentrification all over again.”
McClary added that she would like to see the street car along Vernon Boulevard to ensure access for NYCHA residents and is excited for the changes but hopes they will not only benefit “the new influx of people.”
Other residents said they want to have easy access to the burgeoning waterfront in Brooklyn.
“We feel that this would be a great project because we would like to have more opportunity and be able to go more to Brooklyn for recreational [purposes], for dining,” Astoria resident Blanca said. “[There is] so much that Brooklyn has to offer now so we would like to be a part of it.”
Councilman Costa Constantinides, who co-hosted the visioning session, said the EDC and DOT would be back again to collect feedback and provide more information.
“This is an opportunity for us to have a voice on the ground level,” Constantinides said. “To help envision how this would fit in our community. Tonight’s not the end. EDC and DOT will be back here again and we will continue this conversation.”