By Bill Parry
The city pitched its Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar proposal in its first public visioning session Monday in Astoria. Many in the crowd of 75 at the Variety Boys & Girls Club were skeptical of the cost-benefit of the $2.5 billion project that would connect 16 miles of East River waterfront from Astoria to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
“It’s not a little amount of money and you have to wonder why can’t you just send a bus along the route,” retired construction worker Pete Trivias asked. “Why do all this cost now when you could provide the buses and you’re done?”
According to 2014 census data presented at the meeting, 58 percent of residents living along the route do not own cars and 67 percent use public transit to get to work, but many of the commuters live more than a half mile away from a subway stop and could use a more efficient way to travel between boroughs.
“The MTA can be a pain sometimes,” Astoria resident Andre Stithe said. “Trains are hard. Buses are hard. You know it gives you a faster way of moving around and for me it will be good.”
Officials from the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Department of Transportation made a presentation to the crowd.
“The mode of transit, in part, needs to be responsive to density,” Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said. “We have to think hard about the best way over the long term to serve what is an exiting amount of development, change and job generation so that’s where the vision comes from.”
A combined 700,000 live or work along the route that NYCEDC President Maria Torres-Springer called “the spine” of the city’s new economy.
“The Brooklyn-Queens waterfront is one of the fastest growing parts of the city’s new economy,” she said. “The BQX will connect neighborhoods that are traditionally underserved by mass transit with access to new opportunities in both boroughs. We will continue to engage communities throughout this process to ensure every need and concern is throroughly considered.”,
Construction on the streetcar is not expected to begin until 2019 and it won’t be up and running until 2024. Planning is still it the early stages and the EDC wants more public input with more visioning sessions scheduled over the next two months in neighborhoods along the route.
“I am excited to see the interest from our community and hear their input for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “This visioning session helped to ensure our residents participate in the process from the beginning and have a voice in shaping this potential network. As we imagine a 21st century streetscape and seek innovative transit solutions to better connect our waterfront, we must weave this project into the fabric of who were are as a community.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr