By Bill Parry
The Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector unveiled the inaugural BQX streetcar for a crowd that included Queens Borough president Melinda Katz, NYCHA leaders and representatives of the waterfront business community Monday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The 46-foot-long Citadis 405, constructed in and shipped from Nice, France, gave the audience a glimpse of the future if the light rail system is approved to run along a 14-mile stretch of the East River from Astoria to Sunset Park.
“Today we’re providing New Yorkers with their first real taste of what the BQX would look and feel like, and calling on the city to bring light rail service to areas long underserved by reliable mass transit,” Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector Executive Director Ya-Ting Liu said. “It’s clear: Now is the moment to move forward with this transformative project to connect hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, including over 40,000 public housing residents, to jobs, education, healthcare and recreation along the route. Today we can start to imagine what’s possible, and now is the time for the city to make this a reality.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the ambitious $2.5 billion project that is still in its planning stages. If it survives a length public approval process, construction could begin in 2019 with service scheduled to start in 2024.
“I think there are a lot of questions still moving forward on the routes and where they would be located and its effects on parking spots,” Katz said. “While Queens is expanding and building so much and folks are coming from all over the world to settle down in the borough, it’s good that we’re having a further discussion on how we are going to transport people from one area to the next.”
Katz said the public approval process had an unofficial start at Monday’s unveiling with many community leaders and tenants associations from western Queens in attendance.
“The Astoria Houses have long been forgotten by the city when it comes to transportation and only recently, thanks to new ferry service, is this beginning to change,” Astoria Houses Tenants Association President Claudia Coger said. “But our residents need more reliable options. This is an issue of economic justice and it is why we have been so adamant about the need for the BQX. Mayor de Blasio should move this project forward now, to provide relief to the thousands of working families in the Astoria Houses, and the many more along this increasingly important corridor.”
The event was held at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which is set to add 10,000 jobs over the next three years. Yet it is hard to reach by subway, especially from Astoria.
“At my inauguration nearly four years ago, I laid out a vision for a new transportation link for Brooklyn’s waterfront, a line to connect historically underserved transit deserts and unlock the full potential of our neighborhoods; that vision is captured by the BQX proposal,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said. “The growth of our emerging job hubs is stifled by the severe lack of transit connecting them with our workforce. To be sure, there are key details that need resolution before this project can advance. I am confident that the city can work productively in a community-led process on issues such as route design, financing structure, and MTA fare integration. The BQX is a bold idea, and New York City lives and breathes on bold ideas.”
Long after the event was over, the 81-year-old Coger was still looking at the streetcar prototype, smiling broadly, thinking how it would connect residents of the Astoria Houses, which sits isolated on a “derelict” peninsula jutting out over Hallets Cove.
“It’s awesome and it’s beyond my most vivid imagination,” she said. “Really, I’m glad I can actually stand here and actually see it because I know it would make such a difference in Astoria, especially on the peninsula.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr