By Prem Calvin Prashad

Anyone looking to take public transit from Southeast Queens to Coney Island can expect a sojourn of at least 90 minutes, from hopping on the A train, to transferring in Downtown Brooklyn to the Q and traveling the length of the borough. Rockaway residents, despite being just a stone’s throw away, would have to take two to three buses to get there, and allocate an hour of travel time. People in Northern Queens can forget about trying to use mass transit to get there, as it would take up to two hours and invariably involve having to route through Manhattan.

One could take the Belt Parkway and be there in 30 minutes, but what about families that don’t own cars or would like a day at the beach not spent looking for parking?

The mayor, in last week’s State of the City address, announced that Brooklyn and Queens were set to receive a new mass transit link, in the form of a streetcar line. Surely, this was to be the much-needed link between South Queens and Brooklyn?

The yet-unnamed project, initially proposed by scions of the real estate industry as the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, would link Astoria and Long Island City with Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn and the white-hot real estate markets of DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook, before terminating in Sunset Park. Though a route sparse with riders, proponents of the plan cite the thousands of “luxury” housing units being constructed along the waterfront as signs that the route could potentially carry 15.8 million people as early as 2035, making the project well worth its modest cost of $2.5 billion.

The project would be funded through a property tax levy and would be comparable in cost to the 7 train extension to Hudson Yards, a project that ran far beyond its projections, scrapped a proposed station and currently connects to the Javits Center and some impressive construction sites.

The motivations for building a vanity project to link luxury condos are dubious and likely political, but plans to rectify the many transportation deserts in Queens have existed for decades.

The most ambitious—the Triboro RX—was proposed by the Regional Plan Association in 1996 and proposed using existing unused and under-utilized track from the Long Island Rail Road and freight lines to link Bay Ridge to Broadway Junction, the M train terminus in Queens Village, Jackson Heights, Astoria and eventually Hunts Point, in the Bronx. The RPA supports the BQX project, indicating its potential to link with their Triboro proposal at the terminus in Brooklyn and in Astoria. Unlike other lines, at no point would the proposed line cross into Manhattan. Those that have attempted to use mass transit on the weekends can attest that never-ending Fast Track repair work on those aging linkages to Manhattan have effectively isolated Queens residents.

Other plans include Rockaway Beach Branch line, to connect Rockaway with Rego Park and in the process, provide necessary relief to North-South bus lines that connect the borough.

While these plans scarcely get any recognition, in the last year, in addition to the proposed streetcar line, the governor announced an inexplicable plan to link La Guardia Airport with Mets-Willets Point via AirTrain, thereby increasing traffic on the 7 line and circumventing an already convenient, though inelegant and Byzantine express bus route from Jackson Heights to the airport.

It may not be feasible to build a streetcar line skirting around Jamaica Bay and the political will to make ambitious improvements to transit may never materialize. South Queens could use a better connection to Brooklyn, and South Brooklyn could use an easier way to get to JFK. Yet, short term, apparently billions of dollars will materialize only for vanity projects located conveniently near new development.

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