BQX Streetcar Plan Is Nice in Theory, Not in Practice

A plan for a streetcar between Brooklyn and Queens is currently in the works. (Courtesy of Flickr)

A plan for a streetcar between Brooklyn and Queens is currently in the works. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Andrew Santis

Without a doubt, New Yorkers depend heavily on public transportation. Our location on Fordham Road, a major transportation hub, provides us with numerous ways to travel to the rest of the Bronx, as well as the four other boroughs. Yes, our relationship with the MTA may be complicated and our complaints about reliability, cleanliness and fare prices persist, but at least we have options.

For many other New Yorkers, however, there are very limited options to get around. Areas like the South Bronx, Southeast Queens and East Brooklyn are practically transit deserts, with little to no viable or nearby public transportation available. Instead of focusing its efforts on these parts of the city, the de Blasio administration decided to focus on the booming East River waterfront, where it proposed to add a streetcar line to serve neighborhoods like Astoria, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook and Sunset Park.

While this streetcar is an innovative idea for providing an alternative mode of transportation for Brooklyn and Queens residents, the Brooklyn Queens Connector is not necessary.

For starters, not all the neighborhoods that will be served by the BQX are underserved by public transportation. For example, the M, N, Q and R trains serve Astoria, the 7 forLong Island City, the G and L Williamsburg, and the D and R to Sunset Park. Buses are also plentiful in both boroughs.
One of the major downsides to the BQX is that there are no specifics as to how, or if, it will connect to the subways or buses. As of now, there is no guarantee that there will be a free transfer between the BQX and the subways and buses. [FYI, the BQX is not an MTA project, so the state agency does not have any control over how the streetcar will be implemented or how much a fare will cost.]

The chances of more congested streets, reduced parking and traffic accidents among pedestrians, bikers and other vehicles are also likely to increase because of the BQX. The streetcar is proposed to run on above-ground rails embedded in the road and alongside car traffic for about 16 miles. If you have even been to downtown Brooklyn during rush hour, you know how overcrowded the streets can get. I think what a lot of urban developers forget about New York is that the city is overpopulated and has outdated infrastructure unable to handle more traffic. A streetcar would only cause headaches.

In a recent New York Times article, residents in Red Hook, Brooklyn were divided on the BQX. One of resident’s reasons for opposing the streetcar was that its addition would drive up housing prices — a valid point. Gentrification and development have made the neighborhoods along the proposed BQX route desirable but expensive, and have led to the displacement of thousands of residents who can no longer afford to pay skyrocketing rents, which adds to the city’s housing crisis.

New York is the latest city to want to implement a streetcar. Cities like Portland, Oregon and Tucson, Arizona have had success with their light train lines, but cities like San Antonio, Atlanta and most recently, Washington, D.C., have run into problems. Issues arise because of rising costs, lower-than-expected ridership, questions of adequacy and efficiency and constructed roadways. I would not be surprised if this happens to the BQX.

Knowing New York’s less than stellar record on keeping deadlines and price tags low on major transportation projects, the city should not take a risk on the BQX. If the point of the BQX is to connect Brooklyn and Queens to each other and to other public transit options, the most logical thing to do is either increase service on the bus routes that already serve both boroughs, such as the B32 and B62, or add rapid bus line routes between more transit desert neighborhoods like Maspeth and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The city should also find ways to improve commutes for New Yorkers in Woodhaven and the Rockaways, who have the longest commutes in the city. Of course, my bus proposal would never fly because it is not “sexy” enough for New York, which is why a streetcar looks and sounds more appealing.

If all goes according to plan, which it usually does not in New York, construction on the BQX will start in 2019, pending approval from all the communities involved and ideally be up and running by 2024. In order to alleviate mass transit problems for two of the most populous boroughs in the city by providing them a faster and more convenient route, Mayor de Blasio should reconsider the streetcar proposal and prioritize the objective over the design.

In other words: keep it simple, stupid.

Andrew Santis, GSB ’16, is a marketing major from Queens.


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