Should Mayor Connect Brooklyn to Queens With a Waterfront Streetcar Line?

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A story in The New York Times suggests Mayor de Blasio can do an end run around Albany and forge a public transportation route to meet new needs with a modern streetcar line along the waterfront from Brooklyn to Queens. The line would make it easier for residents to get around Brooklyn; tie together transit starved areas such as Red Hook, Greenpoint and the Navy Yard; connect to ferry, bus and subway routes; and link Brooklyn to Queens.

The author estimates it would cost somewhere around $600,000,000 or so. Now that Brooklyn is less Manhattan-centric, do you think this is an idea whose time has come, or should we just improve existing bus and subway service?

Imagining a Streetcar Line Along the Brooklyn Waterfront [NY Times]

40 Comment

  • Great idea. Red Hook needs transportation. In Brooklyn Heights they could use the Pier 6 tower area for a transit stop instead of towers (since LICH and Watchtower would replace the tower revenue) and one could also have a stop in the Navy Yard which has no transportation.

  • It is a fantastic idea. Would be great for both boroughs. Would love to see this happen soon.

  • you know, AROUND $600mm. no big deal. BWHAAHAHAHAHAHHAHA this is never gonna happen.

    i propose the opposite, that we erect a wall between Brooklyn and queens and cut off G service that connects the two, ya know to keep the queens riff raff out of Brooklyn.

  • Where da fuq are we , San Francisco? Improve trains/busses

  • This is the most ridiculous idea for spending $600 million. The NYT arch critic who writes the piece acknowledges as much, but argues that relying on a bus line is not “romantic” enough for the waterside. I am all for more transit, but this is ridiculous. (Plus, I am not sure how a “self-powered” streetcar is any more romantic than a streetcar.)

  • How long was the 2nd Ave subway line in the planning stages???

  • It’s not a bad idea. I liked it when Garvin floated it in a recent call for NYC urban design ideas. It’s a much better use of funds than all of the other (awful) proposals, which you can imagine included nothing but – “lets create hundreds of floating vegetable garden islands in the East River!” I agree, it’s hard to argue against improving existing rail & bus lines, but bringing better transportation to underutilized/developed areas can only help spread development out & raise private property values in these areas, spurring private sector growth/development. This line would help connect all of these hard to get to places with other subway lines/buses into Manhattan. But why stop at Astoria? Linking all of these neighborhoods to LaGuardia/CitiField/Willets Point would be huge.

  • I could be crazy but I am guessing that most residents of these under-served waterfront communities would much rather that they get connected to the existing infrastructure via, busses, streetcars, subways, ferries etc…. way before they want a new line that connects them to other ill served neighborhoods.

    That being said, if its a good idea then the plan should be to get a bus line established FIRST and then if ridership demonstrates a desire/need then maybe tracks be laid. However the idea of just laying some track on a hunch (or romantic idea) is fiscal irresponsibility at its worst.

  • This probably stems from Bob Diamond’s 20 year long crusade to bring an antique trolley car system to Red Hook. The reason it has taken 20 years and never got anywhere is that it is a bad idea. It was more about his nostalgia for a bygone era than any real attempt to solve Red Hook’s transit problems. A much more cost effective way to help underserved areas is expanded bus service and bike share. The city or the MTA should help fund the bike share program, which is privately funded only and in financial trouble.

  • The reason a streetcar system would be better is that it gives a sense of pemnanence to transit, which is a big plus in development and perception. And streetcars are efficient and can be much faster than buses, kinda ike SBS because you can mimimize obstructive traffic and prioritize lights.

    If that excessive station at Ground zero cost hundreds of millions, why not spend as much on something really useful?

    • Really useful?! The new station at the WTC is a massive transit hub that will have hundreds of thousands of commuters from two states pass through every day. That pie-in-the-sky waterfront trolley would never have more than a few thousand passengers a day, if that. A very expensive plaything for affluent people living in Williamsburg, Dumbo and BBP condos. Also, it would have no other transit connection, except maybe the L train. A very poor comparison.

    • Even if rails can give a sense of permanence that fosters further development, you would still have traffic — my understanding is that this price tag does not propose a dedicated lane system like SBS. (Plus a dedicated lane would have to deal with further protests regarding loss of driving lanes, loss of parking, etc.)

      And what station are you talking about — the PATH or the Fulton Street stop? The PATH is crazy, but it is part of a much larger sui generis creation there with the memorial, the new WTC buildings, etc. I had not heard that the Fulton St staiton was excessively beyond costs, and that spaghetti maze of a station needs every bit of help it can get.

    • Ok – so lets start 1st with a bus line with speed improvements (like bus controlled lights, express entry etc….) then if ridership justifies it, the rail proposal can have some credibility.

  • Lovely in theory. Not so good in practice. For one thing, the waterfront is never the shortest distance between Point A and Point B. For another, what happens to this wonderful new amenity when the next hurricane or tidal swell hits town?

    • Rails inset in the pavement would be unaffected by flooding. If power were supplied by overhead electrical wires, a storm would not kill the system unless we’re talking 15-20 foot storm surge—in which case much of NYC is screwed.

  • You could run a semi-permanent bus line or streetcar pretty much underneath or alongside most of the BQE from Williamsburg all the way out to Sunset Park. Would be a great connect to the greenway also being built.

  • sure, NYC is investing so much now on its infrastructure -eye roll.
    The city is broke, it’s always broke. It can’t maintain its parks, it can’t maintain the streets or bridges, its underground utilities systems are held together by patches and string, storm sewers flow right into the river, the subways are a disgrace, etc.
    Let’s spend 600 million on a waterfront trolley line to help hipsters get from Red Hook to Williamsburg in style. Seems very likely. Uhuh.

    • Why is your nose growing longer?

      Subways are maintained by the MTA: not a city agency. Underground utilities are not owned by the city; they’re owned and operated by Con Ed, other utilities. Storm drains and sewers are two different systems.

      If everything is so horrible, why do you still live here? Oklahoma City awaits!

  • Aaah…Calavetera designed station is at $4 billion now. Somehow I find it hard to believe even a ‘major transportation hub’ should’ve cost a quarter or that, of less.

    i cannot comment on the route (other than to say it’s clearly useful, comments about hipsters nonwithstanding) but read up on why streetcar lines are actually better in the long run than buses. There are studies.

    And as for money., it’s ALWAYS an issue. Other cities worldwide are constantly expanding their transit options, while we labor mightily and procude a couple of pseudo-rapid-transit-bus lines which improve times by 10-15% or so. Where’s the grand vision? Even our subway system, which is efficient, agreed, pales in comparision to most cities (I just visited Montreal, which has almost-silent (rubber-tired) trains that run every 5 mins, start and stop fast (the doors actually open a fraction of a second before the train stops, iike in Paris), and you never hear “..we[re stopped because of train traffic ahead, (or by the dispacher, or whatever). NYC transit is great only in comparison to other US cities or Chennai.

    • I live in Red Hook, on the waterfront, and I do not want the city to spend $600m on a light rail system. I am a realist, and I just want improved bus service and some Citi Bike stations closer to me. It is a shame about the WTC transit hub, but I would not want to make that same mistake and have a multi-billion dollar rail project that would serve a relatively small population of New Yorkers.

  • Bottom line: The city needs to be constantly improving it’s transportation systems to be a competitive, functioning city now and into the future. Whether it’s improving current infrastructure or building new, it has to be done. Subways are expensive and I believe the beleaguered 2nd Ave Subway is the first new Subway track built in over 100 years (the system is antiquated and lacked improvements for a century). Trains and buses are overcrowded. I don’t see anyone building more new Subway or Elevated lines anytime soon. Trolleys/lightrail might not be the most efficient use of public funds, but something like Bus Rapid Transit systems are.

    • In 1914, most of the subway system wasn’t built yet, for instance the trains out to Queens, much of the system in Manhattan. The IND system wasn’t built until *after* 1914. Oh, and there was no discussion about building new subway or elevated trains here. Read the article. Again.

  • All I see is a street car painted with corporate logos. And those who can afford to live waterfront can take a car service they can afford it.

  • I don’t know what financial shape Hudson Bergen Light Rail is in in New Jersey, but I enjoy riding it whenever I get the chance.

  • The proposed “Triboro X” line would positively impact more people and places. And since most of the right of way is already established, it would be more feasible.

  • Build it and I’m guessing the result will be either a) only tourists use it or b) locals do use it and the real estate agents add it to the top of the amenities lists when they start listing properties in these “under-served” neighborhoods then, fast forwarding a few years, Spike has another ‘hood or two for his gentrification rant.

  • I only hope that the reason the DOT and other City agencies kept pulling apart Robert Diamond’s (Brooklyn Historic Rail Road) vision of trolly service from Red Hook to Brooklyn Borough Hall until they killed it, was not because the mega developers who will now be along (and benefit from) the new proposed trolly route saw this coming, and selfishly eviscerated Diamond’s efforts so they could dictate the route. Diamond had proposed service like this for years, but got smacked around until the tracks were pulled out from under him. Now, suddenly, an almost identical trolly line is all the rage, conveniently running past all the new uber-upscale condo developments.

    One of the really neat aspects of Diamond’s vision was the re-use of the Atlantic Ave tunnel as part of his trolly route. Talk about historic. If this ever does get off the ground, I hope the planners and designers can find a way to involve Diamond and leverage the 20 years he’s put into the project, and I hope Diamond has the good sense to cooperate and compromise to get this project done.