Mayor Bill de Blasio is prepared to endorse a streetcar line on the waterfront winding along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens, a 16-mile ride. The project would be the most ambitious public transportation project of the mayor’s administration.
The plan calls for a streetcar line that runs above ground on rails inlayed on public roadways, side by side with automobile traffic. It is envisioned to be a sleeker version of San Francisco’s famous trolleys.
Streetcars are a common form of transit in European cities. They are also in use in cities like Atlanta, Portland, Oregon; and Toronto in Canada. But up until now, they failed to catch on as a viable form of transportation in New York City.
By running the length of the East River, the streetcars would dramatically expand transportation access to a rapidly and recently developed stretch of the city that despite it’s rise enjoys relative isolation from the city’s subway lines. The line would travel through many neighborhoods from Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens, traveling at 12 miles per hour. Though it has not been negotiated by the MTA, there is talk that the fare for the streetcar will include a free transfer to subways, buses, and berries.
Not only would the streetcar line open up transportation acce
ss, but it also costs significantly less than a new underground subway line. It is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion, according to city officials. After studies and community review, construction of the line could commence as early as 2019, though commuters will not be able to use the line until at least 2024.
A study commissioned for Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, members of which include transit experts and leaders like Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, estimates that the streetcar line could have as many as 15.8 million passengers a year in 2035.
Despite the looming price tag, city planners strongly believe the streetcar is financial viable, estimating that the commuter line could bring in $3.7 billion of new tax revenue a year.
Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, told the New York Times that the city’s transportation network no longer met the needs of a city whose commuting patterns have changed greatly in the past few decades.
“The old transportation system was a hub-and-spoke approach, where people went into Manhattan for work and came back out,” Glen said. “This is about mapping transit to the future of New York.”
Indeed, the commuter mindset has changed remarkably in the past two decades, especially with rising house prices in Manhattan. More and more people are moving out of the city and commuting in.
With the advent of PATH trains, New Jersey cities Hoboken and Jersey City are fast becoming preferred commuter hubs for young families looking to move out of their tiny Manhattan apartment in exchange for more space. Emerging cities like Hoboken are taking more and more young families in with their easy access to Manhattan. The city is definitely sprawling outwards.
Since the streetcars will operate on city streets, the city does not need to seek the approval of the state. This will make the streetcar more of a reality as approval from the state has been lacking in the past few projects Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed. A project for low-cost housing near Sunnyside Yards was put down by Governor Cuomo as the area is partially owned by the state.
Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said,
“The more mass transit we have, the better off we are as a city that is growing.”
At a community meeting regarding the streetcar, many people complained about their long commutes. Ayesha Santiago and Edda Figueroa said it takes them more than half an hour to commute on the bus from East Williamsburg to their job site. “I think its a really good idea if it’s executed properly,” Santiago told Patch.