DOT to Red Hook: No Streetcar For You

DOT considers this the optimal route for a Red Hook streetcar, but recommended against the whole project. Image: NYC DOT

Proposed Red Hook streetcars aren’t worth the cost, according to the city DOT. In a presentation to community groups last Thursday [PDF], DOT revealed the results of its streetcar feasibility study and recommended against the construction of a line that would run from the Smith/9th subway station into Red Hook and up the waterfront to Borough Hall. The creation of a streetcar or light rail line along the northern Brooklyn or western Queens waterfront was a Bloomberg campaign promise in 2009.

The most fundamental critique in the study is that the streetcar would cost too much for too little. Building the 6.8 mile line is estimated to cost $176 million, with another $6.2-7.2 million in annual operating costs. According to DOT’s analysis, that investment would only create 1,822 new daily transit riders.

DOT also found that the streetcar wouldn’t offer quicker travel times or more reliable service than existing buses.

The low increase in ridership comes not only because of the lack of mobility benefits, but also because in Red Hook, where 81.5 percent of households don’t own a car, many residents are already transit-dependent.

We have a call in with DOT to learn more about the premises that underlie this study. More information should also be available in the full report, which is due out today.

The logistics of running a streetcar line through the neighborhood seem to have been greatly complicated by the department’s fear of removing parking spaces.

The presentation focuses on the difficulties of fitting streetcars onto Red Hook’s narrow streets, especially if you want to preserve existing bike lanes, and giving streetcars enough space to make tight turns. The presentation suggests that parking bans along the street or at intersections could solve those problems (the other option is narrowing sidewalks, which ought to be a non-starter for a pedestrian-friendly administration).

A final objection, though, seems to reveal either a lack of coordination between city agencies or a study designed to reject the streetcar in advance. Having looked at streetcar projects in other cities, DOT found that installing the transit line would only promote economic development if it was paired with changes to the area’s land use planning. Noting that the Department of City Planning doesn’t have any plans to upzone Red Hook’s residential areas or otherwise plan for growth, the DOT study concludes that the “current City development/land use policy is not complementary to streetcar as an economic development driver.”

If the Department of City Planning truly wouldn’t adjust Red Hook’s zoning in response to a major new piece of transit infrastructure, that would be a failure of coordination within the Bloomberg administration, not to mention a rejection of the concept of transit-oriented development. Alternatively, what this might really suggest is that the administration was not serious about a streetcar in the first place. After all, why should DCP plan a rezoning if DOT isn’t planning a streetcar line?

Instead of a streetcar, DOT proposes reworking the intersection of Mill Street and Hamilton Avenue, with the goal of improving pedestrian, bike, and bus access into Red Hook, as well as some additional shelters along the B61 bus route.