Later today, Mayor de Blasio is going to deliver his State of the City speech, and one centerpiece is expected to be a new streetcar running from Sunset Park to Astoria along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. It’s an idea that’s surfaced repeatedly in one form or another as developers have transformed sections of the waterfront into new residential neighborhoods. As alluring as it may be to picture modern rail on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, there are good reasons it’s gone nowhere.
The argument for the streetcar goes something like this… The waterfront is booming with residential development in western Queens and northern Brooklyn, and job centers are growing at the Navy Yard and Sunset Park. A lot of this growth isn’t very close to trains, and Red Hook has always been isolated from the subway network. So connect everything with a streetcar line and voila, transit access problem solved.
The vision of a sleek streetcar connecting people and jobs, with the East River glinting in the background, has a seductive appeal. The renderings will look fantastic in the marketing materials for new luxury condos. (Major backers of the plan include developers Two Trees and the Durst Organization.) Plus the city says the project will basically pay for itself through increased property tax revenue.
Too good to be true? I think so. Based on what we know so far, there’s no way this proposal will deliver on the hype. What we’re going to end up with is a highly-subsidized transit route with modest ridership at best. Here are four aspects of the project that don’t add up.
Subway connections. A lot of the new development coming to northern Brooklyn and western Queens is a schlep from the subway. There are transit solutions to the subway access problem (here’s one), but the streetcar route isn’t a good one.