The New East River Trolley: Abridged Version?

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When plans were announced by the de Blasio administration for a light rail system running from Astoria to Red Hook, many of us Greenpointers wondered about an important, but perhaps overlooked detail: How do you get your trolley line over Newtown Creek?

For years, Newtown Creek isolated Greenpoint from Queens. It wasn’t until 1855 that Neziah Bliss built a bridge that linked the two areas, but that was when the area around the bridge consisted of farmland. A bridge today would have many more hurdles to clear.

The creek may not seem like a very wide body of water. Its width varies between 125 and 250 feet, but a bridge for the new tram presents a lot of problems, and bridging the creek isn’t as easy as it seems.

Some say that the city can use an existing bridge. Current proposals paint a picture of the street car running over the Pulaski Bridge, which leaves Greenpoint at McGuinness Boulevard and arrives on 11th Street in Long Island City. However, the city has barely wrapped up a grueling battle to install bike lanes on the bridge, which would be wiped out by the new light rail line. Would they have to wipe out the newly created bike lanes or take the tram onto the packed and dangerous vehicular roadway? Even Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen acknowledged that using the Pulaski just might not be feasible.

Until 1954, there was the Vernon Avenue Bridge, which linked Manhattan Avenue with Vernon Boulevard in Queens. The city could build a bridge there, but building it also presents a number of problems. This would require a structure that passes over the wide Long Island Railroad yard in Hunters Point and then across the creek to Box Street, thus necessitating a tricky sharp right turn onto Commercial Street. Another possible site would be at the mouth of the Creek near West Street, but this entails the expensive proposition of building a bridge at its widest point, as well as having to alter other development plans for the highly coveted area to create approaches to the bridge.

The city is left with two options, which present serious engineering and logistical obstacles, not to mention a huge price tag. Mitch Waxman, the creek maven of the Newtown Creek Alliance, has serious reservations about the construction cost, project timeframe and ridership figures the city claims, as do a host of others.

It just might be that the creek will sink the new trolley, but at any rate, Newtown Creek is a small body of water that creates many major light rail problems.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

5 Comments

  1. schaz says:

    The prior Manhattan Ave Bridge to LIC was a real boon for pedestrians, providing quick and easy access from Greenpoint to L.I.C. (and the #7 transit line) – until it was torn down in the fifties for the much larger (and difficult for pedestrains to cross) Pulaski span several blocks to the east, built to accomodate growing vehicular traffic.
    A new low-slung Manhattan Ave. bridge would once again become a welcome addition tying both communities together, if dedicated solely to bikes, people, and trollies -with no need for a massive structure to accomodate cars. As for the difficulty of “crossing Hunters Point rail yards” – the proposed trolley route is west of Hunters Point, with any remaining LI rail remnants on LIC either defunct or easily transversed. Please … if we can span Newtown Creek again we can span a rail spur! Or –build it slightly further to the west, across the existing roads that alreadt span the Queens Midtown tunnel entrance. And, as noted by officials, the cost of TWO new bridges (spanning both Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal) were ALREADY factored into the initial price tag. As for the “sharp right turn on Commercial Street”– have you ever SEEN the super sharp left turn that the number 7 eleveated line makes before Queens Plaza? – or the sharp right the 7 makes turn before the Hunter’s Point stop? Give me a break already with your nay-saying. With this kind of nit-picking nothing would EVER get done in this city!

    Reply
  2. schaz says:

    This is not a duplicate. Since the comment is up for moderation anyway, here’s a version of my prior comment with most typo’s removed:
    The prior Manhattan Ave Bridge to LIC was a real boon for pedestrians, providing quick and easy access from Greenpoint to L.I.C. (and the #7 transit line) – until it was torn down in the fifties for the much larger (and difficult for pedestrains to cross) Pulaski span several blocks to the east, built to accomodate growing vehicular traffic.
    A new low-slung Manhattan Ave. bridge would once again become a welcome addition tying both communities together, if dedicated solely to bikes, people, and trollies -with no need for a massive structure to accomodate cars. As for the difficulty of “crossing Hunters Point rail yards” – the proposed trolley route is west of Hunters Point, with any remaining LI rail remnants on LIC either defunct or easily transversed. Please … if we can span Newtown Creek again we can span a rail spur! Or –build it slightly further to the west, across the existing roads that alreadt span the Queens Midtown tunnel entrance. And, as noted by officials, the cost of TWO new bridges (spanning both Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal) were ALREADY factored into the initial price tag. As for the “sharp right turn on Commercial Street”– have you ever SEEN the super sharp left turn that the number 7 eleveated line makes before Queens Plaza? – or the sharp right the 7 makes turn before the Hunter’s Point stop? Give me a break already with your nay-saying. With this kind of nit-picking nothing would EVER get done in this city!

    Reply
  3. Darren says:

    If the street car follows the same route as the ferry why bother spending 2.5 billion? Something smells fishy. http://nytimes.com/2015/11/05/nyregion/mayor-de-blasios-hired-guns-private-consultants-help-shape-city-hall.html?referer=&_r=0

    Reply
  4. Fred says:

    How many bicycles actually use the bike lanes on the Pulaski Bridge vs. the number of people who could be carried on the streetcar?

    Seems like an easy choice, if you can get past Transportation Alternatives and the other bicycle advocates.

    Reply
  5. Joe says:

    The photo in the link below shows a Graham Avenue streetcar leaving the loop at Vernon-Jackson in Long Island City, about to cross Newtown Creek into Greenpoint. The streetcar crossing was accomplished early in the last century, and I rode it near the end of service about 1947 or 1948.

    http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/show?142013

    Reply

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