After a recently leaked city hall memo suggested that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed streetcar connecting Brooklyn and Queens may be both “unaffordable” and “unfeasible,” the future of the project is unclear.
Originally announced in February 2016, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, known as the BQX, would run along a 14-mile route, connecting Astoria, Queens to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Before hiring the former chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission, Adam Giambrone, to head the project, the city estimated the cost of the streetcar would be $2.5 billion, generating an estimated economic impact of $25 billion over the next 30 years. Utilizing existing rails from 20th century trolley cars, the trip from end-to-end would last about 30 minutes and cost you a swipe of your MetroCard. The route has yet to be finalized, but the city proposes the streetcar travel through Greenpoint via Franklin Street, Manhattan Avenue, or McGuiness Boulevard, necessitating the redesign of the Pulaski Bridge or the construction of an alternate path over the Newtown Creek.
Funding for this ambitious project has become a serious concern. Neighborhoods that have gone through rapid development in recent years, such as Long Island City and Williamsburg, in addition to currently developing areas like the Brooklyn Navy Yard are expected to see an increase in property values upon completion of the streetcar. These increased property values, it is anticipated, will generate a higher yield from property taxes. This economic model, known as the “value capture” model, was the initial method by which the city would fund the BQX. However, the internal memo reveals that the value capture model will “not provid[e] sufficient revenue to fund the entire project as originally stated.” It has yet to be announced how the city intends to account for this funding miscalculation.
It is precisely this model of increasing property taxes that worries opponents of the BQX. For these critics, an increase in property values means an increase in rent, the end result of this process being the displacement of low-income residents. The city estimates, however, that the project will serve more than 40,000 public housing residents. Despite the social equity that the city claims this project will bring, an additional critique of the streetcar is that it does not address major MTA-recognized transportation deserts populated by predominantly working-class communities such as the 3rd Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, and East Elmhurst in Queens. Residents of lower-income communities such as Red Hook and Sunset Park fear that the BQX will only serve the interests of the wealthy, will create vast income disparity between the natives and wealthier transplants, and will initiate the process of gentrification in their neighborhood.
Despite all of the recent criticism and financial challenges surrounding the BQX, a not-for-profit organization known as Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector remains optimistic about the future of the project. The organization has successfully created a coalition of community members, educational and cultural institutions, and transit experts, garnering support from small businesses near the proposed route as well as the Transport Workers Union. The members of the coalition with perhaps the largest financial incentive to support the project are the various development firms such as Two Trees Management—which is currently working on multiple projects along the proposed route such as the new, 522-unit Domino Sugar Refinery apartment complex in Williamsburg. But it is the support of people from diverse backgrounds that live and work in the areas near the proposed route that excites Friends of the BQX the most. The organization says we can expect the results of a new feasibility analysis by the end of this year. Executive Director of Friends of the BQX, Ya-Ting Liu, says the city will break ground by 2019 or early 2020 at the latest and that “New Yorkers can expect to take their first ride on the BQX by 2024.”