Posts tagged with "Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX)":

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New York’s BQX streetcar on hold as de Blasio appeals for federal funding

The saga of New York City’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar has taken yet another turn, as Mayor Bill de Blasio placed responsibility for funding the $2.5-billion project on the federal government. At an August 24 media roundtable, de Blasio dodged questions about how much the city would be contributing to the project and claimed that while a detailed BQX plan was incoming, federal subsidies were necessary to move things along. “When we have a more detailed plan we'll speak to it,” said de Blasio, “but the primary focus I have beyond the resources that would be created via its very existence because of increased property taxes for that area, is the need for federal support. I don't think it's doable without federal support, but we'll speak to the details.” It looks like the federal government is throttling back its investments in mass transit, as the Federal Transit Administration has been consistently decreasing the amount of money allocated to intra-city projects. Still, it might not be impossible for the city government to secure federal funds for the BQX; the Gateway rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, long maligned by President Trump, has seen a consistent trickle of money through Congressional action. While the city still has yet to release a draft report of the BQX’s route, there has been no mention of changing the 2019 groundbreaking. The de Blasio administration was (and seemingly still is) shooting for a 2024 completion date, but even if funding is secured in time, the reconstruction of the decaying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway could alter any previously proposed route. De Blasio added that details on the BQX’s next steps would be forthcoming. “Figuring out how to do it is what we've been working on cause it is complex, we're going to have an announcement soon on the details. But, you know, bottom line is the original concept makes sense, we believe there will be some real funding created by its presence but, we're gonna need some additional support.” The nonprofit Friends of the BQX declined to comment.
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What’s going on with the Brooklyn-Queens streetcar?

With the recent revelation that New York City’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar project had missed its deadline for launching the public review process at the end of December, new questions have arisen over how feasible the project is. As the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has instead chosen to begin a review of the streetcar’s cost and feasibility this year, it’s worth looking back at the BQX’s bumpy ride through 2017. The last time AN wrote about the BQX, it was to report on the release of a leaked memo from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s advisory team to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen in April. While the 16-mile-long BQX line was originally envisioned as a way to transport residents up and down a revitalized Brooklyn-Queens waterfront by April 2024, the memo called into question the rising costs of relocating below-grade utilities along the line’s route. It was additionally suggested that the use “value-capture” for the $2.5 billion project, which would finance the BQX through rising waterfront property values, might not be enough. Fast forward to November 9th, when two anonymous sources with connections to the project told the New York Post that “It’s going to die.” Citing the contentious relationship between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, and breaking with the mayor’s assertion that the BQX would require no state-level intervention, the sources broke down why the streetcar relied on the governor’s approval. Several parcels of land along the BQX’s proposed route are owned by the state government and would need permission to build over, and the MTA has stated that it would not cross-honor BQX tickets for the bus and subway systems. Killing the “last mile” aspect of the streetcar is especially important, as the project was initially pitched as linking neighborhoods that lacked mass transit options. Four days later on the 13th, the nonprofit group Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector unveiled a life-sized streetcar prototype at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The mockup featured enough room for 150 passengers and open gangways, while Friends of the BQX have promised that the streetcar would have an average speed faster than the busses it would share the street with. As December drew to a close, the BQX missed a major milestone in failing to launch the public review process. As the EDC begins an in-depth review of the project, Crain’s has noted that the review would save taxpayers $35 million if plans for the streetcar were scrapped, but would delay the project’s launch another six months, potentially costing up to $100 million every year that it’s delayed. Only a few days after, on December 28th the Post reported that the Department of Transportation would need to repair the decaying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway directly over the proposed streetcar route, potentially delaying the project further. While the Friends of the BQX and the mayor’s office have remained adamant that funding for the project can be found, there are still significant hurdles in the way. A route has to be finalized, some sort of agreement between the city and MTA must be worked out, and protection measures for flooding will need to be discussed as the entire line runs along the most climatologically vulnerable part of the waterfront. As 2018 progresses, it will be worth keeping an eye on whether the BQX can meet its original 2019 groundbreaking date. A Friends of the BQX spokesperson gave AN the following statement in regards to the project's future. "The BQX will dramatically increase opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront who are clamoring for better access to jobs, education, healthcare and recreation. We're optimistic that the project will take significant, concrete strides forward in 2018."
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Municipal Art Society’s Jane Jacobs tour to be protested

[UPDATE 5/5/17, MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein issued this response to UPROSE, but as one Brooklynite put it, "Jane herself must have intervened by arranging the weather to rain out today's walking tour."]

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) will host its annual tribute to Jane Jacobs with a series of free guided tours around the city from May 5 to 7.

One of these tours, referred to by the society as "Jane's Walk," will explore the proposed Brooklyn–Queens Connector (BQX) waterfront light rail link. However, that tour is now coming under attack by local residents due to be served by the proposed rail service.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose, Brooklyn's oldest Puerto Rican community–based organization, has written an open letter protesting the walk. In the letter, Yeampierre asks: "What would Jane Jacobs do if she were alive today and learned that real estate developers had appropriated the Municipal Arts Society’s 2017 Jane’s Walk to promote a $2.5 billion streetcar that will deliberately gentrify communities for their own benefit?"

Yempierre’s letter is addressed to MAS’s new president, Elizabeth Goldstein, and asks that they rethink this particular tour. Furthermore, Yeampierre asks, "are your board members invested in these developments along this corridor? We hope there is no conflict of interest."

The light rail plan is not a simple one and MAS may be innocent, but its leadership and board has just been through a bruising battle with its own membership, a process that saw the firing of its last president. One wonders who is running the Society. They should not be sponsoring tours like this without first reaching out to the residents of the community in which the take place or pass through.

On MAS's website, a description of the event reads: "All of the MAS-sponsored walks combine the simple act of exploring neighborhoods with personal observations, local history, and civic engagement. A typical walk is 90 minutes and is free and open to the public."

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Leaked memo suggests Brooklyn-Queens streetcar might not pay for itself

Picture the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, seven years from now: There will be a new garment district, design fairs, and expanded ferry service, but the city wants residents to see a streetcar, carrying passengers between the neighboring boroughs. Leaked information suggests, though, that plans for the brand new line may have to wait. Politico this week released a draft of a confidential memo from the Mayor Bill de Blasio's BQX advisory team to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen that outlines some of the challenges behind its developer-driven financial model, among other issues. The mayor officially declared the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) a priority project during his February 2016 state of the city address. The proposed 16-mile, $2.5 billion streetcar line would run along the waterfront, connecting Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. Unlike a new subway line under Utica Avenue or phase two of the Second Ave Subway, supporters say BQX could be built without financing from the MTA, which is run by the state, not the city. Instead, local backers like Doug Steiner and the Walentas family have endorsed a value-capture model, where the project would be financed by rising property values along the streetcar route. Another selling point was its tight timelines. The city estimated that the project could break ground two years from now and begin ferrying passengers up and down the waterfront by 2024. At one community meeting, a representative from Sam Schwartz, the project's transportation consultant, noted that relocating below-grade utility lines would be a challenging (and costly) aspect of the project, but it turns out the city is having serious second thoughts about the feasibility of relocating gas, water, and sewer mains: "Utility relocation continues to be the biggest single cost factor and if policies cannot be implemented to limit the impact, it has the possibility to make the project unaffordable and render implementation timelines unfeasible," the memo states. The letter outlines three possible timelines, fast to slow, to gauge the costs and benefits of breaking ground sooner rather than later. The memo suggests taking more time to study and review the project before making a final decision, though that would delay the groundbreaking, now set for 2019. But, the memo cautions, every year the project is delayed adds tens of millions more to the bill. Construction on the line was initially expected to take five years, but if the city chooses a longer timeline, construction costs will rise approximately $100 million per year. Ouch. The BQX team, according to Politico, meets bimonthly to discuss the project. If value-capture won't work and the streetcar proves too costly, the city may look into other financing models, or the BQX may be abandoned.
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NYC unveils possible routes for Brooklyn-Queens streetcar

This week the City of New York unveiled potential routes for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), the $2.5 billion streetcar line that could connect East River–adjacent neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. A key goal of the BQX is to deliver reliable public transportation to the waterfront, where many residents a half-mile or more walk separates many residents from the subway. In May, a representative for engineering firm Sam Schwartz, the streetcar's transportation consultant, said that available maps are “very and deliberately vague description of the route” because city agencies, in collaboration with Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector [sic], the project's nonprofit spearhead, were still hammering out exact routes. After months of anticipation, these routes are out for public review. Maps released by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the city's Department of Transportation (DOT) show potential routes for the 16-mile line, which is set to open in 2024. The BQX maps are both descriptive and ideative. Williamsburg's Berry Street could be turned into a streetcar- and pedestrian-only thoroughfare—like Downtown Brooklyn's bus-only Fulton Mall, only sexier, because buses. On the other hand, new crossings over the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek could raise project costs, though this wouldn't impact (state-led) MTA projects like the Second Avenue subway because the BQX is financed by local government and speculatively by a projected rise in real estate value along the route. By New York City walking calculations, there is less-than-desirable pedestrian access for some proposed routes: Of the four streetcar scenarios in Astoria, Queens, two are more than ten blocks from the waterfront, a "transit-starved" area. Residents will have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Over the next few months, the city is soliciting feedback on the BQX routes at community boards in Brooklyn and Queens. Pending a successful environmental review, the project could break ground as early as 2019.
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New details emerge for the BQX, New York City’s proposed waterfront streetcar route

At breakfast talk hosted by the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center earlier this month, Harris Schechtman, national director of transit at Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, gave academics and members of the public a full run-down of plans for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed waterfront streetcar link that would connect neighborhoods between Sunset Park, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens.

The nonprofit Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a coalition of real estate investors, transportation planners, and development boosters, hired Sam Schwartz to develop the plan in December 2014. 14 months later, the mayor officially debuted the plan in his State of the City address. (Schechtman noted the "unprecedented" turnaround time from concept to debut.)

A New Yorker himself, Schechtman presented a case for the streetcar by confirming what most commuters observe every morning: Buses are feeders from the subway, while existing subway lines are overcrowded. Ferries, meanwhile, can only accommodate only 3,000 riders per day. The streetcar is a "Goldilocks solution," enthused Schechtman, who, prior to joining engineering firm Sam Schwartz in 2001, spent nearly 32 years at the MTA, including nine as the vice president of operations. The catenary-free, battery-powered streetcars can carry 175 passengers, compared to the Select Bus Service's (SBS) 100.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22XH4-nNjlA

The route map that's circulating in the media is a "very and deliberately vague description of the route," explained Schechtman. "The BQX project is a project in motion." Even so, Schechtman was able to lay out some specifics: When it begins operations in 2023, the streetcar will glide along a 15 mile north-south route from Astoria to Sunset Park, with 30 stops, each about a half-mile apart. Exclusive lanes, where streetcars can travel at 12 miles per hour, will comprise about three-quarters of the route, while 15 percent of the tracks will feature a contiguous-with-the-roadway, "SBS-style" design, that will slow travel to 10 miles per hour. Trains will arrive five minutes during rush hour, and every ten minutes off-peak; Sam Schwartz estimates that daily ridership will reach 52,000 by 2035.

Schechtman had strong words for those who view streetcars, like the one in car-dependent Dallas that has 200 riders per day, as dinky tourist boondoggles. "The [streeetcars] that are failing are the ones that were failing when they went to the drawing board. These efforts give streetcars a bad name. The BQX is not a cute tourist attraction, but real transit that carries a helluva lot of people." The annual operating costs are estimated to be between $26 and $30 million, with $17 million in projected fare revenue.

With the MTA struggling to finance even basic capital improvements, where is there money for a new infrastructure project? The BQX is a NYC DOT project, and thus operates outside the MTA's purview. Its design relies on existing zoning, doesn't compete with other development priorities, and assumes a 3.5 percent growth in taxes that go to the city, according to Schechtman. The biggest cost will be the relocation of below-grade utilities.

According to Schechtman, the city hired an independent consultant to review the work and the consultant validated Sam Schwartz's findings. A third consultant is now reviewing the streetcar plans. "We offered the plan to the city on a silver platter," Schechtman explained. "We took an idea on no one's radar—and [dealt] with all the key issues and fatal flaws. The plan so powerfully supports the goals of the city; we said to the city, 'We are going to take that burden off of you, we invite you to take a look at our plan.'"

AN reached out the DOT and the Mayor's press office, but as of this time AN has not been able to confirm Schechtman's description of the planning and review process.

A highly skeptical crowd grilled Schechtman on specifics. How will the streetcar pass smoothly through bustling downtown Brooklyn? (There are fears that a dip inland towards Atlantic and Flatbush avenues will be a bottleneck.) Why build a new transit system in a floodplain? (The embedded tracks are more flood- and stormproof than other forms of transit.) This seems like a gentrification plan. (It is, although the line should benefit residents of waterfront NYCHA projects, too. The streetcar is intended to entice developers to build housing, which could be required to respond to newly-enacted zoning that mandates affordable housing construction along with market-rate development.) Will fares be cross-honored with the MTA? (We're working on it.)

The public input process has just begun: on May 9, a public meeting was held in Astoria, and on May 19, another meeting will be held in Red Hook. A draft of the final route should be ready by the end of this year. In the meantime, check out the Friends of the BQX's recently launched website for updates, project FAQs, and a spate of shiny new streetcar renderings.

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Back to the Future: New York City explores streetcar transit route linking outer boroughs

Remember the New York City streetcar? Unless you're a New Yorker of a certain age, you definitely don't. Advances in transportation technology (what die-hard conspiracy theorists refer to as Great American Streetcar Scandal) drove streetcars all over the U.S. straight to the last stop. Yet, it's now very possible that two neighboring boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, will be reunited once again via a new streetcar line of their very own. The streetcar plans legitimate what transportation planners (and Michael Kimmelman) have known for years: commuting patterns in the city have changed, and the hub-and-spoke model no longer serves diffuse, inter- outer-borough commuting patterns. In his State of the City address last week, Mayor de Blasio proposed a 16-mile waterside streetcar route, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), that would run through 14 neighborhoods, from Brooklyn's Sunset Park through Astoria, Queens. These areas have seen swift transitions from their industrial origins and rapid population growth as the waterfront settles comfortably into its post-industrial future. Renderings are credited to a nonprofit called the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector. According to The Daily News, members include "transit experts, community leaders and business giants like Doug Steiner of Steiner Studios, investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization real estate firm." When the plan was announced in January, AN reached out the the nonprofit repeatedly for comment to confirm stakeholders and received no response. With backers like these, concerns about gentrification and potentially developer-driven policy have been raised. Some see the streetcar idea as a way to spur already-high land values along the waterfront, although the streetcar could also provide the more than 40,000 residents of waterfront NYCHA complexes with better access to public transportation. Others have raised concerns about locating the line in a flood zone. Still others have questioned why the city needs to spend billions on a new form of transportation, one that moves at a pokey 12 miles-per-hour, when bus service could be offered along a similar route. There is time to debate: Although energy around the plan is high, the groundbreaking is a long way off. The plan's timeline states that construction is expected to begin in 2019, and service could begin in 2024. The city pegs the cost at around $2.5 billion, although earlier estimates ran $800 million lower.