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Would a streetcar line running along the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens benefit your commute? New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman recently revived the idea, which was originally proposed by urban planner Alex Garvin nearly a decade ago, in a new article entitled Brooklyn to Queens, but Not by Subway. In the piece, Kimmelman proposes a light rail line that would run north to south along the East River through the Queens neighborhoods of Astoria Park and Long Island City before crossing over Newtown Creek on a bridge (which would need to be built) to wind its way through the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill with a final destination of IKEA Plaza in Red Hook.
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“A streetcar is a tangible, lasting commitment to urban change. It invites investment and becomes its own attraction. I’m not talking Ye Olde Trolley. This is transit for New Yorkers who can’t wait another half-century for the next subway station,” writes Kimmelman.
The author challenges New York’s progressive new mayor Bill de Blasio to back a streetcar line as part of his commitment to a more equitable city that invests in the outer boroughs. Kimmelman argues that the light rail line could tie in directly with de Blasio’s agenda to add 200,000 units of affordable housing and make the entire city more pedestrian-friendly. He then entices de Blasio even further by reminding the mayor that there is no permission required from Albany or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to lay down streetcar tracks along city streets.
Advocates for streetcar lines tout their economic benefits. While a bus route can move at a moment’s notice, a streetcar is more similar to a subway route in its permanency, which gives assurance to potential developers and businesses located along the line to plan for the long term. One study found that in Portland, Oregon streetcars contributed $778 million to local development. Light rail and streetcars are the fast growing mode of public transportation in the United States, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Since 2009, light rail has become more popular than commuter rail.
But what would the 11.4 mile line cost? Kimmelman gets a quote of $241 million from Brad Read, president of TIG/m, a California-based company that designs and builds self-powered, wireless streetcars. That estimate is for the cars and installing the rails but doesn’t include the new bridge and operating expenses.
So will modern streetcars be rolling along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront soon? Stay tuned.
Via The New York Times