The march up Jackson after the 7-train was canceled


Mayor de Blasio has proposed a new streetcar line that will run near the East River and link Brooklyn to Queens.  More specifically, it would start in Sunset Park and end in northern Astoria.  Tentative plans in Long Island City have it crossing the Pulaski Bridge and running along 11th Street up to the Queensboro Bridge, and then shifting to 21st Street for the rest of the trek north.  It is expected to cost $2.5 billion.

Great idea, I love it.  It would be a fantastic addition for LIC.  Just one thing – about that price tag?  This sounds like a very low number.  We’re talking about laying 16 miles of track in one of the most crowded and expensive cities on the planet.  $25 billion sounds more plausible than $2.5 billion.

In visualizing solely the LIC segment, I can quickly think of a major roadblock: the Pulaski Bridge.  A new bike lane was just put in place, which eliminated a car lane.  Now you want to remove two more of the remaining four car lanes?  I think it’s logistically undoable and thus a streetcar would require a new bridge at a cost …well in excess of $2.5 billion.

You get the point, even if we split the difference and the project comes in at $12.5 billion, this is a low-ball number.  Conceptually I don’t think it’s even to close to the headline.  Worse, because there’s a very long lead time until completion, there’s little accountability for staying on budget.  Which begs the question: do you think a major politician would make a proposal/promise like this if he had to personally guarantee a chunk of his net worth as overage, even with a big contingency?

Even moving away from the cost to build the whole thing, be it $2.5 billion or $25 billion, would there be enough demand along this route to make it operationally break-even?  While I think it’s great to be able to access Astoria or Williamsburg (and beyond) via streetcar for the one night a month I might get to either, for all the talk of the need to connect Brooklyn to Queens, I don’t believe the demand is big enough by those currently using it on a daily basis.

Thus, the idea comes off as a big ‘throw-it-out-there’ plan to avoid the real problem of overcrowded subways and roads.  Because by the time it’s approved, or not, a whole slew of new buildings that are actually being built now, will have been completed, and the current administration will probably be gone.

In fact, the similarities between this proposal and decking over Sunnyside Yards for affordable housing, are astounding, in terms of their potential to be NYC’s ‘Big-Dig’.

Unlike the alternative solution to the Yards though, the transportation problem is probably intractable.  The city has reached its maximum capacity of comfortable commuting, and short of building another tunnel under the East River, the ability to add capacity is minimal.

Nevertheless, though it won’t do anything for my daily commute,1 as a resident of LIC I’d be happy to spend other people’s money to hasten my trips to Costco and Smorgasburg.  Now the only question you need to answer Mayor de Blasio, especially apropos given that it’s Super Bowl weekend, is at $2.5 or even $5 billion, are you personally ready to risk it all on the ‘Under?’

Mayor de Blasio to Propose Streetcar Line Linking Brooklyn and Queens – ‘Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, acknowledged “some significant engineering challenges when you are putting a modern system like this in a very old city.”’

What’s Up With NYC’s Streetcar Plans? – “Right now, de Blasio is proposing to start construction in 2019, and begin service in 2024″

  1. Actually, if it makes it easier for all the new people who will be moving into the new towers in Greenpoint, to access the 7-train, it’ll make it worse []


  1. Brian Howald says:

    There are five car lanes on the Pulaski Bridge. Three Northbound and two southbound. Given that both 11th Street (Queens side) and McGuinness Boulevard (Brooklyn side) are two lanes, it makes sense to lose the extra lane as it only causes speeding up to a merge 1/2 of a mile later. Narrow the others, and you could probably squeeze enough ROW for two tracks. However, given how complicated adding barriers to the bridge was for the protected bike lanes, I wonder how complicated adding tracks and trains to the bridge will be.

    Although this plan is a terrible way to spend $2.5 billion given how many other pressing transit needs there are in the city, no transit plan should get scuttled simply because it inconveniences drivers. We’ve moved beyond the “All cars all the time” phase in American history.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am all for connecting brooklyn and queens but why is nobody talking about footbridges over the east river? Relatively speaking the cost/benefit is far greater connecting the brooklyn and queens to manhattan via foot bridges.

  3. Michael Myers says:

    An alternative is bus rapid transit — not SBS but BRT. BRT is like rail service with stations, etc., only it’s nice fast buses and not trains. Lots cheaper — 1/100th the cost per mile of the 2nd Ave subway — and much, much faster to build.

  4. megemil says:

    You don’t need a separate lane for the tracks. Cars can drive over them. Plenty of cities “share the road” in this manner.

  5. megemil says:

    Oh and they are digging another tunnel under the east river, it’s called the East Side Access.

  6. Ro says:

    I think the lightrail is great. NYC is looking to be on par or surpass San Francisco as a tech hub. This lightrail will connect all of the major tech nodes in the city. From Industry City in Sunset Park to the Cornell Camps going going up in Roosvelt Island and LIC’s nascent tech industry. Dumbo, Brooklyn Navy Yard and Williamsburg are in between.

  7. Amadeo Plaza says:

    I love this idea (despite the admittedly optimistic cost estimate). But I’d also love some sort of LIC shuttle — similar to the Downtown Connection system that they have in Battery Park City/FiDi — that connected Hunters Point, Court Square, and Queens Plaza.

  8. […] the building of another bridge between Greenpoint and LIC over the Newtown Creek.  Which should not come as a surprise to readers […]

  9. […] me there would be more positives than negatives with a second bridge1, it also very much confirms my initial reaction to the BQX Connector when it was first proposed back in […]

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