De Blasio’s Not Done Wasting Time on the Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar

On WNYC, the mayor talked about ferries and the streetcar as transit solutions for the city's growing population, never mentioning the bus routes that are hemorrhaging riders.

Via Simpsons Wiki
Via Simpsons Wiki

While New Yorkers continue to abandon slow, unreliable bus service, Mayor de Blasio continues to insist that his proposed $2.5 million Brooklyn-Queens streetcar remains a high priority for his administration. He even wants the feds to step in and fund it.

On Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen appeared to call the future of the $2.5 billion proposal into question, telling the Daily News  that if the streetcar doesn’t “pay for itself,” the city will “have to decide whether or not this is the right use of capital money for a transportation project.”

On the Brian Lehrer show today, de Blasio took issue with the Daily News and said it’s full steam ahead for the BQX. And for the first time, he raised the possibility that the federal government would help fund it.

The mayor said he was “hopeful” about that possibility “because of the presence of Senator Schumer in the Senate and the role he plays.” Schumer’s daughter, Jessica Schumer, is the interim executive director of the developer-funded streetcar booster organization Friends of the BQX.

A low-ridership streetcar route along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront never made much sense, but as bus ridership plummets, it becomes even harder to justify.

De Blasio pointed out on WNYC that the city’s growing population demands more housing and transit capacity. But the only solutions he referred to were ferries and the streetcar. The mayor never mentioned the city’s buses, even though hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers rely on bus service each day and City Hall has the power to improve it.

The city could do a lot for bus service with the hundreds of millions of dollars de Blasio wants to fork over to ferries, which carry fewer than 10,000 trips per day, and the BQX, which has an anticipated daily ridership below 40,000.

On Brooklyn’s B44, for example, a $15 million “Select Bus Service” investment in dedicated bus lanes, transit signal priority, off-board fare payment, and bus bulbs led to 15 to 30 percent faster service for 40,000 riders.

De Blasio reps are quick to point out that the city is working with the MTA to expand Select Bus Service. But while the city’s work to improve routes like the Bx6 in the South Bronx and Q52/Q53 on Woodhaven Boulevard shouldn’t be discounted, overall bus speeds continue to get worse and riders keep abandoning buses. The approach of rolling out a couple of upgraded routes each year is plainly insufficient.

The more time and effort de Blasio spends on the BQX, the more he’s telling bus riders that they don’t matter to him.

  • sbauman

    On Brooklyn’s B44, for example, a $15 million “Select Bus Service” investment in dedicated bus lanes, transit signal priority, off-board fare payment, and bus bulbs led to 15 to 30 percent faster service for 40,000 riders.

    It’s also led to a 5.5% reduction in weekday patronage from the year before its introduction. It now has 37,500 weekday riders.

  • Vooch

    The easiest way to kill the streetcar is to make it a private project.

    There is no way in heck – private enterprise would invest in this

  • Emmy Lors

    But I’m sure private enterprise are just tripping over themselves to invest in the bus system.

  • Jason

    I’d be lying if I said the lead image didn’t kind of trigger me–it’s kind of amazing how that Simpsons episode singlehandedly made it absolutely fucking impossible to have a serious discussion about when a monorail might make sense.

  • kevd

    when do they?
    (serious question)
    what situations make them preferable to old fashioned dou-rails? what are the advantages and disadvantages?

  • Samuelitooooo

    Improving bus service is just one of a few ways he can help way more people with less spending. More bang for the buck.

    I presume he hasn’t said anything about cycling either? It’s as if cycling isn’t transportation. As if no one wants safe streets to ride a bike on, nor Citi Bike to use in all five boroughs, nor e-bikes to bypass needing a car and settling for the less convenient transit option depending on the trip.

  • Rex Rocket

    Who’s paying him to support this?

  • Joe R.

    I’m assuming “monorail” in this context mainly means maglev.

    Maglev in a vacuum tube is the only situation where they make much sense. Running in open air maglev isn’t much faster than conventional HSR. In theory it could be much faster but the energy costs would be prohibitive (hence the reason for running in vacuum tubes).

    For regular transit and commuter rail speeds maglevs make no sense whatsoever.

  • Vooch



    Excellent article. With so many pressing City issues need to stop wasting time and money on expensive novelties.

  • kevd

    the simpson’s picture?
    definitely just means monorail and not maglev. its a good episode.
    not sure why you would assume monorail means maglev in this context.

    mono=one, not mono=magnetic
    rail=rail, not rail=levitation

  • Joe R.

    If you eliminate maglev from the picture, you end up with two types of monorails. One type has the rail above the vehicle, the other below. The ones with the rail below typically have a set of supporting wheels running on the top of the rail, and guidewheels on the sides of the rail. Essentially then they’re using two surfaces for steering, and hence aren’t much different conceptually from regular rail. I’ve yet to see a bottom monorail that doesn’t use both sides of the rail for guidance.

    The other type, which incidentally may well be the only time monorail offers major advantages over conventional rail, is when the rail is above the vehicle. Here a single rail provides both support and guidance. A big advantage here is not needing to install a continuous track under the vehicle. This means you can run the vehicle pretty much wherever you want, without worrying about what’s already there. You can even run the vehicles nearly at grade if need be. Bottom monorail typically needs to run above grade because the rail isn’t amenable to level crossings (a big disadvantage over conventional rail).

    Strictly speaking, maglev does use a single rail for levitation, guidance, and propulsion, and is therefore classified as a subset of monorails.

  • kevd

    Wüppertal Schwebebahn!
    Makes a great cameo in both Alice in the Cities AND the Princess and the Warrior.

    Maglev is a kind of monorail, but not all squares are rectangles.

  • kevd

    *Wuppertal it appears…. Like many americans who know a tiny bit of German, I put umlauts everywhere.

  • bolwerk

    The smaller footprints and lower installation costs might make a little sense in airports, malls, and theme parks.

    In a conventional transit situation? Probably never.

  • bolwerk

    That’s because monorails were never seriously for transit. Off-the-shelf subway and light rail equipment is almost certainly cheaper to install in almost all transit scenarios and lasts for generations.

  • bolwerk

    FWIW, cool as that thing looks, it seems like a maintenance nightmare that was excusable to build because of some geographic considerations.

  • bolwerk

    You can probably do the math on this better than I can, but I seriously doubt maglevs make an ounce of sense in a situation where the vehicle is making frequent stops.

    For surface transit, the two choices on the menu remain light rail/streetcars and buses.

  • bolwerk

    40,000 riders? Sounds like a great argument for substituting the B44 with a streetcar!

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    “The chief interest group pushing the project is directed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s oldest daughter”

  • Urbanely

    This is the first I’m hearing about decreased ridership after SBS. Do you have any info on why this happened? SBS has been touted as the panacea for bus woes, but if speeds increase and fewer people ride, what then?

  • sbauman

    Here’s a link to ridership statistics by route and year If you click on the “Ridership By Bus Route” and then the “Average Weekday Ridership” links for both NYCT and MTA Bus Routes, you can compare before and after figures for most of the SBS conversions. You will discover that long term patronage declines are the rule rather than the exception.

    SBS has been touted as the panacea for bus woes, but if speeds increase and fewer people ride, what then?

    I suggest you pose this question to SBS advocates. They are far more inventive in expressing SBS’ benefits, than myself.

    You did ask a serious question; here’s a serious answer. NYC bus patronage is different form most cities. The average passenger trip is far shorter than almost all other cities. This means that travel time in the bus is less important than time spent walking to/from bus stops and time waiting for buses within the bus stop.

    Strategies that increase bus speed by reducing the number of stops is counter productive for many riders. The extra time spent walking to/from fewer bus stops balances out the shorter time spent in the bus. The remaining local service is less frequent than before the SBS conversion, which translates to more wait time. Thus, the time savings is an illusion for many riders.

    One reason passenger bus trips are shorter is that NYC has an extensive subway system for longer trips. This relegates most bus trips to short rides, either to a destination or as a subway feeder.

  • kevd

    and lack of any connectivity with other systems…
    on the plus side, my steeper grades are possible!
    also good for airport connectors and disney world, but rarely used outside those limited applications.

  • kevd

    but as a film location?
    tough to beat.

  • bolwerk

    A good rule of thumb seems to be, if it’s in a climate controlled environment, a monorail might be appropriate! 😀

  • kevd

    they’re gonna have to put some AC in at the NJT EWR station, then!

  • bolwerk

    I might go see it in a few months.

  • bolwerk

    Speaking of things due for premature replacement!

  • Peter Engel

    So the Mayor of Putzville wants to build himself a Toonerville Trolley. I know mayors usually get more delusional when they’re term-limited, but jeez louise!

  • Fakely Outraged Geraldo

    Iris with the sourface punim’s progeny, no doubt.

  • Smithian

    I suppose it’s silly to point out that the buses replaced a network of electric trolleys running between Brooklyn and Queens, a process accelerated when GM and oil companies bought up the trolley lines, knowing full well they would be able to push to replace them with buses.


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