EXCLUSIVE: Sunset Park Nixed From de Blasio’s Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar Fantasy

The city plans to unveil its proposed route for the BQX streetcar on Thursday.

The BQX streetcar is a $2.7-billion boondoggle, our columnist says. Image: Friends of BQX
The BQX streetcar is a $2.7-billion boondoggle, our columnist says. Image: Friends of BQX

Mayor de Blasio’s proposed $2.7-billion BQX streetcar will begin its Brooklyn-to-Queens runs in Red Hook — not, as originally promised, in Sunset Park, a source briefed on the matter by city officials told Streetsblog.

The city plans to reveal the proposed route tomorrow, the source said. The mayor has changed the path significantly from previous renderings — but then again he has also abandoned the promise that the bus-on-rails would pay for itself through rising property values along the route.

From Red Hook, the streetcar would run along Columbia Street and into downtown Brooklyn on Willoughby Street, requiring the elimination of the Willoughby Street pedestrian plaza. From there, it would go north on Ashland Place past the Atlantic Terminal LIRR station and subway lines to Flushing Avenue. At that point, it may enter the Brooklyn Navy Yard at Clinton Avenue and exit onto Kent Avenue on its path to Williamsburg.

And in another noteworthy change, the city will not try to squeeze the streetcar onto the Pulaski Bridge, but will seek to build a new bridge connecting Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint with Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City.

The BQX apparently won't travel over the Pulaski Bridge anymore, either. Photo: Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector
The BQX apparently won’t travel over the Pulaski Bridge anymore, either. Photo: Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector

In Queens, the streetcar would travel on Vernon Boulevard, 44th Drive, and 21st Street, with the last stop at Astoria Boulevard. In all, it will cross seven subway lines — though it is unclear if customers get a free transfer to the MTA with their $2.75 fare.

The mayor initially said the then-$2.5 billion streetcar would “pay for itself” through an increase in property tax revenue from continued gentrification and other development spurred by the route’s creation. The cost estimate of the surface railroad line has increased  to $2.73 billion. The “value capture” tax revenue will only cover about $1.3 billion of that, the source said. (Update: City Hall says value capture will cover $1.4 billion.)

Last week, de Blasio told reporters at a roundtable of Brooklyn community newspapers that the streetcar won’t be possible without support from the federal government — which is currently led by frequent de Blasio sparring partner, and mass transit foe, Donald Trump.

The timeline for the project has also changed, the source said: BQX boosters hoped construction would begin next year, it’s now slated to start in 2024 and wrap up in 2029.

The proposed streetcar route. Image: NYC EDC
The proposed streetcar route. Image: NYC EDC

The streetcar that nobody asked for is the brainchild of real estate developer Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management, whose real estate investments along the route would benefit from its construction.

The route would serve fewer than 40,000 people — in line with the city’s busiest bus routes, many of which are begging for upgrades that would cost far less money than the BQX.

It is unclear why Sunset Park was dropped from the route. Neighborhood group UPROSE strongly opposed the project, and Council Member Carlos Menchaca had wavered in his support. Then again, Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee is a supporter.

The southernmost terminus was initially a big part of BQX supporters’ pitch to the public on the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector website.

That website also stated, “The BQX is anticipated to cost approximately $2.5 billion to construct and approximately $30 million per year to operate and maintain. … The cost of construction could be covered by a bond issued against future tax revenue increases from commercial and multifamily properties along the BQX route. Based upon the impacts of transit on property values in similar conditions, this revenue is estimated to be well above the cost of constructing the BQX and will not rely upon any new residential rezonings or tax rate increases.”

That turned out to not be true, as the mayor has admitted.

“I don’t think it’s doable without federal support,” de Blasio told the Brooklyn reporters. “We believe there will be some real funding created by its presence, but we’re going to need some additional support.”

The BQX joins an entirely new ferry system as Mayor de Blasio’s mass transit effort. Critics have called both overly expensive and not as useful as beefing up existing bus and subway service.

  • jhalfz

    What a garbage waste of salary money and planning energy. Wouldn’t the money be better spent on pre-boarding fare payment for all bus lines? Or signal prioritization on the slowest routes? Or almost literally anything else (besides boondoggle ferries)?

  • Andrew

    This is still a thing?

  • Kyle

    You cray

  • Kyle

    you mean

  • ErikBaard

    I worry that reliance on federal funds could come with strings, like weakening “sanctuary city” protections. But more immediately, this would obliterate water access and green spaces. We must see what compensation and mitigation measures are proposed.

  • Robert Perris

    Atlantic Terminal and the subways lines near it are a half-mile south of Willoughby Street.

  • Tony Giordano

    This was doomed from the start and the reason Sunset was eliminated was a fatal flaw – changes to the drawbridge over the Gowanus Canal – this was a pipe dream from the start – not only would federal approval have been needed but design changes would have been impossible to cover. One other defect that eliminated Sunset was the need to restrict traffic from two lanes along 3rd Avenue – that would have created a bottle neck for commuters from NJ & Long Island. But one thought – Red Hook will still be starved for mass transit – they can address this (and the city knows it) the way they took care of the mass transit hungry Brooklyn Navy Yard – great dedicated shuttle bus routes between nearby subways and the Navy Yard – no capital cost involved and it can be done tomorrow.

  • JarekFA

    One other defect that eliminated Sunset was the need to restrict traffic from two lanes along 3rd Avenue – that would have created a bottle neck for commuters from NJ & Long Island.

    Aren’t they taking the BQE? They’re driving along 3rd avenue. Also, this is southern brooklyn, commuters from NJ & Long Island can take the train.

    Agree re: Red Hook.

    Another factor is that the BQX runs along the D/N/R subway corridor in Sunset Park and it’s also an avenue further from where everyone lives. Removing traffic from 3rd avenue is a feature to me as I live by it and 3rd avenue traffic (along with 4th avenue, though it’s getting a protected bike lane soon) makes crossing it terrible pedestrian experience.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    The streetcar line over in NJ connecting Jersey City….et al. is the best model for this. How is that line working for Jerseyites ?

  • srs

    The BQX “FAQ” claims that “The BQX doesn’t require Stat or Federal funding and won’t compete with other MTA projects…” Now that this false, isn’t it more important to focus on investing in existing failing infrastructure?

  • Maggie

    Is there a good summary somewhere for why the city doesn’t propose and run crosstown Manhattan streetcars along 34th Street?

    Or said another way, is there a shortlist somewhere for the corridors in the city where a streetcar makes the most sense?

    As someone who waited 15 minutes at rush hour the last time I tried to catch the M34-SBS bus to the East River ferry, I get so discouraged in the city’s failure to design streets that would prioritize and optimize sustainable 21st century mobility of people, instead of endlessly, destructively, focusing on throughout of cars.

  • Clara West

    Typical De Blasio boondoggle. Bring on the buses if really serious about service.

  • Newtonmarunner

    The busiest bus routes are the best places to put streetcars, e.g., Fordham Rd. (Bx12 bus) in the Bronx.

  • Carl Mac

    N.Y. is a sanctuary state therefore no federal funding should be given, as long it allows illegal immigrant criminals to run free in N.Y. and hampering ICE agents from doing their job rounding up these criminals no federal funding should be given period.

  • fdtutf

    I’m fine with this as long as New York can also stop remitting all federal taxes to the federal government. Oops.

  • Bernard Finucane

    That said, NYC ought to try to pay for everything itself. So should every other city in America. Sounds impossible, but it makes more sense to chase cheap solutions than to spend all you effort begging for outside money. To paraphrase Nietzsche, if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.

  • Bernard Finucane

    And bus lanes.

  • Ike1

    The HBLRT (Hudson-Bergen Light Rail) is much different because it was mostly built on existing railroad right-of-way (old freight lines if I recall correctly), so it had a place it could run without mixing with existing lanes of traffic (which slows a streetcar way down and is a bit dangerous). And so they didn’t need to buy up much expensive real estate. Nothing like that exists along this route so this would be much more expensive. Also subway trains didn’t serve a lot of those areas already.

  • Brooklyn_Reader

    If we go by long-term cost, including environmental impact, cities are an absolute bargain. It’s suburbia which should be written off and forced to be self-supporting, not cities. Taxpayer subsidies per resident in suburban areas far outstrip anything spent on cities.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Yes, I agree. But large areas of places that are nominally urban in the US are actually suburban.

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