2016-06-29 / Front Page

Visioning Session Held On BQX Extender

By Thomas Cogan

At one of the recent “visioning sessions” about the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), held at CUNY Law School in Hunters Point, Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, was referring to the perceived importance of the proposed tram line, to run from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria in Queens, when she said, “We need to get north and south transportation.”  It’s a common complaint that it’s hard to go south (or north) of Newtown Creek via public transportation.  The BQX, with its backers’ stated plan to extend a light rail, two-track tram line between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens, purports to address the problem.  But in the CUNY Law meeting and one the following week at the Long Island City Library at 21st Street and 38th Avenue, there were several local voices who told the city officials running the meetings that it’s nothing so simple as bringing a drawing on a map to life if, in the end and after great expense, it’s a far different  solution than everyone hoped it would be.  

Lydon Sieper of the Department of Transportation was the chief speaker at both meetings, reviewing the challenges the BQX faces and the relief to local travelers that it might provide.   In the parts of South Brooklyn and western Queens that are generally assumed to be the corridor the BQX planners have in mind, 400,000 persons now reside.  Growth in the Brooklyn end is said to be four times the growth rate in the rest of the borough, while in Queens to the north it is said to be 20 times the rate in the rest of that borough.  Ten percent of the corridor’s population lives in New York City Housing projects. Much housing of all sorts has been built in the corridor lately, though until now no serious thought has been given to transportation, Sieper said.  Though populous and getting more so, the corridor has parts that are described as “transit deserts” that leave significant numbers of residents in isolation or with long journeys to and from transit.       

Photographs of other streetcar systems in U.S. cities and abroad gave meeting attendees an idea of both the practicality of the BQX and how it might look providing service.  The cities pictured are as large as London and Toronto or as medium-sized as Portland and Charlotte.  Strasbourg, in France, transports 300,000 daily, running a long portion of its route on battery power, supplemented by traditional overhead wires.  It is hoped that by the early 2020s battery power will be so advanced it can run cars such as those of the BQX for most of their routes and require even less of an overhead power source than is required now.  Toronto’s situation is comparable to that of Queens and Brooklyn, its system having been built within an established urban setting where winters can be harsh.  But the BQX must also consider that its route is likely to lie in a floodplain that was heavily tested in 2012.

Both meetings had several sessions at several tables where ideas about what the BQX system could contain were argued by teams of concerned attendees.  Suggestions arrived at were announced as the final part of each meeting, and of course, most of them had a Queens perspective.  There was a general but not unanimous belief that wide 21st Street could be the main BQX route north of the Queensboro Bridge; though others said streetcars would impinge on an important commercial and delivery route.  Some stressed that small side routes be added, to connect the main line with relatively isolated spots.  What’s more, though the BQX is in no way an MTA project, there must be a way to connect it to the MTA’s trains and buses.  The BQX people said firmly that the fare for riding it will be equal to the fare for MTA conveyors.  Also promised is connection to the Economic Development Corporation’s ferry routes, the ones that already exist and those busily being planned for operation on the waters from the Bronx to the Rockaways.  A uniform pass system must be agreed upon between three unrelated transportation agencies and, some idealists fancy, the result must be a situation where a passenger can ride any distance, on any or all conveyors, with a card accepted by all three.

Skeptics were all over the estimated cost of the BQX:  $2.5 billion.  Estimates are always assumed to be too low, and it seems the cynic’s guess for the real final price can never be too high.  One commentator said that it’s called the BQX, not the QBX, and can only be to Brooklyn’s benefit, not Queens’s.  (But some from Queens were charmed by an Ikea idea, believing the tram would probably run in Red Hook, making the purchase of Scandinavian furniture more accessible.)

Minds may be changed, one way or another, when the next informational tour commences in September and the effect of these recent meetings will be demonstrated.


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