Talk of a streetcar connecting Brooklyn to Queens isn’t new. But it has resurfaced as a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda. His plan: a $2.5 billion streetcar that would run along the East River from Astoria to Sunset Park, paid for with tax revenue from increases in property values along the route.
In theory, it’s an idea full of possibility. It could connect residents of public housing and mixed-use developments with business and industry, and with bus and train lines. It could reduce traffic and the volume of G train riders. It’d be new and intriguing, and everyone would want to use it. That’s the dream. The reality, for now, is many questions and few answers.
De Blasio hopes to avoid the need for state approval, but he’ll have to connect the streetcar to the MTA’s bus and subway network so transfers will be smooth and free. Without that, it’ll go the way of the existing ferry system — a nice idea that so far, hasn’t met its potential. That said, de Blasio is working to expand the ferry system, too.
We don’t know which roads the streetcar will use and which transit lines it will meet. We don’t know whether it’ll be a timesaver, or another way to hurry up and wait for transit that isn’t on time or breaks down too easily. We don’t know its impact on traffic and parking.
Community advocates worry that it moves the spotlight away from neighborhoods with the most need for better transportation options, although city officials said they’ll still be able to prioritize other communities. Meanwhile, in the streetcar’s path lies the potential for years of angry community meetings, review processes mired in delays, cost concerns, and questions without answers.
This big idea takes de Blasio out of his social issue comfort zone, into the wild world of transit and infrastructure. Its reality is at least eight years away. Officials say they hope to have maps, plans, and answers in a year. De Blasio has to surround himself with smart people who can take the lead. Show us specifics, then make it happen.
Otherwise, it’ll be just another idea that fades to black.