First there was the horsecar. Yes, the first urban light rail system was simply a relatively small, boxy car pulled by horses over rails imbedded into the street and, in 1832, it was the only way to get around in mass-transit style. As the industrial revolution took hold, new technologies became available and by the 1920’s the horsecar was replaced with the new electric streetcar. But nothing lasts forever and despite the streetcars pros over the city buses, such as its ability to accelerate and brake faster while providing an extremely smooth and comfortable ride, hold about twice as many passengers, and use only $6 worth of electricity per hour of operation (opposed to $32 worth of heavily polluting diesel fuel per hour for a bus) it was soon replaced by buses and subway lines. On October 31, 1956, the last three trolley lines in Brooklyn ended their run.
Today, as we face the problems of energy conservation, pollution, high operational costs, and traffic congestion, streetcars aka light rails are looking like the best solution. Two months after Mayor Bill de Blasio first endorsed the idea of connecting waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens with a streetcar line, the BQX, the city has released its early assessment of the $2.5 billion system. The city’s rapid assessment” report evaluates an earlier study from the Friends of the BQX, the nonprofit organization that first proposed the streetcar’s development, reveals that annual operating and maintenance costs for a 24-hour streetcar project were estimated at $31.5 million and assumes $26 million in annual fare revenues. When compared to other streetcar systems throughout the country, the city found that the BQX is in the “low end” of the cost per track and cost per vehicle range.
The 16-mile streetcar route, which will travel from Astoria to Sunset Park, would connect neighborhoods such as Long Island City, Greenpoint, Clinton Hill, and Red Hook, though the city has yet to share an exact route. Though it’s possible that the streetcar’s construction could eliminate hundreds of parking spots and local bus routes, the city’s review of the plan concludes that “a streetcar/Light Rail hybrid is the most appropriate transit intervention along this corridor.” The Friends of the BQX study projected annual ridership of between 27,500 and 29,000 in 2020 and between 49,400 and 52,000 in 2035. This would bring a lot of relief in what can only be described as transit-starved neighborhoods.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation and Department of Transportation will hold a series of neighborhood community meetings to discuss details of the project. The first will take place in Astoria on May 9 at the Variety Boys and Girls Club, located at 21-12 30th Road from 6 to 8 p.m. Other meetings in Queens and Brooklyn, including Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Long Island City and Williamsburg, will be announced over the next three months.
What do you think? Should Brooklyn bring back the street car?