Doubt Casts Shadow on Future of BQX Streetcar Project





Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar project may have gone belly up during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was proposed as a $2.7 billion streetcar linking Red Hook, Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens in 2016 by then-Mayor DeBlasio. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a dent into these plans when the city estimated a $7.4 billion shortfall in their gaping budget as tax revenue plunged when businesses and people were put on "pause" for months. An environmental review did not even start yet before it was nixed. Public meetings have not been forthcoming and during this time the Trump administration was not in the mood to help with federal funding of mass public transit in New York City.




 



 


As you can see in the video above by the Brooklyn Eagle, the media presentation mockup showcases the Alstom Citadis tram, the very same one that rots away now, which was featured in a late 2017 campaign to promote the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector. This streetcar line aims to connect Red Hook in Brooklyn with Astoria in Queens. Notably, the design includes the distinctive touch of 'Ora-Ïto,' the brand of renowned designer Ito Morabito, whose name appears alongside Alstom's logo. The interior features striking red seating and is equipped with several amenities designed to accommodate ADA passengers.



The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) was supposed to be 16 miles long but was cut down to 11 miles in August 2018 and would not have passengers until 2029. The waterfront streetcar was supposed to connect nine ferry landings, 30 bus routes, 13 subway lines, and 100+ Citi bike stations. Spanning a varying future of different Mayoral administrations. During this time local city councilors were not in favor of the project once it was announced. The loss of the Long Island City Amazon HQ2 due to immense public backlash fizzled. However, the project was also competing with other agencies' pet projects in the Federal Transportation Administration's New Starts Program like the MTA, the Department of Transportation, New Jersey Transit, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Amtrak. In addition, the city was short $1.6 billion per the city's Economic Development Corp (EDC). Federal assistance was necessary to cover that shortfall.










The project was also collectively praised by pro-public transit advocates and derided by critics as an expensive boondoggle that would be a disastrous project in an already dense car-centric city and growing bicycle movement. The Adams administration has not looked to revive the dead project or made any updates to the project. Other new proposals have hit the news in successive updates. The tunnel underneath the Hudson is getting fixed and the Gateway project has gotten the green light for new rail tunnels. The Inter-Borough Express is getting avid attention and competing views between the MTA and Queenslink on reviving the north to South 3.5 mile long LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch line that runs from 63rd Drive in Rego Park to Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park.











The ambitious plans for a Brooklyn-Queens streetcar line, championed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio as the BQX, have all but vanished from the public discourse. Under the administration of Mayor Eric Adams, known for his tough-on-crime stance, no new developments have emerged to breathe life into this once-promising project. The last significant news coverage of the BQX dates back to 2018, and the overwhelming pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic have further pushed this initiative to the backburner of governmental priorities.


Instead, attention has shifted to the potential revival of the long-abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch, reimagined as the QueensWay - an elevated linear park akin to the celebrated High Line in Manhattan. Funding grants are being directed towards this open space project, leaving the much-needed Interborough Express, which would serve a larger population of Queens residents, in limbo.










The Interborough Express, a proposed transit line utilizing existing rail infrastructure, has the potential to significantly improve connectivity and reduce commute times for communities historically underserved by public transportation. However, the allure of a marquee park project seems to have overshadowed the pressing need for enhanced transit options in the borough.


As a city renowned for its car-centric urban planning, New York faces a crucial juncture in its approach to transportation. The apparent demise of the BQX streetcar project raises questions about the city's commitment to expanding sustainable and equitable mobility solutions. While open green spaces undoubtedly contribute to the quality of life, the prioritization of the QueensWay over the Interborough Express highlights a troubling trend of valuing cosmetic improvements over substantive investments in public transit infrastructure.


As the city continues to grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic and the evolving needs of its residents, it is imperative that policymakers and community stakeholders engage in a frank and inclusive dialogue about the future of transportation in New York. The decisions made today will shape the city's resilience, livability, and economic vitality for generations to come. Will New York rise to the challenge and embrace innovative transit solutions, or will it remain mired in a car-dominated status quo? The fate of projects like the BQX and the Interborough Express may hold the answer.











Sources:




1. Griffin, Allie, "Future of the BQX Streetcar Uncertain as COVID-19 Puts Hole in City Budge", May 4, 2020, licpost

2. Newman, Andy, "New Plan for City Streetcar: Shorter, Pricier and Not Coming Soon", August 30, 2018, NYTimes

3. McGeehan, Patrick, "Hudson River Tunnel Project Moves Ahead as States Agree to Share Costs", July 5, 2022, NYTimes

4. Gannon, Michael, "BQ-axed? Mayor de Blasio still believes", July 15, 2021, QueensChroncile

5. "Is the BQX Finally Dead," September 3, 2020, NYCUrbanism

6. Schilling, John, "QueensLink Proposal Looks To Reactivate Rockaway Train Line", February 11, 2022, The Wave

7. Chung, Jen, "Hochul Promises "Inter-Borough Express" Rail Service To Connect Brooklyn And Queens", January 5, 2022, Gothamist

8. Diamond, B. (2016). BQX Streetcar- Learning From Other Projects. (n.p.): Lulu.com.

9. Euzarraga, M. (2024, March 14) (QueensWay’: Deserted LIRR tracks to be turned into The High Line of Queens) Pix 11 News

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