May 10, 2016 By Michael Florio
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for a $2.5 billion streetcar connecting Queens and Brooklyn sparked mixed opinions among Astorians at a community discussion Monday night.
Many residents expressed concerns over cost and efficiency, while worrying if the proposed streetcar, known as the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, would change the dynamic of the community.
Monday’s meeting, which had about 75 attendees, was the first of several “community visioning sessions” on the Connector planned City-wide. Officials from the City Economic Development Corporation laid out what they see as the benefits of the streetcar, which would run from Astoria to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The EDC estimates that the streetcar would serve 50,000 riders daily and 15 million riders annually.
The plan is to create 30 stops running between Astoria and Sunset Park with each stop about a half-mile apart. There will be about a five- to ten-minute wait between arrivals during peak hours and the streetcar can carry twice as many riders as buses, according to Lydon Sleeper, EDC Senior Vice President of Government and Community Relations.
Sleeper added that the system would connect residents to parts of Brooklyn that are currently difficult to reach.
“There [are] not a lot of north and south transportation options,” he said. “We can connect them to more means of transportation such as ferries, subways and Citi Bikes.”
Regarding local impact, the EDC asked residents to answer a significant question: can you envision this transportation system in your neighborhood?
Attendees did not hold back.
One lifelong Astorian said, “this would kill us.”
“The rich would come in and develop the neighborhood and we would be squeezed out,” added the 36th Avenue resident, who did not wish to give his name.
Another resident, Arin Yasin, stated similar concerns.
“Would homeowners’ taxes increase?” Yasin asked. “My father owns a home and this is a big concern for us.”
An attendee from NYCHA had concerns about how the streetcar would affect public housing residents and their cost of living.
“The streetcar has to be affordable and sensible,” she said. “It has to benefit all of the communities, including NYCHA.”
The project’s cost was another source of concern among Astoria residents.
The City projects that it will cost about $2.5 billion to build the streetcar system and roughly $30 million each year for operations and maintenance.
One longtime Astoria resident, Pete Trilivas, said he believes both the cost and the necessary construction work are excessive.
“I wholeheartedly agree that we need transportation from Brooklyn to Queens,” he said. “But this plan is for 16 miles, so that means 16 miles of digging into the streets.”
“This will cause havoc and cost a lot of money,” he added. “We could have a bus run on this route and have it over and done with.”
Numerous residents also had concerns about losing parking spots in the neighborhood. The EDC said it’s too early to say the exact impact on parking but it’s possible some spots may be lost.
However, not all residents were against the Brooklyn-Queens Connector.
“Overall I think it is a good idea for the area,” one resident said. “It will bring more foot traffic and is a prosperous opportunity for the community.”
“This would be a great project,” another said. “It would give residents more opportunities to go to Brooklyn.”
“Brooklyn has so much to offer like recreational activities and dining and we want to be a part of it,” she added.
Council Member Costa Constantinides said the streetcar should be incorporated into the fabric of the existing community to be successful.
“We want to build a 21st century community but we have to make sure it fits the molding of our neighborhood,” he said. “If we build this and lose who we are as a neighborhood then we have failed.”
The EDC asked residents to identify the streets they felt would work best for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector to run on. The most popular answer was 21st Street, but several other streets including Vernon Boulevard, 12th Street and even Shore Boulevard were mentioned.
Many residents also stated that they want the streetcar to connect to Astoria Park.
The EDC will continue to host these community meetings to receive feedback from different neighborhoods. They will use this input while coming up with designs and hope to present a formal proposal to local communities in the fall.
The City aims to break ground in 2019 and be operational in 2024.