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Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar Would Eliminate Hundreds of Parking Spaces

By  James Fanelli and Jeff Mays | February 11, 2016 11:39am 

 A rendering of the proposed streetcar that would run between Brooklyn and Queens. The streetcar could mean the loss of hundreds of parking spaces.
A rendering of the proposed streetcar that would run between Brooklyn and Queens. The streetcar could mean the loss of hundreds of parking spaces.
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Courtesy Office of the Mayor

MIDTOWN — The streetcar proposed to connect Brooklyn and Queens waterfront neighborhoods will eliminate a "substantial" number of parking spaces and cause streets to be ripped up so underground utilities can be relocated, according to a study the city is using to guide its plans.

The exact amount of spaces that would be lost is unclear and the study has not been publicly released, but Harris Schechtman, national transit director for Sam Schwartz Engineering who conducted the streetcar study for a consortium of private developers, said the loss of parking is a given.

"It's understood, this was an eyes wide open study and the mayor's office has embraced it with eyes wide open, there are going to be parking implications," Schechtman said.

"These are decision points for the city's future as to how much do you continue to cater to parking and how much do you substitute transit that will really get people where they want to go?"

The study also addresses the expensive relocation of underground utilities such as gas, water and electric lines.

"The cost of utility relocation are very high in New York. We probably have more utilities under the street than anybody," Schechtman said. He estimated the amount to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The parking and utility issues were also raised in a 2011 Department of Transportation study of a 6.8 mile streetcar system in Red Hook that determined the project was not feasible.

According to the Red Hook study, up to four parking spots would have to be eliminated at each street car stop. With 12 stops in each direction, that added up to 96 parking spaces for the stops alone.

Streets that were narrower than 44 feet would also require the elimination of parking on one side of the street to allow for traffic flow.

The proposal for the Brooklyn Queens Connector is a 16-mile corridor — that could mean the loss of an even more parking spaces along both sides of the route.

Christopher Hrones, who oversaw the 2011 study for the DOT, said that at the time the agency decided against a street car system because of its high cost of construction — $176 million — and the relatively small benefit to commuters.

“It wasn’t clear how you were going to get that much of an improvement in terms of travel times and reliability,” said Hrones, who left the DOT in 2014 and now works as a transportation consultant in San Francisco.

The 2011 study looked at how the construction of a streetcar system connecting Red Hook and Downtown Brooklyn would affect utilities, parking and the neighborhood’s narrow streets. The DOT concluded that the best route for the street car was along a similar route to the MTA’s B61 bus. 

Considering both the streetcar and B61 would deal with the same traffic conditions, there wouldn’t be much difference in service, Hrones said. The MTA also said during the study that if the streetcar system were green lighted, then it would consider cutting the B61 line because of redundancy. 

“It would have made no sense,” Hrones said. “Why have two different transit routes do closely the same thing?” 

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said no decisions on service have been made should the BQX plan come to fruition.

"We have had productive discussions with the private sector leaders who have developed this idea, and we are interested in hearing more about the mayor's plan and any other proposals to improve transportation options," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

Under the $2.5 billion plan introduced by Mayor Bill de Blasio at his State of the City Address last week, the streetcar would travel through Long Island City, Astoria, Downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, providing access to 40,000 NYCHA residents along the way.

The streetcar would provide a way to travel between Brooklyn and Queens, which are experiencing job and residential growth, without commuters having to travel through Manhattan.

The project would break ground in 2020.

De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said the route is not yet finalized.

"There will be extensive outreach prior to route selection that will include a very honest discussion of what the trade-offs are for communities, parking included. That input will help us determine the best route for new service," Norvell said.

"On the whole, we believe a brand new form of public transit promising fast commute times up and down the East River will prove compelling to many communities," he added.

The cost to move "very old sub-surface infrastructure" has been taken into account, he said.

Schechtman said this plan differs from the Red Hook proposal because of the size of the project.

The streetcar could provide 53,000 rides per day 10 years after it's completed and would pay for itself.

The city plans to create a local development corporation that would issue tax exempt bonds that would be paid by new property tax revenue created by rising values along the streetcar route.

Schechtman said the study projects $4 billion in increased property taxes from existing and new development over the life of the bonds.

"Much of the area that we are traversing with the BQX is already developed," Schechtman said. "So you begin day one with a lot of development there and that development is going to increase in value immediately once the line comes in."

Norvell called the plan a "self-financed project that the city itself can deliver."

Hrones said streetcars offer riders smoother trips than buses. But its real advantage only happens when it is separated from general traffic and can run unimpeded. Finding that space in the city to make that happen is difficult, Hrones said. 

In the 2011 study, the DOT identified only one possible area where a street car could operate free of traffic. It was through the middle of the Red Hook Houses, and residents quickly shot the suggestion down, Hrones said.

"It will be a real challenge to find an alignment, a route, that actually saves a significant amount of time and makes the route more reliable,” he said.