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Astoria Weighs in on City's Streetcar Plan in First Public Meeting

 Dozens attended the first in a series of public "visioning sessions" about the city's proposal.
BQX Streetcar Meeting in Astoria
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QUEENS — Astoria residents were given the first opportunity to raise questions or concerns about the city's Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar proposal Monday — in the first of a series of public meetings to be held about the plan.

During the meeting, city officials had the audience break up into groups and asked them to mark streets on a map indicating where they think the rail line should run in Queens.

The most common suggestions were Vernon Boulevard and 21st Street, two major north-south arteries running through Astoria and Long Island City. Participants said they would like to see it connect to local bus lines, as well as a route to LaGuardia Airport.

A precise route has not yet been chosen. The city will take the public's comments from this and future "visioning sessions" into account, and plans to release a preliminary report on the proposal this fall, EDC officials said.

Questions were raised about how the streetcar would impact traffic in the neighborhood, as well as parking spaces. Others took aim at the cost of the $2.5 billion project, and wondered if a less expensive alternative could be found.

Astoria resident Greg Besson suggested the city build a dedicated bus lane along the waterfront — something like its existing Select Bus Service routes — instead of a streetcar because it would be cheaper and less intrusive.

"I think first we should go with a more cost-effective measure," he said, saying the bus line could serve as a test run for the streetcar plan. "If it doesn't work, then we didn't spend billions of dollars."

While most attendees said they support better transit connection between the two boroughs, others feared the cost of bringing such an ambitious project to life would ultimately drive up property taxes and the cost of living for renters.

"[It] could potentially change the landscape for homeowners," said Arin Yasin, whose family owns a home in Astoria.

Yasin pointed to statements from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who's said the waterfront rail line would generate more tax revenue for the city by spurring additional development in the areas around it.

"I've seen first hand how my neighborhood has transformed to residential houses to developments and stuff like that," Yasin said. "It's a little concerning."

Mary McClary, who lives in the Ravenswood Houses, said the development that's happening in the her neighborhood already has her and her neighbors feeling displaced, and she worries the streetcars might make it worse.

"What's going on is not about serving the people that are here, it's about serving the people who are coming," McClary said.

The Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, would run along the waterfront between Astoria and Sunset Park, linking neighborhoods such as Long Island City, Greenpoint, the Navy Yard, DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus and Red Hook, according to the city's plans.

A combined 700,000 people live or work along the 16-mile stretch, which the New York City Economic Development Corporation President Maria Torres-Springer called "the spine of New York City's new economy."

Officials estimate it will cost about $30 million a year to run, but say it would spur more than $25 billion in economic activity over the next three decades.

"We have an opportunity here to create a new, state-of-the-art, resilient, efficient, modern transit link," Torres-Springer said.

"This will be a process," said City Councilman Costa Constantinides, who represents Astoria.

He told the audience that he's excited about the streetcar project, but wants to ensure whatever plan goes into effect allows the neighborhood to "keep our soul."

"If we build this and we lose who we are as a neighborhood, then we fail," he said.

► READ MORE: Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar Advocacy Group Names First Executive Director

The next BQX community meeting is scheduled for May 19 in Red Hook.