ASTORIA — A group of developers, business leaders, urban planners and transit advocates — including former MTA head and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota — are launching a campaign in support of the city's plan to build a streetcar linking Brooklyn and Queens.
Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector announced the push Thursday with the launch of its new website, and also released the names of its full board of directors for the first time since the group formed in 2014. The list included several well-known real estate developers and local business groups.
The goal of the campaign will be to get neighborhoods along the proposed streetcar's 16-mile route involved in the city's public planning process and to get more residents on board with the plan, according executive director Ya-Ting Liu.
"To be honest, I think a lot of it is just sort of getting New Yorkers to sort of wrap their head around what the 21st century streetcar looks like," she said, adding that many people still picture old-fashioned cars with catenary wires overhead, a different image from most modern systems.
"Just sort of explaining what a street car actually is in 2016 ... I think just getting that conversation going," she added.
The group will also be working to expand its membership, according to the announcement.
Its current 25-member board of directors includes well-known names like Lhota and fellow former MTA Chairman Jay Walder, as well as a managing director from Goldman Sachs and representatives from big-name real estate developers like The Durst Organization, Tishman Speyer and Two Trees Management.
The board also includes members of neighborhood business groups like the Queens and Brooklyn Chambers of Commerce, DUMBO BID and the LIC Partnership, as well as Tom Wright from the Regional Plan Association, venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Paul Steely-White, head of the transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
"The board of directors is really to provide just technical expertise," Liu said. "We really want to make sure that our board is reflective of all the different stakeholders that would benefit."
Stakeholders also help fund the Friends group — according to Liu, the organization is bankrolled by a "diverse" set of private funders, including some of the groups represented on its board, though she declined to name specific donors.
Right now, Liu said Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector is helping spread awareness about the series of "visioning sessions" the city is holding in waterfront neighborhoods that would be served by the rail line, which would run from Astoria to Sunset Park.
The first of these was held in Astoria earlier this week, where dozens of residents weighed in on the proposal, asking questions that included whether or not a dedicated bus lane between Brooklyn and Queens would be a cheaper alternative to a streetcar line.
"It is something that the Friends group did look at," Liu said. "Based on our analysis, we felt that at the end of a day, the bus...won't be able to compete with a streetcar in terms of ridership capacity and reliability."
According to the group's website, a streetcar would have the ability to transport an estimated 50,000 riders a day.
Liu also said that while the group has yet to have any formal meetings with the MTA, they "definitely envision" and will advocate for the streetcar system to be fully integrated with the MetroCard.
She said the organization sees the streetcar plan as a potential solution to some of the city's current transit woes, from overcrowded subways to the looming L train shutdown.
"We're way past due time for the city to start taking charge of its own transportation destiny," Liu said. "It can be a model for how the city can start really investing and building and expanding its transit network."
The idea may take time to catch on, she says.
"Look at when we went from just regular bus [service] to Select Bus Service, and those kind of changes — it took a while for riders to get used to," she said. "Now it's something that people can't live without."