BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — The city's streetcar proposal would be backed by its neighbors in Brooklyn Heights and surrounding areas if it means speedy transportation to the north and south — so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the current residents, they said.
Community members shared their input for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) at St. Francis College on Monday night in one of several public meetings held across the two boroughs.
During the meeting, city officials broke audience members up into groups and asked them to mark streets on a map showing where they think the streetcar should run in Brooklyn.
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City officials will take comments from “visioning sessions” like this one into account to determine the streetcar’s exact route, which would 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.
For many residents, improving access to neighborhoods north and south of them is the project’s biggest draw.
“It’s very hard for us to get to Queens and explore it,” said Brooklyn Heights resident Ellen McGrath. “It’s even harder to get to Williamsburg from where we live.”
Some residents went as far as proposing a BQX expansion by creating a second line on the eastern side of Brooklyn.
“Right now the only place that goes north and south is Manhattan,” a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident said. “If it succeeds, we’re hoping it continues to move eastward and I’m volunteering Ralph Avenue where I live to be next.”
Residents agreed that a streetcar would need to speed up travel times between destinations.
“If it’s not faster than a bus, then it’s not going to warrant the expense of the infrastructure,” one resident said.
A rendering of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) running along Furman Street in DUMBO. Credit: Friends of the BQX
But those who own homes fear property taxes will rise.
“There’s inequity of the tax base which has occurred because of the rapidly increased development, our neighborhoods are being overbuilt,” said McGrath, who has owned her home in Brooklyn Heights for 24 years.
“It’s a great idea, they just need to think it through.”
The 16-mile route would cost about $2.5 billion to build with funding possibly coming from tax-exempt bonds issued through a nonprofit or higher property taxes within a half-mile radius around the stations.
Each trip would cost riders about $2.75, though it remains unclear if that would include a free transfer to subways, buses or the citywide ferry.
Aside from a potential rise in property taxes, McGrath said narrow streets and a recent surge in crime by Brooklyn Bridge Park would make it hard for residents to accept the streetcar running through the neighborhood.
Dollar signs mark Brooklyn Heights, where residents say a streetcar route would not be tolerated. Credit: DNAinfo/Alexandra Leon
“There is no way anyone in those brownstones is going to tolerate having this kind of public transportation,” she said.
Others said they worry about resident displacement in the interest of luxury development along the BQX route.
“We feel like the biggest benefactor from this project will be developers, and we have enough development going on,” said Fort Greene resident Lucy Koteen.
Lydon Sleeper, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, assured residents that “displacement is not the goal,” and that one of the streetcar’s main objectives is to connect low-income residents, specifically those living in public housing, to other areas of the city.
“If we do nothing, there is tremendous development along this corridor anyway,” Sleeper said. “Part of what I think we need to do is meet the new development that has happened and that is going to happen.”
Other suggestions from residents included connecting the BQX to existing transportation systems and highways and integrating the fare system to include free transfers.
“Creating new and better connections to existing subways is absolutely critical to this and also making sure that this is a system that can integrate with the MTA is critically important,” Sleeper said.
He said the streetcar would be built at street level, making it fully accessible, and that the new transportation system would be fully integrated with the MTA’s payment system by the time it launches in 2024.
The EDC will release a preliminary report on the BQX proposal this fall, when it will return with a second round of public meetings.
The next BQX community meetings will take place Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sunset Park, and Thursday at 6 p.m. at Long Island City Library.