A streetcar at Madison and 4th Avenue in 1890. Via MCNY.
Greenwich Village is known as the birthplace of many things – the modern gay rights movement, Off-Broadway theater, the New York School of artists and poets, the “new urbanism” pioneered by Jane Jacobs, among many other trailblazing firsts. Less closely associated with the Village, however, are radical and transformative innovations in transportation technology. But while little known, the Village was in fact home to the first elevated rail line, and the first streetcar.
The whole history right this way
When a leaked memo about the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) surfaced a couple months ago, it painted a less-than-optimistic picture of the proposed $2.5 billion streetcar due to major construction challenges and doubts that Mayor de Blasio’s plan to self-fund the project through taxes from higher real estate values would pan out. Despite these concerns, however, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 endorsed the 16-mile streetcar project today, according to a press release from Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector.
All the info right this way
On this day in 1832, the John Mason, a horse-drawn streetcar, began its route between Prince and 14th Streets. Named for the railroad magnate who commissioned it, the new transportation addition was the first of its kind and a vast improvement over the horse-drawn omnibus that was currently in use. Built in 1827, the omnibus was little more than a boxy stagecoach, with riders packed into it like “sardines in a box with perspiration for oil. Passengers hang from the straps like smoked hams in a corner grocery.” Fares were only 15 cents, and though cars were only supposed to hold 15 people, riders even clambered onto the roof, holding on for dear life.
Not perfect, but an improvement
Rendering of the streetcar on Berry Street in Williamsburg
When the plan for a streetcar from Brooklyn to Queens was officially announced by the city in February, we knew that the $2.5 billion line would run 16 miles along the East River, from Astoria to Sunset Park, but the exact routes have remained a mystery, up until now. The Times reports that yesterday the city released a 25-page report that outlines these key details, as well as how the streetcar would traverse bridges to cross Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal and more logistical details. It also includes maps for the various routes through each neighborhood with a list of pros and cons (road width, proximity to existing subway stations, street and pedestrian traffic) for each possible street.
See the maps
When the Mayor officially endorsed the plan for a Brooklyn-Queens streetcar, the estimated cost to realize the project was pinned at $2.5 billion. Since then there have been plenty of purported roadblocks that some believe could balloon costs further, such as the claims that the 16-mile streetcar route would run entirely through flood zones and require two new bridges. But the latest comes via Crain’s, who reports that the necessary train yard/maintenance facility for the cars may be the size of an entire city block and cost $100 million, which only adds to concerns that the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) may become more of an economic burden than the city can take on. While that may or not be so, proponents maintain that the cars are absolutely necessary. Not only are a number of areas along the BQX’s proposed routes underserved by existing transit, but with all of the new office and residential developments planned for Brooklyn’s waterfront, the fact is, adding additional transit is a necessity, not an option.
More details on the train yard and share your opinion
The Post is calling him the “Canadian Anthony Weiner,” and it’s just been announced that he’s the new Director of the Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar. Adam Giambrone ran for mayor of Toronto in 2010, but had to drop out after leaked text messages ousted him in an affair with a 19-year-old college student.
Sex scandal aside, the 39-year-old is a former Toronto city councilor, a position that allowed him to chair the Toronto Transit Commission from 2006 to 2010. During that time, he advocated for a network of suburban streetcars called Transit City. It was shot down by Mayor Rob Ford, but construction has since begun on portions of it. According to NY Mag, Giambrone then went on to serve as a traveling light-rail expert in Montreal and Milwaukee.
What will he be doing here in NYC?
Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector launched a brand new website yesterday, revealing not only more images of how the streetcar could fit in with the various neighborhoods it would serve, but also the names of the developers, transportation experts and civic organizers involved in pushing the lightrail project forward. As listed on the site, members of the advocacy group include former MTA head and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, big names hailing from the likes of Tishman Speyer, Steiner Studios and Two Trees Development, and a number of local groups, including the Fifth Avenue Committee, Industry City and DUMBO BID. According to DNA Info, over the next 16 months, the committee will attempt to get additional neighborhood groups and residents along the streetcar’s 16-mile route involved in the city’s public planning process, which in turn should drive more support and funding.
More photos of the Connector this way
The proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar may require the construction of two new bridges, one over Newtown Creek and another over the Gowanus Canal. The New York Times reported that the potential need for the new bridges–the Pulaski Bridge and the bridge across the Gowanus Canal at Hamilton Avenue might not be able to accommodate streetcars–was one of the more substantial details released by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and other top officials Friday.
In a “fatal-flaw analysis,” it was found that that though there would be “major challenges” to creating the system, it was feasible, Ms. Glen said. Like all things New York City, the proposed BQX proposal “would dwarf other recent streetcar systems in the United States.” The cost involved in constructing the new bridges is already included in the project’s $2.5 billion cost estimate. They would include bicycle and pedestrian paths.
Find out more
Map of streetcar route via NYC mayor’s office (L); Map of flood-prone areas via FloodHelpNY (R); combined image via Streetsblog
Leading up to Mayor de Blasio’s press conference on Tuesday about his proposed Brooklyn-Queens streetcar plan, the internet has been abuzz with criticism and concerns, including whether or not it will accept MetroCard transfers, how it won’t really connect to existing subway lines, funding matters, and the issue that the system may favor “tourists and yuppies.” But Streetsblog makes another very interesting point–the fact that the proposed route will run almost entirely through city- and FEMA-designated high-risk flood zones, which “raises questions about how the streetcar infrastructure and vehicles would be protected from storm surges, as well as the general wisdom of siting a project that’s supposed to spur development in a flood-prone area.”
What does the Mayor have to say about this?
Recent news has focused on plans announced by Mayor De Blasio for a streetcar line, dubbed the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), to connect “underserved, but booming” areas of the boroughs. The city’s plan would run for 16 miles along the East River, from Astoria to Sunset Park, at a projected cost of $2.5 billion, serving bustling commercial hubs like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Long Island City, as well as providing access for about 45,000 public housing residents.
With concerns from local businesses and residents growing, the Times looks to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, an already-existing streetcar line in New Jersey that travels from Bayonne through Jersey City and Hoboken to Weehawken. It’s been moving passengers for over a decade and today serves 46,800 passengers on a typical weekday. By most accounts it’s been a success, helping employees get to work (with a skyline view, no less) and encouraging development in areas along the waterfront that had suffered from blight and neglect. Two rivers over, it’s the areas through which the proposed “BQX” would travel that are the subject of some concern.
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