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Speculation Continues on the Death of the Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar

The New York Times transit reporter looks into the lack of progress on the $2.5 billion project proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in his 2016 State of the City speech. The mayor responds angrily to a Daily News article casting doubt on the project.
April 13, 2018, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Mr. de Blasio has said little about the streetcar in recent months and his office has not identified a route, leading to persistent speculation that the proposal is dead," reports Emma G. Fitzsimmons for The New York Times on April 10.

The mayor appeared on last Friday's "Brian Lehrer Showon WNYC and responded to a question from Nick, an informed listener.  From transcript:

Nick: I heard some reports this week that (you) might be backing off the proposed BQX trolley from Astoria to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I live in Astoria so I am extra curious about what is going to happen with this project....

Mayor... this is an instance where a real disservice has been done by the media, specifically the Daily News ....I don’t understand how a journalist goes out of their way to misrepresent the facts and I have seen it way too often lately at the Daily News.

More about the April 3 Daily News article below. An April 6 editorial in that paper, "Is "BQX DOA? TBD," did seem quite fair in this reader's opinion. It focused on the finances making the project possible:

As outlined following the mayor’s unveiling of the plan in his 2016 State of the City, the projected $2.5 billion cost would be covered by the sale of property-value-capturing bonds.

That's Plan A, according to the editorial. And it doesn't seem unreasonable as the mayor is using value capture to finance subway improvements in East Midtown as posted last month. Plan B: If the money isn't there, time to rethink the project. And it reminds readers in Plan C that from a federal funds perspective, the most pressing need is rebuilding the Hudson River rail tunnel, which the Trump administration appears to strongly oppose.

Supporters of the streetcar, comprised of transit leaders and real estate developers, have grown restless, adds Fitzsimmons.

“We are calling on your administration to take concrete steps to indicate that this critical infrastructure project will indeed break ground during your mayoralty,” the letter from the board for the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, which was obtained by The New York Times, said.

Doubts about the application of value capture

Mr. de Blasio said he wanted to connect a string of growing neighborhoods along the waterfront and claimed that rising real estate tax revenue could finance the streetcar. But his deputy mayor, Alicia Glen, raised doubts last week about whether that model was still feasible.

Ms. Glen told reporters that if the streetcar did not pay for itself, the city would have to decide whether to cover the costs, according to an article in the Daily News that Mr. de Blasio later attacked [on WNYC]. Ms. Glen and the mayor both suggested Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, might help secure federal funding [debunked in aforementioned Daily News editorial].

Fitzsimmons describes many of the other challenges, political as well as from a transit perspective, facing the project, many of which have been covered last year by Planetizen, noted below. The Daily News article by Dan Rivoli that so angered de Blasio is recommended reading in any case. Snip:

“They’ve always needed it to pay for itself. It’s such an outrageously expensive project and it’s going to have such low ridership,” Jon Orcutt, policy director at Transit Center, a research nonprofit, told The News on Tuesday. “If they don’t know the answer now, I suspect the answer is it won’t pay for itself and it would be a bad use of city funding.”

Related posts in Planetizen that cast some doubt on the viability of the streetcar project:

Hat tip to Mark Boshnack.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, April 10, 2018 in The New York Times - N.Y. / Region
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