It’s Time to Move On From the Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar

The de Blasio administration has already come up with better ideas than the streetcar to improve streets and transit -- the mayor just needs to make them a higher priority.

The mayor loves his trolley. Image: Friends of the BQX
The mayor loves his trolley. Image: Friends of the BQX

From the get-go, a major selling point for Mayor de Blasio’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens streetcar was that it would pay for itself — but an internal memo obtained by the Daily News and Politico casts serious doubt on that assumption.

The February 10 memo assembled by City Hall’s streetcar team and addressed to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen describes pitfalls like the cost and duration of utility work, which could potentially spiral out of control [PDF]. When the de Blasio administration announced the streetcar last February, the pitch was that it would be “self-financed.” The memo challenges the notion that increased tax revenue alone will be able to pay for the project.

The streetcar route was always a dubious choice for City Hall to spend its limited energy and attention on. Prior transit studies had identified several higher priorities than the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront — routes that would speed up service for more riders and improve transit access for more people.

But eroding faith in the financial viability of the streetcar can be an opportunity — it’s a chance for de Blasio to refocus his transit and transportation agenda on projects that would address the everyday problems and risks New Yorkers encounter as they get around the city.

The mayor doesn’t have to create ideas from scratch. He could simply recommit to his campaign promises to speed up buses and make city streets safer for walking and biking.

Bus ridership has been declining for years as bus speeds fall, and advocates have delivered a map for de Blasio’s DOT to turn this trend around — 10 streets where bus lanes would speed trips for up to 250,000 daily passengers.

Meanwhile, progress on traffic safety has slowed in the past year or so, and DOT can’t keep up with the demand for street redesigns that protect New Yorkers from dangerous driving.

NYC DOT is already working on these issues with its developing “citywide transit plan” and the ongoing rollout of Vision Zero projects. But streetcar work diverts staff time from these initiatives and saps the mayor’s political capital to see them through.

The sooner City Hall pulls staff off the BQX, the faster de Blasio can advance streets and transit improvements that will make life better for many more New Yorkers.


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