City puts trolleys back on track

Paper says: Bring back our trolleys

Clang clang clang go the trolleys?

After years of delays, the Department of Transportation will finally consider resurrecting trolleys from Red Hook to Downtown, officials announced on Thursday.

“We’re looking back to the future,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “Streetcars remain part of the transportation mix in cities from Toronto to Melbourne, and we need to consider all options to improve transit access in underserved neighborhoods like Red Hook.”

Trolley lovers and residents of the isolated neighborhood were thrilled at the announcement — especially as it came after many years of trolley dodging by the city, which received the $300,000 for the study — courtesy of Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Sunset Park) — five years ago, yet did nothing with it.

And in the 1990s, rail legend Bob Diamond dug, constructed and manned his own trolley line along the Red Hook waterfront, only to see his dreams dashed after the city cut off funding.

But now, Diamond is brimming with excitement that his dream of a Kings County once again teeming with trolleys might be realized.

“The mayor and the transportation commissioner have come out and said it’s a good idea,” said Diamond. “Back [in the 1990s] it was, ‘Oh, Bob is down in that corner of Red Hook doing his experiment that might be a tourist attraction.’

“Now, it’s being taken seriously,” he added.

The five-month study will be coordinated by URS, a consulting firm that was involved in the Portland, Ore. streetcar system, which Diamond cited as a model for his own proposed route last month.

If the city determines that Red Hook is ripe for a trolley system, there are certainly plenty of federal funds that could go towards the project.

The Federal Transportation Administration has at least three separate funds worth a total of $250 million for projects that could involve streetcars in cities.

In addition to those pots of cash, the Obama administration has also allocated $8 billion in federal stimulus money towards rail projects — more than $150 million of which is going to New York State.

And on Labor Day President Obama signaled once again that rail transportation would be a priority in upcoming legislation meant to create more jobs.

A Department of Transportation spokesman said that the agency was well aware of the money available, and had taken advantage of more than $200 million through the stimulus and other grants for ferry projects, a major bus lane upgrade on 34th Street in Manhattan and other improvements.

But the agency, the spokesman added, was not yet in a position to apply for the federal money when it came to trolleys.

“We are not in a position to apply for funding for a streetcar system whose feasibility has not yet been determined,” the spokesman said.

Trolley legend Bob Diamond loves the city effort. Here he is standing on Columbia Street — a portion of his proposed Downtown to Red Hook route.
Photo by Tom Callan