Clang! City dashes Red Hook’s trolley hopes

Paper says: Bring back our trolleys

The city has derailed a ballyhooed plan to return trolley service to Red Hook, dashing the dreams of the transportation-challenged peninsula.

It’s just too expensive to bring back the old streetcars to Red Hook, according to a Department of Transportation report presented to civic leaders last week.

The biggest problem? After pouring $176 million into a 6.8-mile loop linking Borough Hall and Red Hook, the trolley would only add 1,822 new riders to the subway at Smith-Ninth Street — not an ample justification for the investment.

Instead, the city is now considering redesigning Mill Street and Hamilton Avenue, changes to the B61 bus route, and pedestrian improvements near the Smith-Ninth station, alternatives that were presented in the study by the San Francisco engineering firm URS.

The trolley project’s annual operating cost of $6.2-$7.2 million was also a factor in its rejection, officials said.

The streetcar would have run along Centre, Beard, Van Brunt, and Columbia streets, Atlantic Avenue and Boerum Place to the nexus of borough government.

Only last year, Transportation honchos were effusive when they announced the study.

“We’re looking back to the future,” cheered 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.”

So the news that the trolley was dead came as a disappointment to longtime residents frustrated by the neighborhood’s public transit isolation — which began when trolley service was dismantled there in the 1950s.

“It would have been nice to have them back,” said Sue Amendola.

As a girl, Amendola rode the trolley along Van Brunt and Richards streets. “But it would be nice to have a lot of things back in Red Hook.”

And trolley enthusiasts were angry.

“The city has once again wasted $300,000 of taxpayer money in scuttling the plan,” said Bob Diamond, president if the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, which installed a trolley line along Beard Street 12 years ago — but the city pulled the plug on that operation. “This flies in the face of the city’s mission of promoting green forms of transportation to foster a sustainable community,” Diamond added.

Trolley advocate Bob Diamond — seen here on Columbia Street — has long been pushing streetcars. But the city has again derailed his hopes.
Photo by Tom Callan