Train-wrecked! Transit pundits pan streetcar at Heights panel

Train-wrecked! Transit pundits pan streetcar at Heights panel
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

It is not too late to switch tracks!

The city should scrap its $2.5-billion waterfront streetcar plan and instead focus on building more cost-effective transportation for low-income Brooklynites, said a panel of public-transit pundits who took part in a pane on the so-called Brooklyn-Queens Connector at the Brooklyn Heights Association’s annual meeting on Monday.

“There are low-income people — hundreds of thousands of them — who have crappy transit today and those are the needs that ought to be addressed,” said David Bragdon, who was a top political honcho in Portland, Ore., when a streetcar started running there, and now heads New York public-transit advocacy organization Transit Center.

The panel — which also included New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer, Second Ave. Sagas transit blog author Ben Kabak, City College of New York civil engineering assistant professor Candace Brakewood, and Samuel Stein, a doctoral student who has written about the streetcar for Jacobin magazine — generally panned Sunset Park-to-Queens tram plan, with members arguing Mayor DeBlasio would get more bang for his buck by working with the state to extend subway lines and create better bus services.

DeBlasio and lobbyists for the developers who stand to benefit from the amenity have exhaustively touted the streetcar as a way to connect public-housing residents to job hubs, which Dwyer said made it sound like a charity project.

“Some of their literature makes it seem like an anti-poverty program,” said Dwyer, who wrote about the streetcar for his About New York column last year.

But many of the panelists said they think it will really benefit the rich who already own property near the route, which runs through Red Hook, Downtown, Fort Greene, and Williamsburg.

They also side-eyed the city’s claim that it can foot the bill for the project through increased property taxes along the line, arguing that property values in those areas are already skyrocketing, so it would take an extreme increase in development to cover the costs.

“It only works if property values rise significantly,” said Stein. “Four stories would have to become 15.”

The city is still in the midst of planning the streetcar’s final route, and officials are scheduled to visit community boards with a proposed route this year. Construction will begin in 2019 and it is scheduled to be up and running in 2024.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill