Wrong track: Sunset Parkers lash out against streetcar plan

Wrong track: Sunset Parkers lash out against streetcar plan
Vehement opposition: Sunset Parkers with activist groups Uprose and Friends of Sunset Park railed against the Mayor’s Sunset Park-to-Queens streetcar at a Community Board 7 meeting on the project.
Community News Group / Caroline Spivack

They’re calling it a streetcar named displacement.

Sunset Parkers railed against Mayor Deblasio’s streetcar proposal when officials held a meeting to take community input on the Sunset Park-to-Queens trolley on Dec. 12, claiming the only thing the trolley would be good for is jacking up their rents. Deblasio, the developers who first floated the plan, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation all claim the $2.5-billion people-mover will connect locals to jobs elsewhere along the waterfront, but even the people who would use it for just that believe the money would be better spent on improved buses and maintain the plan is a gift to developers that will make Sunset Park too expensive for the people who live there, one said.

“Why spend so much money on inventing this whole new system when you could improve the buses and trains we all already use,” said Gloria Vargas, who lives along the proposed route in Sunset Park and works in Red Hook. “As someone who lives here, I don’t want or need this. Yeah I could hop on it and head to work in Red Hook, but why do that when I already have the bus? And that’s because it’s not for us — it’s meant to bring others.”

The city revealed potential routes for the so-called Brooklyn-Queens Connector earlier this month and officials are in the midst of visiting community boards for feedback. But Sunset Parkers spent more than two hours waving protest signs and heckling city honchos when they came to make their pitch at Community Board 7 on Monday night.

Proponents expect the trolley to spur development on the waterfront and plan to finance the project with additional tax revenue reaped as a result of new construction. The plan will necessarily cause gentrification that will lead to higher rents and the displacement of locals, one critic said.

“It’s the financing of the project — the fact that it relies on rising property values. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because without the gentrification there is no [streetcar],” said Ana Orozco an organizer with local social-justice group Uprose. “This is for new residents that will be living in luxury developments near the waterfront.”

Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) has previously said he could not support the plan if it led to increased rents.

“What was $800 for a one-bedroom is now almost $2,000, which is absolutely insane,” he told Gothamist over the summer. “If this is going to accelerate that, I’m not for it.”

But the councilman refused to take a stance when locals publicly asked him on Monday.

Officials did not respond to concerns about displacement, but they did say the new rail would make locals more mobile.

“This is not a silver bullet solution to all of New York City’s transportation problems, but this will really move the needle for greater transportation connectivity between the existing resources which are city-wide ferry stops, different bus routes, subway lines, and Citi Bike stations,” said Emma Pfohman.

But some locals maintained the cash would be better off in the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s hands.

“It just doesn’t make sense to pour so much into something new when there aren’t enough buses and it’s like being in a can of sardines,” said Sunset Parker Edward Avila. “The money could be better spent elsewhere.”

Even Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen has acknowledge the streetcar’s hulking cost compared to city buses.

“There will still be folks who argue (not crazily) that no matter where the money comes from, it is still more expensive than (bus rapid transit),” Glen wrote in an e-mail the Daily News acquired via a public information request. “And that is true.”

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at mspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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