NYC leaders and neighbors show support for new streetcar

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NEW YORK – Plans for a streetcar system are gaining some steam in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio highlighted the project in his 2016 State of the City speech and he held a media briefing on the topic in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

“This is about equity and innovation. We are mapping brand new transit that will knit neighborhoods together and open up real opportunities for our people,” said the mayor.

The 16-mile stretch would go from Astoria, Queens to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

City Hall sent out an email with positive comments from a dozen business and community leaders. Mayors of other cities that have similar systems also added their support.

Planners described it as a hybrid streetcar and light-rail system that would be self-powered and use clean energy. They compared it to the system in Portland, Oregon. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales says the streetcar line in that city helped develop $4.5 billion in new property and 7,400 residential units.

The project is in in the design phase in NYC. A specific route map has not been determined. Construction isn't expected to start until 2019 or 2020. The first ride might be in 2024.

The Mayor says the cost of a ride would be tied to the price of a MetroCard swipe. While they're discussing possible transfers with the MTA, nothing has been decided.

The new NYC Ferry System, which will bring service to the Rockaways, Bay Ridge, and Astoria, is on schedule to begin in 2017. The ferry systems in NYC do not come with MetroCard access.

The rail system would be paid for through bonds and those bonds would be repaid with the rising property tax values along the waterfront.

Some national transportation planners say they're waiting to see how this system would tie into a larger transit infrastructure for the city.

"From what we know about the BQX street car to date, it is not part of any thought-out transportation strategy and would be a huge expense in a small travel market," said Jon Orcutt of TransitCenter. "It's true that Red Hook needs improved service for transit riders, but implementing a Select Bus route from Red Hook to Manhattan via the Battery Tunnel would meet the area’s travel needs in a much more direct way."

Brooklyn leaders have asked about extending it to Bay Ridge. Other transit advocates say areas in Central Queens need to be connected to central areas of Brooklyn.

The administration says this is part of a package of transit improvements which also include bus rapid transit and select bus routes.

Gene Rusianoff with the Straphangers Campaign says there's no one answer if the City or the MTA underwrite free subway-bus transfers.

"The City gives the MTA $14.5 million annually to underwrite half fare for senior citizens and handicapped riders," Rusianoff said in a statement. Student fares are paid for, on the other hand, by a combination of State, the City and the MTA."