Elation and Skepticism Over Proposal for Streetcars in Brooklyn and Queens


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“It’s crazy,” said Bert Louis, a barista at a coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, of the difficulty in getting from that borough to Queens by mass transit. “There’s got to be an easier way.”

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Kevin Hagen for The New York Times

It is a frustrating conundrum of commuting in the boroughs of New York City outside Manhattan: A destination in Brooklyn or Queens might be just a few miles away, but getting there by public transportation can be a trek. It might involve long walks, long bus rides or, quite possibly, a swing through Manhattan by train.

“I hear this complaint every day,” said Bert Louis, a barista at Matte Cafe, near the East River, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “It’s crazy. There’s got to be an easier way.”

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a proposal that could help ease some of those complaints: a 16-mile streetcar line running through neighborhoods along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens. The $2.5 billion proposal is aimed at improving accessibility to stretches of the city that have seen an influx of residents in recent years but are still poorly served by the subway system.

Many residents and workers in those neighborhoods welcomed the notion of having more options. “That would be a life-saver,” Mr. Louis, 40, said.

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“I just worry about the character of Queens,” said Claudia Mejia of Astoria, expressing concern that the proposed streetcar line would increase the cost of living in the borough.

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Pearl Gabel for The New York Times

Ernie Fuchs, a 31-year-old firefighter, moved to Astoria, Queens, three years ago seeking an affordable and family-friendly neighborhood. On Thursday, he was kicking a ball with his 2-year-old daughter, Ella, in Astoria Park.

“It seems awesome and good for Queens,” Mr. Fuchs said. “Now if I ever have to go to Brooklyn, I need to drive, and parking there is almost impossible.”

Still, the proposal has been met with skepticism and, in other parts of the city, outrage.

Transportation analysts have noted the problems and the costs some cities have faced as they pursued similar projects in the hope of spurring economic development and getting drivers out of their cars. Arlington, Va., and San Antonio abandoned plans for streetcar lines. In Atlanta, the streetcar system has struggled to attract riders, even though it did not charge a fare for its first year of operation.

James S. Oddo, the Staten Island borough president, furiously responded to the proposal on Twitter, sharing letters from transportation officials rejecting a request in 2014 to study the feasibility of a streetcar line along the North Shore.

“Our request for streetcar project was Dikembe Mutombo’d,” he posted on Twitter, referring to the signature finger-wagging gesture of the retired professional basketball player. “So recapping, 0 for S.I. and $2.5 billion for other places.”

“While we don’t begrudge residents of Brooklyn and Queens for this project,” Mr. Oddo added in a statement on Thursday, “it does make one wonder what we have to do on Staten Island to get the city to take our pleas for transformative transportation projects seriously.”

And in the neighborhoods where the line would run, the excitement has been tempered by the realization of what stands between them and a fully functional system: several years and the disruption brought by construction.

Joanna Raynes, 26, who lives in Williamsburg, said that she was already tired of the work being done along the waterfront and that she was not eager for more. “It’s annoying to live around all this noise and construction,” she said.

But Ms. Raynes added that she rides the G train that connects Brooklyn to Queens everyday. “It might take some pressure off the G train,” she said.

All of that, however, is still years away. Under the mayor’s plan, construction would not begin until 2019, and the line would not be in service until about 2024.

“These things always take time,” Mr. de Blasio said in an interview with a radio station, WHQT-FM, on Thursday. “But once it’s built, you know, hundreds of thousands of people get to benefit from it.”

Maryellen Stewart of Williamsburg, a product manager, said the area needed more transit options, noting the toll that Hurricane Sandy took on the L train.

“People pay a lot of money to live in this area that is accessible basically by only one subway,” Ms. Stewart, 27, said. “And we need something to get to Red Hook, because getting to Ikea is an all-day thing.”

Others, however, expressed environmental concerns, or questioned the streetcar plan’s impact on the fabric and the character of neighborhoods already inundated with newcomers living in condominiums that have been popping up along the East River.

“I just worry about the character of Queens,” said Claudia Mejia, 35, a nurse anesthetist who grew up in Bayside and now lives in Astoria with her daughter. “These high-end rentals are already everywhere. People are getting pushed out.”

The proposal was prompted by an evolution in the way people commute: People are not rushing into Manhattan for work in the same ways they used to, officials said.

“If they build this thing,” Ms. Mejia said, putting aside her reservations for a moment, “who’s going to even need Manhattan?”



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