The New York Postreported last night that the delayed study for the Brooklyn Queens Connector, the waterfront light-rail concept pushed by the De Blasio admin and a nonprofit group, has already racked up at least $7 million in cost.
The study was slated to wrap up last fall but has met setbacks. The Post didn’t explain exactly what accounted for the cost and didn’t compare the cost to other similar studies.
The Friends of the BQX says it’s “been hosting awesome happy hours along the corridor.” Today it sent an email out offering supporters a vote for where the next happy hour will be.
Now, I’m not a supporter, I’m a blogger, but if Friends of BQX has a public event in LIC or Astoria I will mention it and try to show up because that’s what I do. I voted for Astoria after reading over the word “supporters.” The survey being sent out includes the question, “Why are you excited about the BQX?” with an asterisk. So I just awkwardly wrote in that I’m not, I’m just a blogger.
Corner is a space where you can mention why you are or aren’t a supporter.
That means, the city is on top of developing a mega housing development over the Sunnyside Yards (a lot of people in Astoria and LIC don’t know what that is, but it’s the huge swath of train land east of Northern Boulevard that you see from either the N/W or 7 trains when approaching or leaving Queensborough Plaza). But when it comes to running a streetcar through LIC and Astoria to connect with Brooklyn, it’s just not there yet.
A lot of headlines have created a kind of confusion, I think, on whether the BQX is still being pursued at City Hall. Here is a short list:
De Blasio Administration May ditch planned streetcar along Brooklyn-Queens waterfront – New York Daily News, April 3
Future of de Blasio’s $2.5 billion BQX street car at risk – 6sqft, April 4
Is Mayor de Blasio’s Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar Dead? – New York Times, April 10
So Is the BQX Dead Yet or What? – Village Voice, April 10
There were mixed messages from City Hall. But we can say this: the next city budget won’t include funds for important criteria into getting the project underway. Crain’s New York Business reported this week that the Economic Development Corporation had of last month not earmarked funds that would move the project forward in its next budget. It would need at least $40 million for design and an environmental review but it only has a few million set aside to study an underground cable problem that’s become a road block.
“Leaving BQX expenditures out would suggest the city has no immediate plans to begin preliminary design work and an environmental study, which are big first steps needed to get the project in gear. Each would take a year, though their time lines could overlap, and would together cost at least $40 million. It is unclear whether the corporation would have to wait another fiscal year for the necessary cash, or if it could find the funds elsewhere in its budget at some point before then should it decide to move forward.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the New York Daily News today for reporting that he “may ditch” the BQX streetcar proposal. The News had reported on a comment by Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for economic development, that implied that if the streetcar turns out to not be self-funding, then the city might have to consider a different use of capital funds. This is the quote the News reported this week and I posted on Corner (and was posted all over the place):
“Assuming that it does not pay for itself… then we have to decide whether or not this is the right use of capital money for a transportation project.”
I never took that to mean De Blasio is backing off the BQX, and I don’t think the News reported it that way. (Disclosure: I interned for the News in 2013). You can read the quote as many times as I did. This is what De Blasio told a caller (Nick from Astoria, at 16 minutes in) on The Brian Lehrer Show segment, “Ask the Mayor” (Disclosure: I work for Brian Lehrer in a different capacity) asking for clarification on his commitment:
“This is an instance where a real disservice has been done by the media, specifically the Daily News, in taking comments that presented no change in our position whatsoever and trying to reflect something entirely different… I don’t understand how a journalist does that. I don’t understand how a journalist goes out of their way to misrepresent the facts, and I’ve seen it way too often lately at the Daily News.”
“My deputy mayor spoke about the complexities of a major undertaking like this. But it’s one we believe is going to be very, very valuable for what’s one of the single biggest growth areas and population centers of the entire city of New York, the East River Waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens. This is increasingly the core of New York City and we think the BQX is going to be a high impact investment in the community. And also because I think it’s going to be part of positive development of housing, affordable housing, job creation, that’s part of why it interacts very positively with what we’re trying to do overall to help those communities strengthen. It’s going to serve 40,000 public housing residents in many communities that are underserved by mass transit. But it’s a big, complicated endeavor and it’s certainly going to require some federal support as well, which is something I’m very hopeful about particularly because of the presence of Senator Schumer in the Senate, the roll he plays. We’re moving forward but we have to get the exact details right and we’re going to have a plan…”
“We must have more mass transit and it’s not going to be created by the MTA on the scale we need.”
So the point of the story is BDB is still committed to the BQX, regardless of what Alicia Glen said.
An important player in the BQX streetcar project expressed doubt this Brooklyn-Queens waterfront train will happen. Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for economic development, oversees the Economic Development Corporation, which is studying the feasibility of funding the BQX. TheNew York Daily News reported late Tuesday that Glen said at an NYU transportation event, “Assuming that it does not pay for itself… then we have to decide whether or not this is the right use of capital money for a transportation project.”
This comes a year after the News reported on an internal memo expressing doubts on the planned self-financing capability, involving underground obstacles:
“Digging up and moving utility lines “continues to be the biggest single cost factor” that “has the possibility to make the project unaffordable and render implementation timelines unfeasible,” according to the memo.”
From the outset, the city projected a $2.5 billion price tag.
Of course the story isn’t over for the BQX, while a late study still looms. Glen said that Senator Chuck Schumer is a “huge fan” of the project. Schumer is of course father of Jessica Schumer, interim executive director of Friends of the BQX. However, this wrinkle might be a minor blow to the group. Rival organization Queens Anti-Gentrification Project has jumped on the opportunity to criticize the project on Facebook:
The New York Times editorial board says the mayor should hurry along with the Brooklyn Queens Connector, AKA, the BQX streetcar. The editorial board does not say in the piece why it supports the streetcar (which, I think is implied), other than quoting Michael Kimmelman who four years ago said, “a streetcar is a tangible, lasting commitment to urban change.” The editorial also links to Kimmelman’s 2014 piece that actually preceded BdB’s proposal in his 2016 State of the City address. Instead, the editorial focuses more on the concept of time. And yea, the mayor only has one term left to make BQX an official plan. The Times editorial board did a similarly ambiguous writeup of the BQX in 2016 titled, “A Streetcar Ride to New York’s Future.” I guess the opinion is implied in the word, “future.” Here’s how the board concluded then:
“City planning is always part art. And this proposal does not lack for vision. But Mayor de Blasio, so invested until now in social welfare issues, will have to show fortitude in defending the practicality of his venture in mass transit innovation. It will have to survive the inevitable criticism of urbanites who think they know better ways than a trolley car to get around New York.”
A few notes:
Women on bikes will gather at Queensbridge Park on March 25, then ride to Borough Hall in Kew Gardens to advocate for gender equality AND the continuation of the Queens Boulevard bike lane.
City Limis: “De Blasio promised that those trucks will be moved out of Ravenswood Houses by Sept. 2017, but his promise didn’t come to fruition because they couldn’t find a space to put those trucks in.”
TF Cornerstone dialed down its tower plans at Hunters Point South.
TF also bought up 38-21 12th Street in the LIC Industrial Business Zone in Ravenswood, where that long colorful mural is. The Real Deal said, “A 152-key hotel was previously rumored as planned for the site, but TF Cornerstone released a statement saying the company has no plan to change the zoning from industrial use.” But, what the hell else would TFC build?