The Museum of the Moving Image was an interesting choice for an open house on a transit project that has been stalling since Mayor de Blasio first backed it four years ago.
But well over 100 people — both supporters and opponents — attended the town hall and community workshop during which the New York City Economic Development Corp. presented the first formal update on the Brooklyn Queens Connector in 18 months.
As drawn up now, the 11-mile, $2.73 billion streetcar project would run from just north of 27th Street in Astoria to Red Hook, stopping north of the Gowanus Canal. The original plans called for a route of up to 16 miles stretching farther into Brooklyn.
One part of the presentation allowed people to visit numerous stations with charts, photos and other information about various aspects of the proposal, known as the BQX.
A second room hosted multiple tabletop workshops where residents could sit down with maps, magic markers and stickers to give input about what they would like to see.
The project would not come under the auspices of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, though the city has been saying since 2016 that any fare would match that of city buses and subways, and that it would like to see free transfers.
The city will seek “an experienced operator” to design, build, operate and maintain the system through a franchise agreement.
“Right now the BQX is a dotted line on a map,” Rebecca Gafvert, vice president of development with the EDC, said. “We’re working to determine just where to place that line.”
If no more unforeseen challenges come up — and if the EDC can secure at least $1.3 to $1.4 billion in federal transportation funding — construction would start in 2024 with the first passengers on board in 2029. Both dates are five years later than de Blasio originally forecast in 2016. The city first conceded in August 2018 that federal funding would be needed after saying repeatedly that the BQX would be self-funding.
The EDC is in the early stages of an environmental review. A draft environmental impact statement is due in spring 2021 with the final report expected by the following fall.
Waiting outside MoMI for the event to open, Symphony Davis of Astoria said she would prefer upgraded bus service.
“They just recently added weekends and more hours to the Q103; now they’re taking that away,” Davis said in reference to the MTA’s draft proposal to redraw the Queens busing map.
Another resident outside the building said the $7 million spent on the preliminary studies would have been better spent on existing mass transit.
Protesters inside also called for the money to be diverted to subways and buses, saying the city could offer no guarantees of things like free transfers.
While the city and the group Friends of the BQX state that the route could serve well more than 300,000 who live or work along the proposed route, critics such as Stan Morse of the Justice for All Coalition believe it is intended as a boon for real estate developers
“The route runs right past land developers own along the waterfront,” Morse said.
The city said its share of the money would come from value capture, or the anticipated increase in property tax revenue once land and buildings near the route are improved and property values along the corridor rise.
“Value capture assumes some property taxes will go up,” Gafvert acknowledged. Some of the posters held by protesters even referred to the project as the “gentrification express,” increasing the risk of higher property taxes and rents.
The Rev. Bishop Mitchell Taylor, who supports the project, believes there would be some balance, particularly if north-south transportation between Queens and Brooklyn could be faster and more efficient.
“This would expand economic opportunities,” Taylor said. “This would bring unprecedented access and opportunities.”
The route as presently drawn runs along 21st Street past NYCHA’s Ravenswood Houses in Astoria and on the eastern boundary of the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City.
Taylor is not among those fearing gentrification.
“I own a house in Long Island City, where property taxes have already gone up in recent years,” he acknowledged. “But I think the city could do something to protect people who own one- and two-family homes. I don’t think the city would want to turn a good thing into a bad thing.”
Another meeting is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on March 10 at the City University of New York Law School at 2 Court Square West in LIC.