Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Will a BQX light rail along the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens have extra-normal economic impact?

Proposed routing for the Brooklyn Queens Connector light rail line in NYC.

Notions Capital (not a fan of the DC streetcar) calls our attention to the Village Voice cover story ("Light Rail’s Dark Side: How Will NYC Pay for the BQX?") casting doubt on the economic impact assumptions of the proposed BQX light rail line along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts.

While it is true that development on the Queens waterfront lags other areas, there is no question that development along the Brooklyn waterfront has been on fire for a long long time.

The argument, according to the Voice, is that the economic impact is significant enough to allow for the city to pay for the system--as a local transit project, it would not be paid for by the MTA, which runs the subway and bus system in the city--conceding that the proposed line isn't addressing "transit desert" issues--or improving transit service and access in areas under-served by transit. From the article:
BQX's location far from the city's transit deserts has been one criticism of the plan, which has otherwise drawn cheers from advocates eager for any new mass transit construction. While some gentrification-wary residents suspect a stealth ploy by developers like David Walentas's Two Trees Management — which not only first concocted the idea, but continues to play a central role in planning discussions — the city has a simpler explanation: BQX may not be the transit system New York City most needs, but it's the one we can get. By building in a hot neighborhood along the waterfront, officials insist, they can use the magic of "value capture" to grab increased property tax receipts to pay for the project's estimated $2.5 billion construction cost, getting the city a new light rail line entirely for free.
Given all that I've written ("Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service") about the DC streetcar being wildly successful in auguring development intensity and velocity at a level comparable to that of Metrorail station catchment areas, even though most of the H Street corridor is significantly outside of the Metrorail transit shed, I am not convinced that the proposed light rail line is the right choice for New York City.

(Note that when I first read about the idea in the NYT years ago, I was skeptical, because light rail has an inherent capacity limitation that doesn't make sense for such a densely populated city as New York. "Streetcars are not a good inter-borough transit choice for New York City").

1. Unlike H Street NE, the Brooklyn waterfront already is undergoing extensive redevelopment and has been for some time.  Therefore, it is arguable that a light rail line will add that much in the way of incremental development.

Does it make sense to encumber the property tax revenue stream from this area to build a light rail line, when other parts of the city are in much greater need of better and higher capacity transit service?

For example, the proposal for the Triboro RX, which probably should be train, not subway, service, to be able to interact with extant freight rail service.

-- "How About A Subway Linking Brooklyn, Queens & The Bronx WITHOUT Manhattan?," Gothamist
-- "This Commuter Rail Line Could Revolutionize Outer-Borough Transit," Curbed

From the Curbed article:
The above-ground line would intersect and connect with 17 existing subway lines and four commuter rail lines, and will also include 24 of its own new stops. RPA estimates that about 100,000 people would take the Triboro daily, which trumps the daily ridership of the Staten Island Ferry by about 30,000 people.

As with all things, the concern is: but how much will this cost? RPA nails the initial estimate at $1 billion to $2 billion (which is, er, pretty lenient) including the cost of installing signals, new track, rail cars and stations, and possibly power substations.

The plan is still in its conceptual phase, but an RPA representative said that the project's development could be partially funded through Move NY, the city's on-the-table plan to add tolls to the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges as well as create a surcharge for entering Manhattan by car below 60th Street.
2. Although one advantage of the addition would be another transit line directly connecting Brooklyn and Queens without having to travel via Manhattan  in between.

Today, the G Line is the only subway line that travels directly between these two boroughs.

Rendering of an in-street BQX train.

3. Is light rail even the right choice? In transit-intensive cities, light rail tends to be used in areas with significantly less ridership potential, which tend to be outside of the core, such as on the outskirts of Paris, where orbital light rail lines connect subway and railroad passenger lines, not unlike how the pending Purple Line project in Suburban Maryland will connect four legs of the Metrorail system as well as all three MARC railroad passenger lines.

On the other hand, the Docklands Light Railway in London serves about 340,000 riders daily. But over time it has grown from 8 miles of track, 15 stations and 3 branches to 7 lines, 45 stations, and 24 miles of trackage (with further plans for extension), becoming a more extensive system rather than merely a line.

When the DLR was launched, the Docklands was in the beginning of its revitalization program.

Built originally on an abandoned railway line, the system has dedicated trackage, not shared with roadways.  It's also computer controlled, cutting labor costs, and affording frequent service.  To increase capacity, the system has gone to three-car trains, which has necessitated platform extensions and other changes.

-- "Docklands Light Railway: A success story that spans a generation," Global Rail News.

4. The TransitCenter, in "What the Paris Trams Can Teach U.S. Cities," suggests that the Paris tram system offers many lessons not typically considered in the US, especially the utility of trams in transit cities as a way to provide additional connections to existing lines, the value of dedicated right of way, and fare integration practices that don't require an additional payment to use this mode.

Another key point in the article is that transportation planners there have used the implementation of tram service as a way to create new roadway and traffic patterns that emphasize sustainable mobility over privileging the automobile. This for the most part, doesn't occur in the US, putting serious capacity limitations on LR as a mode.

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

again- the overwhelming mentality on capitol hill[ the usual old people and car enthusiasts] is against streetcars- they are touted as wasteful and obsolete- and they get in the way of cars and parking. Anyone seriously trying to boost DC's streetcars should be focusing on converting or convincing these people- they remain a serious impediment to the whole concept- and they can be outspoken..

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

well, the pro-streetcar case hasn't been helped by the poor execution of the streetcar program in DC, and the lengthy time it will take to extend the line to the point where it will be useful.

The TransitCenter article is about light rail more than streetcar, but the points it makes are good. Although I think mixed traffic "streetcars" (not light rail) can be ok.

Again, the point is promoting intra-city and intra-district transit and mobility, a point that many in this discussion seem to miss.

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its not just streetcars that raise the ire of the older folks on CH but any sort of rail project- including the rebuilding of the Virginia Avenue tunnel- they just do not fathom WHY it needs to be done. I try to explain it- but the anger takes over in many of these people and you just cannot break through no matter how patient and rational and persuasive you may be. My take on it is that if the tunnel is NOT rebuilt it WILL be a safety problem- they see ALL rail as a safety problem but do not understand how horrible truck accidents are and how they are much more frequent than rail accidents. There is a total blind spot- sort of the mentality that jet travel is dangerous because ONE airplane crashes- but they cannot grasp that more road accidents happen on the way to the airport, etc...its a losing battle with these folks.


Post a Comment

<< Home