Brooklyn-Queens Connector Would Return Streetcars to NYC

Years ago, streetcars were ubiquitous throughout New York City. Over time, they disappeared in favor of other modes of transportation, but recently there has been growing interest in reintroducing streetcars in cities.

With more than 700 miles of rail track, New York City has one of the most extensive transit systems in the world. However, some neighborhoods of the city, particularly in the outer boroughs, lack good public transportation to job centers and other neighborhoods.

There has been growth in residential and mixed-use development in this region, and with this increase in population, a need for more frequent and reliable transit service also grew.

In 2015, a study led by local development interests re-examined the possibility of bringing a new north-south service back to the waterfront.

In 2016, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) selected WSP to complete a feasibility study, alternatives analysis and conceptual engineering of the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed streetcar corridor extending from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens. The 16-mile stretch would serve 400,000 residents and nearly 300,000 people that work along corridor.

“The sheer size of this project coupled with the dense urban context is what sets this project apart,” said Joe Marie, project manager.

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©NYCEDC

The proposed 16-mile Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar would serve 400,000 residents and nearly 300,000 people who live and work along the corridor.

Public Involvement

During the study, WSP developed and evaluated alignment alternatives, performed conceptual engineering and assessed related traffic issues. Dan Baer, WSP planning lead and deputy project manager, is leading the alternatives analysis and evaluation for the current phase of work – the refinement of the preferred alternative.

“Our goal was to approach this differently than a typical transportation project,” Baer said. “The BQX has the power to be transformative throughout the neighborhoods it traverses.”

Access to transit can stimulate economic development and the city is considering this as the second project, following the extension of the No. 7 subway to Hudson Yards, that leverages this economic growth using value capture for financing.

“As we advance the project and we show more tangible plans and results, the public will be able to more fully understand and embrace the vision,” Baer said. “We have had very positive discussions about time saving in commuting, about increasing economic opportunity and about the BQX serving a diverse range of trips.

From the beginning, WSP has supported NYCEDC at multiple public outreach sessions in the neighborhoods along the corridor. Some of the concerns brought up at these sessions included loss of parking and impact to existing traffic. The public also discussed the alignment and WSP has strived to identify a path that serves existing and future development.

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©NYCEDC

WSP USA prepared a feasibility study of the Brooklyn Queens Connector that will run from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens.

Sharing the Roadway

While the streetcar along portions of the alignment will need to share the existing roadway with vehicular traffic, the goal of the project is to provide a “reliable” alternative to commuters that will reduce the dependency on cars, and provide additional connectivity between the outer boroughs.

“The streetcar itself is a more sustainable a mode of transportation,” Baer said. “The design will build in features that will make it more resilient to natural disasters such as elevating substations so service restoration can occur more quickly after a storm or flood.”

Mapping the Alignment

One of the biggest challenges involves two locations along the corridor where the streetcar would cross a movable bridge, which presents its own set of environmental and technical issues. Alex Wright, lead engineer for WSP, is leading the conceptual design.

By using a mobile light detection and ranging (lidar) surveying tool along the corridor, the team developed an existing conditions map in less time than traditional surveying methods would have required.

“Because the preferred alignment and its alternatives covered approximately 27 miles of roadway – 16 miles of our preferred route and 11 miles of alternates – a conventional survey could have taken over a year to complete,” Wright said. “This mapping produced a 2D line-work that includes the location of the building lines, curb lines and visible utility evidence where accessible along the routes.”

Another benefit of using lidar technology is that it can be used as a foundation for later design phases.

The team, which consists of WSP’s planning, transit and rail, civil engineering and buildings groups, is currently completing Phase 3, involving the development of the preferred alignment. The next step would be the preparation of the environmental impact statement and related design work. Much is still being evaluated about the ultimate construction of the BQX – including the initial operating segment, delivery mode and financing, and operations – in anticipation of its estimated completion and operation in 2024.

“It is extremely rewarding to be involved with the BQX project, knowing that this could provide a new service to meet the evolving travel demand patterns along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, and to improve transit access to areas that are underserved by existing transit,” Wright said.


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