By Ya-Ting Liu
If there is one positive takeaway from New York City’s “summer of hell,” it is that delayed trains and subways have created a sense of urgency around what we can do to improve a public transportation system that doesn’t work for many New Yorkers.
One thing that has become abundantly clear this summer is that the city’s subway system—built more than 100 years ago when Manhattan was the economic hub of the city—no longer accurately reflects where people are traveling. Today, people live and work all over the five boroughs, and especially on the rapidly growing Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.
But right now, someone who lives in Long Island City is forced to take a subway through Manhattan to get to work in Williamsburg—a long route, made longer when service is slowed to a crawl due to neglected maintenance. Outdated and inefficient commuting options like this do little to attract new residents or businesses and could stunt growth in an area that is becoming an economic driver in our city.
One project that will provide access to thousands of underserved residents in this bustling corridor is the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), an urban light-rail project that will connect neighborhoods along 14 miles from Astoria to Sunset Park. This emissions-free rail system will serve 50,000 riders daily, connecting people to subway lines, bus routes, ferry landings and Citi Bike stations. The project will be a boon for businesses and people alike: Local shops in the corridor will be more accessible for people who live in other neighborhoods, and residents will have easier access to employment opportunities.
But perhaps the most appealing aspect of the BQX—and the reason that it is especially relevant when considering our current subway crisis—is that the BQX would utilize a funding mechanism known as “value capture” to help pay for its construction. The project would not compete with funding for repairs and upgrades that our subway system desperately needs. It also wouldn’t take money away from other important transit initiatives like Fair Fares or Bus Rapid Transit.
As with the new 7 train stop in Hudson Yards, the BQX will be paid for by the increased value it brings to the neighborhoods it serves. Specifically, the largest commercial and residential landlords, those who will see the largest increase in property value once the BQX is built, will pay additional taxes. The expectation of new value would be bonded and sold to investors to help pay for its construction.
The self-financing nature of the BQX allows this transit asset to be city owned and controlled. Pursuing projects like these will allow us to move away from our dependence on the MTA—and from quarrels over who is legally responsible for paying for upgrades and repairs of our transit system.
New York City’s subway crisis this summer has put a spotlight on what’s wrong with our current transportation system. But it has also shown just how crucial it is for us to prepare for the future by recognizing new trends in how New Yorkers move around the city, while simultaneously making necessary fixes to our current system.
The BQX provides a perfect model for how we can do both even with limited resources at our disposal.