Streetcars were once a big part of Brooklyn life—could they play a role in connecting currently underserviced areas while enhancing the street-level experience? That's the theory being floated by some enthusiasts. And people are starting to listen. Most notably, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn who, noting the success of its streetcar system in generating economic developer, recently said “We need to rebalance the transportation network and make it as efficient and effective as possible.” (Midwood resident Arthur Melnick has been pushing this idea for many years, particularly for the waterfront areas of Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights, and the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association has even built a few tracks over near Ikea.) And while there are nostalgic and touristic reasons to consider the idea, blog The Transit Politic sums up the practical side of the issue:
Brooklyn is ideal for streetcars, and the city should be considering their widespread installation in areas where improved transit service is needed, because they’re effective in creating denser, more livable neighborhoods. The eastern half of Berlin is perhaps a good example for how Brooklyn could integrate streetcars into its existing transportation network. There, the 192 km collection of Straßenbahn lines run in areas that are not adequately served by the U-Bahn and S-Bahn rail services. The system runs mostly in areas that are less dense than Brooklyn overall, but it still attracts high ridership. (Berlin’s most central borough, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, has a density of 13,000 people/km2, equivalent to that of Brooklyn; the rest of Berlin, however, has about half that density.) Why not, then, envision a similarly ambitious program for transit expansion in Brooklyn?
Indeed, though streetcars have far lower capacity than subways, they’re far cheaper to build and they carry significantly more people than bus lines when they’re built close to light rail standards, with some of their own running way, high-quality stations, and extended vehicles. Because they’re electrically operated, they’re also pollution-free (directly, not necessarily indirectly). For a city that’s incapable of building a tiny two-mile extension of its subway system on time and on budget, a streetcar network might be the solution.
The blog highlights much of southeastern Brooklyn, Red Hook and parts of Bed Stuy as areas whose residents desperately need better access to existing public transit. Crazy, or so crazy it just might work?
Streetcars for Brooklyn: A New Life? [The Transport Politic]