HDR's Rapid Assessment Helps Brooklyn Queens Connector Move Forward

Feb. 25, 2016
New York’s first new rail system in 100 years, the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), will bring sustainable mass transit to some 700,000 workers and residents.

New York’s first new rail system in 100 years, the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), will bring sustainable mass transit to some 700,000 workers and residents. Following a preliminary study conducted last fall, New York City Economic Development Corporation retained HDR to assess the BQX’s streetcar/light-rail alignment, which connects a dozen neighborhoods along the East River waterfront. HDR completed a rapid assessment in five weeks.

The firm’s comprehensive network of design professionals, strategists and economists prepared capital-, operations- and maintenance-cost estimates, ridership forecasts and estimates of value creation and capture. They also assessed vehicle technology, identified potential sites for vehicle maintenance and storage facilities, and proposed phasing options. The result was a 16-mile alignment at a cost of $2.5 billion. Construction on the streetcar system could begin as early as 2019. When fully operational, BQX is expected to serve some 50,000 travelers each weekday by 2035 and generate about $26 billion in economic impact during the next 30 years.

“We are excited to be a part of bringing this 21st century, sustainable streetcar to the people of New York,” HDR transit director Tom Waldron said. “We will use our innovative spirit, deep streetcar and light-rail expertise, and minimal-impact approach to help put this inventive, and much needed mode of transit into action.”

Soon after the rapid assessment, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the BQX “the next great step in connecting New Yorkers to the heart of our new economy for New York” during his State of the City Address Feb. 4. The streetcar’s sustainable, electric power will help the city achieve the “OneNYC” goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. HDR’s rapid assessment included review of the alignment to identify geometric challenges and an analysis of the concept of operations.

Lawrence Lennon, HDR’s New York-based Planning & Environment Department leader and BQX project manager, said innovative solutions will be needed to make BQX possible.“It’s very challenging in that area,” Lennon said. “The BQX will travel through one of the oldest parts of the city, where streets are narrow and not always continuous. It’s an old network along the waterfront and we want to put as much alignment as we can in a dedicated right of way.”

The proposed streetcar connecting Brooklyn and Queens will be the first rail system to open in New York since the Manhattan-centric subway opened in 1904. Demand for innovative mass transit along the waterfront, which the city calls the “spine of the new New York,” stems from explosive housing and job growth. Tens of thousands of housing units and millions of square feet of commercial and manufacturing space are planned or currently under construction along the corridor.

Because subway and bus options to the area are currently limited, the need grows stronger daily for an efficient public transit link between neighborhoods along the waterfront, and improved mobility and access to the rest of the city. From the riders’ perspective, BQX is expected to work in coordination with MTA’s MetroCard system and cut travel time nearly in half for some commuters.

Developers, transit advocates, community organizations, and other stakeholders organized as Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector are largely responsible for driving the project forward.“It’s a business-backed, regional planning group and its members are very excited about what the BQX will make possible,” Lennon said. “It’s a great example of how the public and private sector can work together to meet our future infrastructure needs and strengthen our communities at the same time.”