Many PT readers will by now have seen some of these snazzy renderings of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed light rail along 17 miles (27.3 kms) of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.






Streetcar map


The purpose of this roughly $2B line is laudable: provide transportation access along one of the city’s fastest-growing development areas. Like many cities, NYC is no longer strictly a ‘spoke and wheel’ entity, with commuters rushing into Manhattan and then back out again. More people now live and work across and between the boroughs. And aside from a single local bus line, there is no transit along the East River’s east shore.

However, there’s a catch. It will be a streetcar, not a fully-dedicated light rail. Traveling with vehicle traffic, it will only average 12mph (19 km/hr) and take about 1 hour 15 minutes to travel from Astoria, Queens to Red Hook, Brooklyn. This trip will test patience. Riding it will make you swear you could lie down in the street and grow that distance quicker. I’m curious to see how long NY’ers will be enamored with this proposal as its details become more commonly known.

Just ask the folks in Edmonton, where the transit system recently opened up the much-delayed and problematic Metro Line light rail line from downtown to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Untangling the new extension’s signalling problems is the stuff of masters’ theses, and Edmontonions were annoyed about the delays in its opening. But when they realized that the line would cause real, actual traffic delays, the poutine hit the fan.




Self-described transit supporter and Edmonton National Post reporter Tristin Hopper called the new line ““the equivalent of a candy company releasing a new chocolate bar called ‘Herpes Al-Qaeda’.” That’s both funny and harsh, and I look forward to reading his column when he realizes the the planned Valley Line (western extension) towards the Edmonton Mall will run as a fully-integrated streetcar with no dedicated right of way along some of the city’s busiest arterial roads.

Screenshot 2016-02-03 23.04.25


Back our way, Surrey’s light rail will not have these problems. Both lines will function more like Edmonton’s older north-south network does now: mostly along their own rights-of-way but with signalized priority across intersecting streets.

So, streetcars are cheaper and provide far fewer benefits than dedicated light rail, yet more than buses. Are they worth it? Do you support such a system around False Creek or Olympic Village? Along 3rd Street and Marine Drive on the North Shore? A return to the 1940 network?



What about streetcars in the old Lower Mainland?