A streetcar named sarcasm: Red Hook trolley plan in the news again.

Two forlorn PCC cars are seen in storage at Red Hook, Brooklyn on July 29, 2008. Plans for a mile-long trolley line linking the isolated neighborhood with the rest of the borough are to be the subject of a $300,000 study announced last week. The car in the foreground is ex-Cleveland/Buffalo, while the green picture window car is ex-Boston. Photo by flickr user Salim Virji.

The birthplace of the Brooklyn (Trolley) Dodgers hasn’t given up on resurrecting streetcars. Long-suffering plans for a trolley line to link the borough’s isolated Red Hook section with the rest of the city (and its transit system) staggered back into the limelight yet again last week.  

City Department of Transportation Commissioner announced the department will undertake a five-month feasibility study into a mile-long trolley line from Red Hook’s waterfront to Atlantic Avenue. Study funding comes from a $300,000 grant secured way back in 2005 by 12th District Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, who represents parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. 

Whether this would be a from-scratch system or use languishing Red Hook PCCs doesn’t seem immediately clear (to me, anyway). For more on the original historic trolley plan promoted by rail advocate Bob Diamond, see the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association website, and specifically this map. Information on their fleet can be found here

This being a New York project, media and blog attention has been fairly broad, moderately deep and frequently snarky in quintessentially NYC fashion. Among the highlights: 

  • This Sept. 14 story, apparently by a New York Post community news reporter (is this a NYP weekly?) was among the best local news reports on the subject. Reporter Stephen Brown hits all the essential points, together with context about the federal funding landscape. Among his useful links is this Aug. 24 Brooklyn Paper story about Bob Diamond’s latest plans. 
  • This Sept. 10 New York Daily News piece offers a clever headline: “City eyes putting transit dinosaurs back on track in Red Hook, Brooklyn.” In a sense that may turn out to be true if the line ends up using restored 1940s PCCs. At the same time, this article is among several with what may be a misleading illustration, showing a lumbering 1900s streetcar. A restored PCC might look like a dinosaur compared with a modern LRV-style streetcar, but done right such cars are faster, quieter and more comfortable than many contemporary transit vehicles — and certainly more so than the ancient ark depicted in the file photo (again, cars such as those in the photo are not what planners seem to have in mind).  That aside, this story offers little more than “he-said, she-said” journalism.
  • This blog post on ny.curbed.com doesn’t offer much new information, and what’s worse it’s illustrated with a bus (I don’t care what it’s dressed up as. B-U-S). Most interestingly, the post is taglined “Gentrification Watch.” And on that score the writer may have a point …
  • New York Magazine’s website on Sept. 10 offered a typically stylized piece with little substance, too much snark and another inappropriate photo of ancient cars that bear no resemblance to anything ever likely to operate on Brooklyn streets again. They did give some gossip-column insight into the trials and tribulations of the frustrated Mr. Diamond, as well as using the muddled phrase “street trolley.” Either “streetcar” or “trolley” would have been acceptable to describe this project. Where in the big book of obviously uninformed journalism did the writer pull “street trolley” from? 
  • PCC-II car 2337 pauses for a passenger at Richmond and Allegheny on Philadelphia's Route 15, Feb. 19, 2008. Click the photo to visit my personal flickr photostream (user rogerdupuis2).

  • I’ve saved the best for last, and this from a blog. Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic offers a pitch-perfect analysis of the plan’s merits.  “New York to study Red Hook streetcars, but what are the city’s goals?” he asks in his post title. Brooklyn is a prime candidate for improved street transit, Freemark notes. He questions, however, whether this is the “most promising candidate for streetcars” in the borough and the wisdom of equipping it with historic vehicles that are “are more about tourism than they are about meeting typical commuting needs.” Well worth a read, though I would note that both San Francisco’s F-Line and Philadelphia’s Route 15 now operate with modernized, handicap-accessible PCC cars. I don’t know about San Francisco’s refurbished PCCs, but Philadelphia’s PCC-II cars are, in fact, air conditioned.
This entry was posted in USA: Heritage, USA: LRT/Streetcars and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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