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When the Streetcar Ruled Brooklyn (and its steady comeback)

Stefano Ientile, Staff Writer

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By Stefano Ientile ‘18

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     Most Xaverian students won’t realize it, but the commute on the B9/B64 on Bay Ridge Avenue was very different seventy years ago. Before subways, their were elevated lines and streetcars. The streetcars, which began  operation at the beginning of the twentieth century and also called trolleys, provided the major source of surface mass transportation in Brooklyn. Buses didn’t start operation until the 1920s and were much smaller than the buses we are familiar with today. Early versions of buses only carried about twenty passengers, as compared to trolleys, which were longer and had more seats. Over time, buses grew in length, increasing seating capacity from twenty in the 1920s to fifty-three by 1948.

     Virtually all north/south routes in Brooklyn were operated by trolleys as well as virtually all east/west routes in northern and central Brooklyn. Since much of southern Brooklyn was still undeveloped in the 1930s and north/south trolley lines existed primarily to bring people to the shore, a need came for an east/west service by the 1930s. Rather than undergoing the expense  of constructing additional trolley lines, the option of less expensive bus service was chosen. As time passed more trolley lines became obsolete and were soon scrapped or paved over by the mid-1950s. The 86th street line, now known as the B64 bus, was declared “abandoned” on August 12, 1948 and was replaced by the more common bus we know today.

     The streetcar would remain in the shadows for more than sixty years until a proposal by Mayor de Blasio in early 2016. In a $2.2 billion idea, the Mayor looks to begin installation of a sixteen mile streetcar line connecting Brooklyn and Queens via the East River. The idea is to create transportation for some of New York’s growing, yet still transit-deficient, areas. The streetcar system is planned to line the East River and deliver a long-awaited public transit connection between the bordering boroughs.

     Busy and boisterous industrial urban areas of Queens and Brooklyn are in desperate need of public transit as residents are growing less dependent on commuting to Manhattan and desire less to pass through Manhattan at all. Sunset Park in Brooklyn and the outer reaches of Astoria in Queens remain relatively isolated from MTA subway transit but are growing in prosperity and industry. Running on rails, alongside car traffic, the streetcar line looks to be a costly proposal, but the de Blasio administration believes the cost will be offset by “an increased revenue stream generated by increased values of property along the route”. The billion dollar proposal may seem like a lot of money but it is significantly less than laying a new subway line. However, the investment is planning on beginning construction starting in early 2019 and travel not beginning until almost 2025.

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When the Streetcar Ruled Brooklyn (and its steady comeback)