Trains, Ferries and Streetcars: How Public Transit Is Helping LIC's Transformation
Even with eight subway lines, neighborhood will likely need more transit options in future
By Rey Mashayekhi
Ask any number of real estate players active in Long Island City about what the neighborhood has going for it, and at or near the top of their list will almost certainly be transportation. It’s no secret that New Yorkers rely heavily on public transit to get around – and in this regard, few NYC neighborhoods make life easier than LIC.
There are currently eight separate subway lines and 13 bus lines servicing Long Island City, as well as an ever-expanding ferry system and plans for an ambitious new streetcar network that would connect Queens and Brooklyn. Add all of that to LIC’s remarkably convenient proximity to the hotbed of commerce that is Midtown Manhattan – only a few minutes away via lines like the 7, E, M and and N trains – as well as trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and it’s no surprise the area has seen a transformational influx of new development in recent years.
“Definitely a reason why a lot of people are coming to Long Island City is because of all the subway lines,” Pinnacle Realty commercial real estate broker Paul Bralower told Living LIC. “If you look at other parts of Queens, Brooklyn and even Manhattan, I think Long Island City has a lot to offer.”
Bralower said that among the commercial and industrial tenants he works with, the neighborhood’s transit offerings -- coupled with its wider variety of available office and light manufacturing spaces – have proven an attractive draw to those pondering a move to LIC. “Long Island City by far has the best, if not one of the best, transportation offerings in the city,” he said, also citing the benefits of the nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the numerous bridges that connect the area to neighboring boroughs. “You really couldn’t ask for better transportation.”
It is a sentiment echoed by other real estate market participants. Cushman and Wakefield director David Chkheidze, who specializes in investment sales in Long Island City and Queens, acknowledged that the neighborhood’s transportation is “much better than many other areas” around the city (he cited Downtown Brooklyn as one of the few areas that can compare) and said it has consequently helped draw in new residents.
“What we see happening already is Manhattan [residents] who are looking for bigger spaces and better amenities, they’re moving out from Manhattan [to Long Island City],” Chkheidze said, noting that LIC’s robust public transit means such a move “works perfectly” for those who have jobs in the city. “From Court Square, it’s four minutes to East 53rd Street taking the E train, and from Queens Plaza, the 7 train is a seven-minute ride to Midtown,” he added – pointing out that it would take longer to commute to Midtown from parts of the Upper West Side than it would from Long Island City.
But while LIC’s current transportation offerings are undoubtedly plentiful, there remain questions over whether they’ll suffice in the future – as there are an estimated 22,000 new residential units and nearly 5,000 hotel rooms in the pipeline and set to arrive in the neighborhood in the coming years. “If this growth continues at the same pace it is going, in three to four years it will be very crowded,” Chkheidze said. “Peak hours, [the trains are] very crowded already. if you have 60,000 to 80,000 additional people [living in the neighborhood], that’s a lot.”
That’s why landlords, developers and city and community leaders are looking at alternative means for mass public transit, among them an expansion of the city’s ferry system. Long Island City is already served by the East River Ferry, which connects the Hunter’s Point South waterfront to East 34th Street in Midtown and Wall Street in the Financial District, as well as Brooklyn neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Dumbo. But the city also has plans to expand its waterways significantly over the next two years, through its new Citywide Ferry service. Among the routes planned are one that would link Long Island City (through a new ferry landing located north of Hunter’s Point South) to Astoria via Roosevelt Island, while also providing quicker and more direct service between LIC, East 34th Street and Wall Street. Another route would start at LIC and go to East 34th Street and Wall Street, as well, but also make Manhattan stops at Stuyvesant Cove Park and Grand Street on the Lower East Side.
A one-way ticket on the Citywide Ferry would cost $2.75 (the same price as a single-ride Metrocard), and the system is expected to carry an estimated 4.6 million passengers a year after it becomes fully operational in 2018. “This is a true alternative,” Chkheidze said of the expanded ferry’s impact on Long Island City’s transit offerings, noting that it would “add value” to the neighborhood as a real estate destination. “Landlords, especially residential landlords, can use [the ferry service] as a marketing tool.”
“Look at the Staten Island Ferry – people use it,” Marcus & Millichap commercial real estate broker Jonathan Eshaghian, who specializes in Queens neighborhoods including Long Island City and Astoria, told Living LIC when asked about the ferry’s viability as a serious transit option. “The proof is in the history of the Staten Island Ferry and the history of New York – the rivers [used to be] packed with ferries.”
“Now you’re seeing all these old ways of transportation coming back,” he added, citing as an example the resurgence of bicycles as a means of getting around (most prominently through the Citi Bike bicycle sharing program).
Among those “old ways” is perhaps the most ambitious plan to transform public transit in Long Island City – or, indeed, anywhere in the outer boroughs. Earlier this month, the De Blasio administration released further details about the Brooklyn-Queens Connector: a proposed $2.5 billion streetcar route that would run 16 miles along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, from Sunset Park to Astoria.
The BQX, as it’s being called, would consist of around 30 stops along the waterfront route upon its expected completion in 2024 and bring a new public transportation to areas of Brooklyn and Queens that are presently “underserved transit desert[s],” per a report by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
While the BQX comes with a hefty price tag, it would follow the Citywide Ferry’s example as far as affordable rider fare (also the same price as a single-ride Metrocard), and the city expects the streetcar service would eventually serve roughly 50,000 riders daily. It would also provide yet another connection between Queens neighborhoods like Long Island City and their Brooklyn neighborhoods to the south – at least partially alleviating a burden predominantly assumed by the G train as well as MTA bus lines.
“If the Brooklyn-Queens Connector does come through, that would be a great addition [to Long Island City],” Eshaghian said of the plan, though he also expressed reservations about whether the BQX will ever come to fruition. “Realistically, lets look at the 2nd Avenue subway line; I’m not holding my breath.”
Though construction on the streetcar network isn’t slated to start until 2019 and wouldn’t be completed for another five years, there’s little doubt that Long Island City and the other neighborhoods it would serve will be much transformed by that point, and likely in need of additional public transit initiatives like the BQX and the Citywide Ferry.
“Do I think there can be some improvements [to public transit in Long Island City]? Yes, because density is going to grow,” Eshaghian said. “As of now, it has some of the best access. But there are another 20,000 [residential] units coming online.”
“If growth continues like it has in the last two, three, four years, then in eight years it’ll be a great idea to have additional transit,” Chkheidze said. “Greenpoint is going to be built up, Williamsburg is already underway, Long Island City is already there in some parts, and then Astoria. In eight years, we’re going to need alternative transportation.”