BHRA - The New Brooklyn Streetcar Plan


Updated Route Map
(opens as 850kb PDF)

By popular request, here is the New BHRA Streetcar Proposal. 

This route will run from Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn via the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel. 

Provide quick and convenient rail transit to Brooklyn neighborhood far from the existing subway / rail transit network: providing service to Red Hook, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal.
Route Location and Design:
The two major changes to the route from the older maps shown on our ":maps" page (maps created in 2001 and earlier).   Are an extension of the former red hook terminus east towards areas that have developed since 2001 (such as IKEA), and a bifurcated route through part of Red Hook.  The  position of the track loops, have also changed slightly.

Rationale behind bifurcating the streetcar route through Red Hook (compared with a double-track route on Richards St.)
1. The "down line" (Van Brunt St.) services the burgeoning commercial strip, while the "up line" (Richards St.) serves a more residential area.
2. Van Brunt Street is a little on the narrow and congested side, so bifurcating the route would help ease vehicular traffic flow.
3. Bifurcating the route is highly cost effective, services the largest catchment area, with the least amount of track.
4. Increases opportunity for community revitalization (see next section).

Columbia Street, Atlantic Avenue and Boerum Place- are the only streets that are feasible, given the origin/destination points.  

portland streetcar
Modern Streetcar in Portland, Or

Vintage and Modern Streetcars Sharing Track in Portland, Or

Construction Cost Per Mile:
Again, as per the Portland, Or. model, construction cost is $12 million/mile. Our own "Brooklyn method" of track construction is of exceptional build and design; while actually being less expensive to build and maintain. 
Economic Revitalization:
Again, our economic model is Portland, Or. Their 4 mile streetcar line, built in a place similar to Red Hook, spurred $3.5 BILLION in private revitalization investment, through a six block wide corridor, centered along the streetcar route.  Portland has become a model "affordable," modern and efficient streetcar system, they are currently expanding their system and other American cities (such as Tucson, Az) have modeled their new urban rail transit system after Portland's streetcar system.
Environmental Benefits:
As previously stated, anything that runs on rails, only requires 5% the energy of anything that runs on rubber tires. Specifically, to move a 1 Ton load of passengers on a bus, requires 30 f.lbs of force. To move the same 1 Ton weight of passengers on a streetcar, only requires 1-1/4 (1.25) f lbs of force. Click here for more detailed efficiency calculations

Furthermore, non-polluting electric streetcars have numerous other environmental benefits over other forms of transit.  See this page for details.

STREETCAR BASICS - a brief overview of the benefits of a streetcar system

Modern streetcars (like those used in Portland) are an evolution of the "PCC" type streetcar that was designed in Brooklyn in the 1930s, to meet Brooklyn traffic conditions and street layout.  Streetcars differ from conventional "light rail" in many ways; such as: streetcars are designed to stop and accelerate quickly, they are designed to operate quietly and they can be constructed quickly with minimum excavation, see more details in the bullets below:

Modern PCC Spec. Streetcar (Portland, OR)

Vintage PCC Streetcar
(still used for transit service in San Francisco, CA and Philadelphia, PA)

Passenger boarding area, Simplified track design and unobtrusive overhead wires
Portland, OR)

The Portland Streetcar has proven so popular that they have ordered additional streetcars and are currently constructing an extension to the Streetcar route.

Above 3 pictures taken by Brian Kassel on a recent trip to Portland, OR

  • The Streetcar can operate in mixed traffic with other vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles. The Streetcar does not require dedicated traffic lanes, and can easily keep up with traffic. The use of Passenger Boarding Islands eliminates traffic delays due to alighting passenger.
  • Due to its light weight, the Streetcar uses a simplified form of track construction, which costs only a fraction of conventional light rail track
  • Streetcars uses a simplified form of overhead wire construction, the cost of which is only a fraction of conventional light rail catenary wires. Since Streetcar wires are simplified, the visual impacts of the wires are greatly mitigated over conventional light rail wires.
  • Because Streetcars uses a simplified form of track construction not requiring deep excavations, the need for utility relocation is negligible.
  • Because Streetcars can operate in existing city streets, its rails are flush with the roadway and its turning radii fits into existing street geometries, Streetcars will not divide neighborhoods by presenting physical or psychological barriers, as do both conventional light rail and divided highways.
  •  Because of Streetcars low weight and unique electrical propulsion package, the Streetcar uses only uses a fraction of the electrical power requirement of a conventional light rail vehicle. In fact, the Streetcar spends most of its time coasting and applying brakes. Streetcars do not require the same large scale and costly power substations as do conventional light rail vehicles.

Pre-Existing Design and Governmental Approval Documents, 1996- 2001, Pertaining to the
Red Hook To Boro Hall Streetcar Project.

Our updated plans for a streetcar line from Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn are an extension of a previously approved project, rather than an entirely new undertaking.  Below are links to 2 PDF files (each file contains the documents listed below that hyperlink).

Part 1 of 2 Red Hook to Borough Hall Subway Nexus: Project Description, Specifications, Circa 2001  - 3.8mb PDF file includes the following documents:

      - Service Description (2 pgs)
      - Design Approval Document- (SDOT), May 1, 2001. (Contains much detailed project design   
         information, public hearing dates, various governmental actions, project history, etc. (7 pgs))
      - Project Construction And Operation Plans We Used To Obtain ULURP, CEQR and all other      
        approvals (7 pgs)
     - Construction Methodology We Used
     - Streetcar and Line Operating Characteristics (5 pgs)
NOTE: to maximize public safety, the operating characteristics, especially acceleration and braking, of any newly built Brooklyn streetcars, must meet or exceed those of the classic PCC streetcar.

Part 2 of 2 Pre- Existing Governmental Approvals for a Street Running Streetcar Operation in Red Hook Circa 1996- 2001 - 3mb PDF file includes the following documents:

      - Letter From CDOT to SDOT, regarding project local match, funding, etc., June 19, 1996
      - City Planning (ULURP) Land Use Review Process Requirement Letter Aug 15, 1996
      - NYS Dept of State- Coastal Zone Management Approval, Sept 9, 1996
      - Project Notice To Proceed, Letter from SDOT to CDOT, Dec 19, 1996
      - Contract Award Letter from CDOT to BHRA, June 6, 1997
      - City Planning (ULURP) Application, Dec 29, 1997
      - Fire Department Approval (FDNY), May 27, 1999 (2 pgs)
      - CEQR- Negative Declaration (No Environmental Impact), June 14, 1999 (2 pgs)
      - Division of Highway Design Approval (CDOT), June 19, 1999 (same Plans as in Part 1)
      - City Planning Commission (ULURP) Land Use Approval, Oct 20, 1999, Calendar # 3, C980267GFK
        (see Part 1,  Design Approval Document)
      - Sewer & Water Dept (NYC DEP) Approval, Feb 10, 2000
      - Consent Agreement- CDOT, to Construct, Maintain and Operate the Red Hook Streetcar along six  
        streets, Oct 17, 2000.
      - OCMC- (CDOT) Approval (Joe Noto, etc), Oct 24, 2000
      - NEPA- (SDOT) Categorical Exclusion Determination, May 1, 2001
      - SEQR- (SDOT) Determination, May 1, 2001 (2 pgs)
      - NYS DOT- Design Approval (PS&E), May 2, 2001

Other Materials from Prior Plans / Studies for Brooklyn Streetcar Lines

Attached as JPG files, are "example templates"- two pre- engineering drawings  I scanned from the circa 1985 Brooklyn streetcar study by Urbitran, and STV. The first drawing, gives the diagrammatic plan for a new streetcar terminus at Atlantic Terminal, with provisions for an extension to Grand Army Plaza, via Vanderbilt Ave.
The second drawing, shows the diagrammatic plan for the streetcar turn from Ft. Green Pl. to Fulton Street. Note this drawing shows in detail, the proper use of a "passenger boarding island" which they refer to as "Platforms".
Also attached as a PDF file, is the Cover from a Brooklyn Streetcar planning document (PDF), which I compiled and expanded upon back in 1989. If you can find a copy of it, this document contains, among many other things, street by street pre- engineering plans for all of the proposed Brooklyn streetcar routes. Let me know if you cant find it. The numbers on the Cover, reference ULURP and CEQR applications.

I'm hoping that URS will provide a similar set of drawings as part of their feasibility study.

BENEFITS OF A STREETCAR LINE: Land Use, Community Coherence & Economic Revitalization.

The following are selections from the book: Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities Design Strategies for the Post- Carbon World, by Patrick M. Condon, 2010:


The North American city was and is a streetcar city. Streetcar cities are characterized by easy access to transit, a wide variety of house types, and services and job sites very close at hand—the exact elements of a sustainable city. We have largely ignored this fact. It needs rediscovering. (pg 14)


The streetcar city principle is not about the streetcar itself, it is about the system of which that the streetcar is a part. It is about the sustainable relationship between land use, walking, and transportation that streetcar cities embody. The streetcar city principle combines at least four of the design rules discussed in the following chapters: (1) an interconnected street system, (2) a diversity of housing types, (3) a five-minute walking distance to commercial services and transit, and (4) good jobs close to af­fordable homes. For this reason, it is offered as the first of the rules and as a "meta rule" for sustainable, low-carbon commu­nity development.  (pg 20)


Linear public space is the defining social and spatial characteris­tic of the streetcar city This obvious fact has been ignored at best and derided at worst. Most planning, urban design, and economic development experts favor strategies that ignore cor­ridors in favor of discrete and identifiable places, key urban "nodes" in planning terms. Their plans focus most often on an identified "downtown" or a key transportation locus, while the thousands of miles of early-twentieth-century streetcar arterials are either allowed to languish or blithely sacrificed for parking lots. Yet, very few of us live within walking distance of a "node," whereas most of us live within a reasonable walk of a corridor, however gruesome it may now be. (pg 25)

Getting people onto transit will not help defeat global warming unless we can find a way to
radically decrease the average daily demand for motorized travel of any kind and the per-mile GHG consequences of each trip. Community dis­tricts that are complete and that favor short trips over long ones seem an obvious part of the solution. Inexpensive short-haul zero carbon transit vehicles, such as trolley buses and especially streetcars, are a likely feature of a low-energy, low-travel­ demand solution. (pg 30)

Precious few cities seem to "get it" in this respect. Port­land, again, is the exception. Portland is the only U.S city to have made a serious effort to restore its streetcar system. The re­sults could not be more promising. Jobs, housing, and new com­mercial services are flocking to the line, making the community that much more complete and thus incrementally reducing ag­gregate per capita trip demand. In Portland, jobs, housing, clubs, and commercial services are coming closer together A ten-minute ride on the Portland streetcar gets you where you want to go. Its speed between these points is irrelevant.


Most discussions of streetcar focus solely on transit issues, but the implications are much wider. Streetcars stimulate invest­ment and buses don't. This has been powerfully demonstrated in Portland, where the introduction of a modern streetcar line spurred the high-density development that helped the City of Portland  recoup construction costs through significantly in­creased tax revenues. Between 1997 and 2005, the density of development immediately adjacent to the new streetcar line in­creased dramatically. Within two blocks of the streetcar line, $2.28 billion was invested [Editor's Note: a total of $3.5 billion through a six block wide corridor centered along the streetcar tracks], representing over 7,200 [ibid 10,212] new residen­tial units and 4.6 million [ibid 5.5 million] square feet of additional commercial [office, institutional, retail, hotel] space; even more impressive, new development within only one block of the streetcar line accounted for 55 percent of all new development within the city's core. To put this in perspective, prior to construction of the new streetcar line, land located within one block of the proposed route captured only 19 per­cent of all development.  (Pg 33)

Most attribute this impressive increase in investment to the presence of the streetcar line. Developers for the new South Wa­terfront development at the other end of the downtown from the Pearl District would not proceed before the city guaranteed to extend the streetcar line to the site. These developers, the same ones who had created the highly successful streetcar serv­ing Pearl District, knew from experience how important the streetcar is to success. If the free market tells us anything at all in this case, it is that the economics of the streetcar, when the value of new investment is included, is much more cost effective than an investment in rubber-wheeled diesel buses or heavy transit.  (Pg 34)

The Basic Principals of Transit Oriented Development 

Portland's recent multi billion dollar streetcar line land development experience, speaks particularly, about a concept known as "Transit Oriented Development", or "TOD". Let's take a quick look at what "TOD-ness" means, as well as the "TOD- Index".  For this, we refer to extracts from: TCRP Report 95, TRB, Chapter 17

Objectives of Transit Oriented Development  (excerpts from TCRP Report 95, pg 17-2, 17-3):

TOD projects potentially involve a wider variety of stakeholders than other development projects, reflecting in part the more extensive involvement of transit agencies and government funding sources. TOD stakeholders may have a wide range of complementary or competing objectives. Travel-related objectives include:

  1. Increasing the opportunities for residents and workers to meet daily needs by taking transit or walking.
  2. Attracting new riders to public transit, including so-called "choice" riders—riders who could otherwise choose to drive.
  3. Shifting the transit station mode of access to be less reliant on park-and-ride and more oriented to walking.
  4. Reducing the automobile ownership, vehicular traffic, and associated parking requirements that would otherwise be necessary to support a similar level of more traditional development.
  5. Enhancing the environment, through reduced emissions and energy consumption derived from shifts in commuting, other trip making, and station access to environmentally friendly travel modes.

Non-transportation objectives may include providing desirable and affordable housing choices, enhancing sense of community and quality of life, supporting economic development or revital­ization, shifting development from sensitive areas, minimizing infrastructure costs, and reducing sprawl.

Clich here for more information on Transit Oriented Development

The Environmental and Economic Advantages of a Streetcar line over other transit modes:

As stated in the Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities Design,  we have already read (pg 30) that streetcars have ZERO spot emissions. Furthermore, according to the graph on pg 37 entitled  "Life Cycle Carbon Emissions per Passenger Mile", the streetcar comes in at the very lowest carbon lifecycle, of all transportation modes, at 32.59. Note that "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) comes in high, at 201.40. This is because the streetcar uses the least possible amount of energy. Note that in NYC, streetcar carbon figures would be even lower, as much of our power is derived from hydro-electric sources, rather than coal.

Next, lets address an obvious question: Why Build A Streetcar line rather than a simple bus?

Many decision makers fall into the trap of thinking of a streetcar line in terms of  "existing ridership justification", and thereby not understanding the basic underlying concept of what any railway does- A properly placed and well designed streetcar line creates its own demand !!

As the General Manager of the San Francisco transit authority "MUNI" said it back in 2001, "People Who Wouldn't Ride A Bus Will Ride A Streetcar"- (Michael T. Burns, quoted in Railway Age, May, 2001, pg 45). This comment was made regarding a San Francisco electric bus line that was converted to the Embarcadero Streetcar (F Line) circa 1995- the ridership instantly DOUBLED!  (and ridership has kept increasing to the present !) 

As for Capital Costs, according to the graph  "Total Capital Cost Per Passenger Mile" (pg 37), the streetcar comes in at a mere 71 cents ($0.71) per Passenger Mile. Note that "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) comes in at a hefty $1.12, fully 1.6 times greater than streetcar!

Streetcar Vs.  Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) - results of an award winning DC streetcar study:

The recent award winning DC streetcar study states that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) doesn't make the cut,  The study determined that the streetcar is far superior in terms of cost-to-benefit ratio, and local economic development.  The D.C. study determined:
"In terms of taxpayers dollars, the “streetcar offers a better ratio of benefits to costs compared to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Transit. While BRT is less expensive to implement, it does not generate the real estate investments to the same degree that streetcars can. While light rail can produce similar benefits to streetcars, implementation costs are many times more than that of streetcar.” Further details can be found here.  A copy of the study can likely be obtained from the consultant Goody Clancy.

We sincerely hope that NYC DOT and URS, heed this study's findings. The new Washington DC streetcar line added $10 Billion- $15 Billion to their local economy. A great article on the new DC streetcar system can found here.

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