What’s with the curbside storage for new streetcar tracks? There must be a better way

Bikers, neighbours, and the city’s bike share programs are calling out the tramway’s restrictions

What’s with the curbside storage for new streetcar tracks? There must be a better way

Last month a streetcar that’s yet to go into service plowed its way up a neighbouring lot and onto an adjacent rooftop. Between the tracks and the pole, bike share systems OxBike and bikeshareBrooklyn want to install their bicycles. But the city is limiting the spots for bike stations to one per block – at least at first.

The idea, explained a city spokesperson, was to “minimise the impact on the current installation of the tracks”, which otherwise consist of a maze of heavy metal poles plus a large number of parking spaces.

The tracks themselves – originally designed by the engineering company Arup – run along the edge of Brooklyne Park, a large asphalt-paved commons that sits at the corner of Utica Avenue and Queens Boulevard in Long Island City, Queens. The park originally played host to a large firehouse used by the local firefighters department, but in the 1980s the property was sold to private developers and ultimately closed. While still under construction, the park eventually became home to a recreation center and soon enough an ambitious effort to spruce up the parking lot was taking shape, with hopes that it would be home to shops, restaurants, and the new streetcar track.

Today the park is a patchwork of play areas and playgrounds nestled at the edge of where cars and forklifts pull up to the back of the lot. Those tend to attract families, joggers, dog walkers, and those hailing a ride. It is a nice place to take a dip. The lot was slated to expand with a new bike station and rooftop bike share area.

However, before they could be installed, the bike share chains snapped, and bricks and beams went up for the streetcar, which will ultimately connect Queens and Long Island City. It’s a rectangular wood and steel streetcar, designed by France’s Vinci consortium, with a slight horseshoe-shaped swing and seating. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.

With a few centimetres of fresh paint and just a few cubic feet of extra space beneath the tracks, bike sharingbrooklyn was poised to install their bicycles on top of the new track. OxBike New York, which also works in tandem with both Brooklyne and Brooklyne, had already bagged the site of its installation. But the city put a five-foot height restriction on the spots for those rails.

Sammy Owlsby, co-founder of both bike share programs, told the Guardian: “The city’s need to avoid disruption is understandable, but it has led to some significant difficulties in planning the facilities.”

Owlsby found himself at a loss for words upon discovering that the sites would only be “as far as the location of the streetcar tracks and pole, without any hope of being on top of them”. He said: “Seems like that’s the area they wanted to preserve for a vehicle that has a limited lifespan.”

Owlsby is still disappointed that the city has not found a better way to accommodate the bike share projects. All he wants is to get started – be it installing on top of the sidewalk or at the edge of the lot.

As a Brooklynite, he is tickled by the idea of being able to take public transportation to work. Even in the outer boroughs, bicycle-riding is so popular it takes days before there are more than a few bikes parked in the same place. Owlsby, who also commutes by bike, is all too familiar with the crowded streets that force him to spend time walking or waiting for the bus.

While the park space is too big for a bike station, Owlsby is not too disappointed. “My bike isn’t from Queens anyway, so it’s kind of OK.”

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