Last Tuesday night at CUNY School of Law in Long Island City, a group of BQX opponents held court at the center of the workshop’s main gathering room.
They listed their many objections to the streetcar project in detail, including the effects it would have on gentrification, increases in rent and displacement.
“Take this input to the bank,” said Dannelly Rodriguez. “We do not want the BQX.”
Rodriguez, a second-year student at CUNY Law School and a member of the Justice for All Coalition, noted that while the cost of the BQX could reach $3 billion, NYCHA still has a capital need of nearly $40 billion.
“It’s just ironic because often times they say they don’t have the money,” he said. “But whenever there’s a developer-led boondoggle, magically billions appear out of nowhere.
“Right now, the trolley is scheduled to go to DUMBO, which attracts a particular crowd and demographic,” he added. “I think that’s really what it is.”
The western Queens native said he would prefer the alternative of increasing bus service between Queens and Brooklyn, which he said would be more cost-efficient.
Better buses would also focus on the poor and working-class residents of the community, he said, without disrupting or uprooting infrastructure.
Rodriguez said in addition to “increasing and building community power” against the BQX, opponents plan to put elected officials’ feet to the fire.
“At the end of the day, this is a conflict between developers and community, the middlemen are the politicians,” he said. “To the extent that we sort of need to rein them in, that requires knocking on doors and building community around this issue.”
A spokesperson for the Friends of the BQX, an advocacy group, responded to the protest last week with a statement.
“We were disheartened to see one small but very vocal group attempt to hijack the latest BQX meeting by intimidating attendees, disrupting workshop groups, calling people names and defacing public materials,” the spokesperson said.
“While we respect the right to protest, their actions were designed to silence others,” they added. “Residents who showed up to ask questions, learn more about the project and provide feedback were unable to do so, leaving many with no choice but to leave.”
Christopher Torres, executive director of the Friends of the BQX, said that as the project goes through public engagement and political processes, they expect to see more people come out to inquire, learn, support and also oppose the streetcar.
“I think this is a necessary part of the project,” he said in an interview, “so I don’t think it’ll slow down the project at all.”
Torres acknowledged that the protesters’ concerns are legitimate, but there are also “good answers” to their questions.
“This is why we have these public workshops, so we can get to the answers,” he said. “All the criticisms are welcome. We’re trying to get to the best version of this project.”
Torres noted that tens of thousands of people have already expressed support and interest for the project since the group began organizing four years ago.
On his to-do list for the spring and summer is showcasing all of the different groups in the coalition who support the project, including unions, chambers of commerce and NYCHA leaders.
“As soon as there’s another big event, I plan on tapping into all of our networks and our huge base of supporters and get them out,” he said.