Some people see the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront and think of the exceptional open space from Astoria Park to the Brooklyn Greenway. Others see this corridor as home to world-class cultural institutions regularly staging and displaying new artwork.
When I look at the waterfront corridor that stretches from the residential neighborhoods of Queens south to the industrial space of Sunset Park, I see the connective tissue that allows my company, Pvilion, and many other businesses along the waterfront to stay open and provide innovative tech jobs for New Yorkers.
My company’s front door faces the East River—literally. The ferries zooming past us and the subways rumbling over us are constant reminders of how inaccessible our neighborhood remains. We are among the 700,000 New Yorkers who live and work along the waterfront but lack a reliable north-south transit option. That’s why as a native Brooklynite and small business owner, I support the proposed BQX streetcar that would connect Sunset Park, Red Hook, Astoria and the waterfront neighborhoods in between with a reliable transit option that will get people to work, school and play.
Pvilion designs and manufactures solar powered fabric with applications ranging from solar powered-bags to stadium roofs. From design to finished product, our work wouldn’t be possible without architects in Dumbo, fabricators in the Navy Yard, and contractors, engineers, and painters who work out of Queens, Red Hook and Sunset Park. A Pvilion solar product is truly a product of New York City; it is made up of each neighborhood along the East River. The BQX is a game-changer because it will do more than connect our neighborhoods: It will increase access to these jobs along the waterfront for people who live across the city.
Automation may be today’s buzzword, but when it comes to our solar panels, we need human creativity to design the product and hands to make it—right here. We need the human precision that guides the fabrication process and the know-how that comes from the hands-on experience our contractors and their staff have. Most of our partners are along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. However, I hear more and more people say they won’t move their companies or look for jobs along the waterfront because of how inaccessible it is in comparison to other neighborhoods. My staff feels this problem on a daily basis. They live in Queens, Greenpoint, lower Manhattan and Long Island. To continue to draw the best and the brightest talent to young companies like ours and to make the good-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs that are here, we need something that connects New Yorkers to these positions. The BQX does just that.
I also believe in the streetcar because it’s the best transit option for the neighborhoods that make up the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. To get from one end of the corridor to the other without entering Manhattan requires three subway transfers or four different buses if you want to stay on street level. With more than 900,000 people projected to live and work on the corridor in the coming decades, doing nothing is simply not an option. As the Second Avenue subway demonstrates, building underground is cost- and time-prohibitive. The only other option that might compete with the BQX is a bus, but buses fall short in their ability to meet the corridor’s inevitable ridership demands and can’t match the BQX’s time savings. As the owner of small business, I believe that the best option is the one that gets the job done right at the right cost. For the waterfront, that option is the BQX.
The Brooklyn-Queens waterfront is more than just open space with some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline or cultural offerings of all shapes and forms. It is a supply chain of products, materials and workers running north to south. It’s home to hundreds of thousands of jobs. The BQX is our best chance to make the connective tissue of the waterfront sturdier by opening the economic opportunities happening here to all New Yorkers.
Colin Touhey is the CEO and founder of Pvilion, a solar energy company based in Brooklyn, New York.