City’s BQE Promenade plan has Brooklyn Heights in uproar, alternate ideas being explored
Mayor softens support for plan that would turn Promenade into 6-lane highway
Alternate ideas are cropping up to save the Brooklyn Heights Promenade from being replaced by a six-lane highway during the $5 billion reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
These include one that would reroute the highway to the west of the current BQE, over the eastern section of Brooklyn Bridge Park; another that would reroute the BQE over Atlantic Avenue to Boerum Place; a tunnel approach (long scorned as impractical and too expensive by DOT); and a temporary halt of tolls over the Verrazzano Bridge to lead traffic elsewhere.
No matter the outcome, the proposed destruction of the Promenade, even if temporary, has united the Heights like no other issue. Residents consider the esplanade, with its landmarked views, to be the crown jewel of the neighborhood. Replacing it with the BQE would bring exhaust and noise from roughly 153,000 trucks and cars a day into the backyard of Brooklyn Heights.
A longtime Heights resident who blogs as Sam Howe under the title ‘Howe’s Brooklyn’ has suggested that the bluff on which the Promenade is built is “a rare treasure formed during the ice age.”
“The Department of Transportation hopes to build a six lane highway over the Promenade while years of rebuilding take place below,” he noted. “And they tried to sweeten the image by saying ‘the new Promenade will be bigger … no thanks, idiots!” Howe added.
“We like the promenade and its gardens just as they are — a pedestrian refuge. Making it bigger is going to invite those unforeseen and unmanageable elements DOT can’t even imagine.”
Save the Promenade
A group called Save the Promenade (STP) has begun a media campaign, blanketed the Heights with flyers, initiated a petition, reached out to officials and joined forces with the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) to create the groundwork for a lawsuit, should it come to that.
Tom Corsillo, VP at PR firm Marino, which represents the media-savvy group, said that since the Brooklyn Eagle’s podcast on the issue last week, 15,000 people have signed its petition, up from 5,000.
“We’re going to ramp up this effort to devise a plan” that really works for the community, he said in the podcast.
BHA has also mobilized its members. The group said on Monday it is forming a task force to challenge what it called “DOT’s ill-founded plan” by making recommendations “with respect to legal issues, environmental concerns, alternative engineering solutions and communication with the community, media and decision makers.”
“We reached out to DOT. We said we’re working on this option that utilizes a piece of the park along its eastern edge,” BHA’s Executive Director Peter Bray told the Heights Press. The group will be meeting with DOT to present its plan on Friday.
BHA’s legal advisors are also working with Save the Promenade on a FOIL request to obtain the communication between the Mayor and DOT with regard to the six-lane approach, Bray said.
De Blasio Softens His Stance
Until the recent backlash, DOT had been considering only two plans to fix the decrepit 1.5-mile section of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, which includes the triple cantilever under the Promenade.
The first option, known as the “Traditional” approach, is to fix the roadway using the typical lane-by-lane method over eight years. The second choice, and the one preferred by DOT and Mayor Bill de Blasio, is the “Innovative” approach, which would replace the Promenade with a six-lane highway for six years.
DOT says its favored plan, in which 153,000 vehicles a day would rumble past the back doors of some of the most valuable real estate in Brooklyn, would allow the rehab of the decrepit 1.5 mile stretch of roadway to be completed in six years, as opposed to eight or more years using the typical incremental, lane-by-lane repair approach.
De Blasio’s support for the Innovative approach last week enraged locals who said he blindsided them and “short-circuited the community engagement process.”
On Friday, de Blasio softened his stance. On WNYC’s Brian Lehrer radio show he said that the idea to reroute the highway to the west of the current BQE, over the eastern section of Brooklyn Bridge Park instead of on the Promenade and through the Heights, was one that the city might consider. This plan is backed by Councilmember Stephen Levin, among others.
“There’s been a couple of alternatives presented and I try to be straight forward with people about what I thought was the better of the alternatives; even both of them involve a lot of sacrifice, and lot of challenges,” de Blasio told Lehrer.
De Blasio said the idea to run the highway over the eastern section of the park, some of which is currently occupied by grass-covered sound attenuating berms, is a “different idea that’s come up in recent days and of course it needs to be fully evaluated.
“I am the first to say a lot of times a government has good ideas, and there is a lot of other times when someone at the community level or other experts come forward with another alternative that may work. So we will definitely look at that,” he said.
More BQE Details
Regardless of the plan chosen, thousands of trucks from the BQE could be diverted onto the streets of Brooklyn if repairs on the ageing structure aren’t completed before it reaches its expiration date in 2026. Construction could start in 2023.
The replacement six-lane roadway could take about a year and a half to install. BQE traffic would move up to the Promenade level, opening up the levels below for construction.
At the north end of the Promenade, the temporary highway would cut across Columbia Heights near Cranberry Street — an area that most people do not realize is actually a bridge over the BQE, along with Chapin playground.
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