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Two perspectives: Are Brooklyn officials ‘outraged’ enough about the city’s BQE plan?

December 27, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Many Brooklyn Heights residents are distraught over the city’s plan to create a temporary six-lane highway on the landmarked Promenade while the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) undergoes a six- to eight-year renovation.

But the two community groups fighting the proposal — the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) and A Better Way NYC (formerly known as Save the Promenade) — differ greatly in their views on how their local representatives are handling the issue with the city.

Feeling an increasing level of heat, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Councilmember Stephen Levin, state Sen. Brian Kavanagh and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez issued a letter last week explaining their actions thus far.

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READ: Elected Officials Statement on BQE Reconstruction

BHA, which has advanced its own alternate plan to run the temporary BQE along the edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park, praised the letter, calling the representatives’ actions “an early Christmas present to the community.”

The officials “have stepped forward to demand greater transparency from DOT,” BHA said.

BHA said the officials “demanded that the administration fully consider all plausible alternatives, including the concept for a Parallel Highway advanced by the BHA, prior to the federal, state and city approvals that will be necessary.”

“We truly appreciate that our elected officials have listened to their constituents and are committed, as is the Brooklyn Heights Association, to ensuring a real examination of other options to the six-lane Promenade Highway and the traditional lane-by-lane approach that are now DOT’s only options,” BHA President Martha Bakos Dietz said.

She added, “It is significant that this group of elected officials have asserted that DOT cannot do what it has proposed without approvals from the three levels of government they represent.”

Empty Words?

But A Better Way NYC says it doesn’t feel the outrage from the representatives.

“Issuing a joint statement doesn’t put this to bed. They have not shown any leadership here. Just a bunch of empty words. They are demanding nothing of DOT or the city,” a spokesperson for the group told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday. “People are angry,” he added.

“The lack of leadership from the elected officials representing this community hasn’t gone unnoticed,” group member Hilary Jager, a former U.S. prosecutor who lives in the Heights, said in a statement.

“Thousands of residents have made it clear they are furious and organized in opposition to the city’s ill-conceived plan. Where is the shared outrage and action from our representatives? We need hands on leadership from Steve Levin, Jo Anne Simon, and Brian Kavanagh. That means demanding the city do its job, go back to the drawing board and find a better way,” she said.

The Brooklyn Heights Blog notes that elected officials “have, understandably, been equivocal about efforts to save the Promenade from the [Promenade highway] plan, because their constituencies include people who could be adversely affected by any major diversion of traffic from the BQE during repairs.”

Praise for Stringer

Both organization do agree on one thing: that NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer gets it.

Stringer issued a no-holds-barred letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on Dec. 17. In it, he charged that DOT “has failed to engage the surrounding neighborhoods in a constructive manner, has not been sufficiently transparent regarding alternatives to the current project, and has ‘eliminated several alternatives from consideration’ in a cursory manner.”

READ: Stringer BQE letter to Mayor and DOT

Stringer said he was also concerned that the city’s plan may be at cross purposes with other city initiatives and goals, including: $100 million in freight-rail improvements that would reduce truck traffic on the BQE; congestion pricing, which would also reduce traffic on the BQE; and the city’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

He added he was very concerned about the long-term environmental impact of the city’s proposal. Public health expert Laurie Garrett has said that a Promenade highway would cause dangerous increases in airborne pollutant levels in the Heights.

BHA praised Stringer’s letter, noting it concluded “with a firm request that the mayor ‘make every effort to devise a plan that reduces the impact on local residents, homes and properties, open spaces, and landmarks’ and that the ‘planning … be carried out in conjunction with neighborhood representatives.’”

A Better WAY NYC also gave Stringer two thumbs up.

“Comptroller Stringer is demonstrating the bold leadership that New Yorkers deserve by calling on the DOT to revisit the flawed process behind the proposed rehabilitation of the BQE,” Jager said in a statement.

Both Options Considered by City are Problematic

The rehabilitation of the highway’s section from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street includes the triple cantilever underpinning the Promenade.

DOT favors the Promenade highway plan, which it calls the “Innovative” approach. The agency estimates it would take roughly six years. DOT’s “Traditional” approach, given short shrift by the agency, would fix the roadway using the typical lane-by-lane method over eight years.

The six-lane approach would bring 153,000 vehicles a day, with their pollution and noise, alongside the back doors of some of the most valuable real estate in Brooklyn.

DOT says it has agreed to examine alternative solutions beyond several existing proposals, including a “thorough analysis” of BHA’s proposal.

BHA said that DOT has “recently committed to us that they will hold a series of robust discussions with local residents and stakeholder groups to review the proposals and discuss alternatives and outstanding concerns.”

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  1. Jorale-man

    Great reporting, as always, from the Eagle, on this vital issue. The “innovative” approach would be catastrophic in its damage to the Heights and its effects could last for decades to come (and that’s not counting the damage to residents’ health and wellbeing). Local pols need to see this as the generation-defining issue for BH that it is.

    • The “innovative” approach is the best of the two options presented so far. Residents outside of Brooklyn Heights should not have to live through eight years of heavy traffic and the pollution that will come along with it to fix the Brooklyn Heights portion of the BQE.

        • Sounds like you are making the pitch that the pollution caused by traffic in surrounding areas wont be bad because we’ll have more electric cars? That might make sense looking out several decades but not over the next 8-10 years.

          I guess it doesn’t matter as long as higher pollution levels impact someone else’s children, right?

      • Jorale-man

        Two thoughts: One, I don’t think the 6 or 8 year estimates can be considered reliable, and once 100s of millions of dollars are spent on constructing a six-lane highway on the promenade, it could turn into a permanent solution (especially if the economy tanks or the next mayor decides it’s not a priority worth finishing).

        Two, I don’t think either solution should be pursued. Rather, the city should enact congestion pricing, heavy bridge tolls and other inducements to use mass transit. The remaining trucks will have to find alternate routes.

  2. Save BBP!

    NO BQE in BBP! Find another solution – don’t dump from one community to the next. The park receives thousands of kids every day in its playgrounds, fields and parks. NO BQE in BBP!

      • Nomcebo Manzini

        YES, … but “that solution” – tunneling – is likely to fail an even tougher test – finding the money. YES, it could be found, but this article hints at the big problem – “electeds” (even in NYC, with campaign finance regulations that are much better than at the Federal level) need serious money to stay in office and they certainly need to “represent their constituents.” Your brief note is akin to “Let’s all cross our fingers and say, ‘I hope, I hope’ .” That will not suffice!

        And it’s getting clearer with every passing day that there’s “zero sum” element here. Less pain for Brooklyn Heights WILL mean more pain for

        (a) other neighborhoods and things like BBP if any alternative is chosen, and that includes the BHA proposal; and/or
        (b) the city as a whole – think people like “us” AND businesses like Amazon (not) and all the financial services companies with big positions in town and retailers and Google and every other business with a no doubt substantial NYC tax bill as it is. Recognize that the billionaires – however they made their money and whether they spend more than 5 days a year in NYC – are not going to do anything other than fight like the dickens to keep their tax bills as close to zero as possible. The transit system is all but broken and Albany STILL is not a likely source of $billions for (mostly) NYC problems.

        It’s like Brexit!! It’s easy to say, “We need A BETTER WAY!” It’s devilishly hard to come up with such a way – darn near impossible if/when the alternative will balloon the $8Billion (projected) to $20Billion.