Brooklyn Heights Promenade rally draws hundreds to protest BQE rehab plan
Crowd reactions fueled by discomfort from weather and conciliatory remarks
A vocal crowd of several hundred people braved sub-freezing weather on Saturday to demonstrate their opposition to a six-lane “highway in the sky” that would destroy the landmark Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Residents ranging in age from 9 to 90, and representing Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and surrounding neighborhoods, carried placards, and crowded around a podium of elected officials.
Leaders from A Better Way NYC — a grassroots, non-profit organization focused on the environmental, economic and community impact of repairing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — joined Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association; City Comptroller Scott Stringer and an array of elected officials as they called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg for transparency and community engagement around the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway rehabilitation.
“We’re here to send City Hall & DOT a few simple messages: We reject the six-lane Promenade Highway; we demand a solution that does not destroy our neighborhood; and we demand that DOT respond to the BHA alternative we presented in November,” Bray said.
“There can be no possible justification for a monstrous, six-lane highway on the Promenade to prevent a traffic congestion nightmare that can be solved by better means,” he added. “But, there does need to be smart solutions to reducing traffic during the construction period to protect all neighborhoods along the BQE … not just Brooklyn Heights, but Cobble Hill, Fulton Ferry, DUMBO and many more.”
Stringer, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Assembly Member Latrice Walker, and representatives from City Councilmember Stephen Levin’s and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez’s offices spoke, joining A Better Way NYC, community groups including the Brooklyn Heights Association, and hundreds of New Yorkers to demand that the city revisit the flawed process behind the proposed rehabilitation of the BQE and explore all possible mitigation solutions before proceeding with any plan.
Bray declared, “We do not accept DOT’s threat that it is their way or the highway, though in this instance, their way is a six-lane highway they’ve presented as a means to avoid thousands of vehicles detouring through our streets. The terrible irony is that the building of the Promenade Highway will itself require innumerable lane closures, traffic diversions, and years of nighttime construction that will utterly destroy the tranquility of our residential community.”
“With the recent change in Albany,” Bray added, “there are now opportunities to legislate actions to reduce traffic on the BQE, and we will ask our State representatives to work with us to make the possible into a reality.”
Hilary Jager, co-founder A Better Way NYC, said, “It is heartening to see so many of our city’s leaders step up and join the resounding call for transparency and community engagement around the proposed BQE rehabilitation. While Governor Cuomo is taking an innovative approach to avoid the devastating consequences of closing L train service, Mayor de Blasio is taking a page out of the Robert Moses playbook: proposing to spend nearly $4 billion to bulldoze local neighborhoods, expand highways and further New York’s dependence on pollution-spewing cars.
“Our communities refuse to stand idly by while the city attempts to ram through a closed-door plan that will increase pollution and traffic. In solidarity with the thousands who stand in opposition to the current proposal, we call on the city to work with us— transparently—to find a better way.”
Stringer had previously noted, in a letter to Mayor de Blasio and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, that the city’s proposed plan to replace the Promenade with an elevated, six-lane highway while repairing the BQE fails to provide long-term improvements to transportation infrastructure that will prepare New York for its future mobility needs, address the city’s worsening traffic woes, and take into account the city’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
The proposed plan would also increase exposure to air pollution and other environmental hazards, remove landmarks and open green space, and destroy an icon beloved by generations of residents and visitors.
The Comptroller noted concern that the plan “was devised without reasonable consideration for concurrent administrative initiatives and goals, sufficient thought to future traffic patterns, and consideration of important community concerns.” In addition to questioning whether the proposed rehabilitation was aligned with the city’s greenhouse reduction initiatives, the Comptroller questioned if the plan took into account several factors, including:
- Proposed improvements to the city’s rail freight distribution system, which would reduce traffic on the BQE;
- Congestion pricing, including East River bridge tolls, that could further reduce traffic on the BQE; and
- The long-term environmental impact on the surrounding community from property damage, dust and debris.
Comptroller Stringer summarized a response he had received back from the DOT’s Polly Trottenberg as being a “non-answer.”
Acknowledging the work of Stringer’s policy, accounting, engineering and other groups, Trottenberg in the letter addressed some of the Comptroller’s solutions “as being not within city authority and instead rely on state and federal action.” She reiterated her promise from the community meeting from October 2018 that the community would be included.
However, leaders from A Better Way NYC contend that, instead, they have been excluded from much of the Environment Impact Statement process, because “the DOT first unveiled that proposal seven months into its EIS process, which deprived the community of its right to comment on the impacts of the proposal that merit further analysis. To this day, the NYCDOT and the city have remained silent on the environmental consequences that will arise from the construction of a highway on the national landmark, including the impact on air quality, public health, noise, historic resources, open space, neighborhood character, socioeconomic conditions, quality of life and other environmental consequences,” read a statement from A Better Way NYC.
Several in the crowd, displeased with State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon’s perceived conciliatory approach with the DOT and city, heckled and booed her during her remarks.
She had just finished saying there are two options that were put forth, and a third option that the DOT is considering. “Now I spoke with the Transportation Commissioner just the other day who assures me they are doing their due diligence,” she said. “They are looking very carefully at what I call the ‘berm plan,’ for lack of a better term, to see if that is feasible
“We don’t know if the engineering can be done. We are looking at that very carefully. One of the things that I was asked to convey, is that they need time to do a good job.”
Adams, stepping to the podium, declared, “Let me be very clear, so there is no misunderstanding. When I walked here to the microphone, some of you had a question mark. So let me straighten that question mark into an exclamation point. I am against the damn plan as it stands. Plain and simple,” he said. “My opposition may be different from others.
“Let me be clear. I am an environmentalist,” said Adams. “I am concerned about the continuation of believing the only way we can move through this city is by expanding highways. I am against the belief that we cannot create an environment where our children can breathe in a healthy environment…I am tired in the poison in our schools. I am tired of the poison in our air. I am tired of the way we’re think about how we move around people in this city. This is more than just this community. This is Bay Ridge. This is Fort Greene. This is Red Hook. All of us are involved in this.”
Adams thanked Comptroller Stringer for “bringing us all together in this conversation,” and accused the state of New York of backing out from solving the problem. “The way things are done, you legislate, you communicate, and you agitate. You fight, you raise your voice and you be proud of this movement. Listen, we have to take this city back. And the only way we do it is, come out and do what we’re doing today.
“And it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to take opportunities for us to build coalitions all up and down this roadway. It can’t be only here on the Promenade … All across this roadway, we have to have people together.”
Lassen & Hennigs delicatessen, which this year marks its 70th anniversary on Brooklyn Heights, served complimentary coffee, hot chocolate and cookies to the crowds.
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