Simon tackles BQE ‘outrage’ from Brooklyn Heights, spotlights broader concerns
It was a tough crowd. Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon was confronted by some angry constituents at her “Java with Jo Anne” coffee meetup in DUMBO on Thursday morning.
By the end of the two-hour klatch, she managed to convince many in attendance that she was indeed looking out for her people.
The topic on almost everyone’s mind was the city’s plan to replace the beloved Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane highway while the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) is being rebuilt.
Simon received boos at a recent protest rally on the Promenade because some residents felt she did not express enough “outrage.”
“We’ve been getting letters from the Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way NYC, and they’re complaining about you because you haven’t taken a stance,” one man said.
“I haven’t taken the stand they want me to take, in the way they want me to take it,” Simon shot back.
“So why not?” the constituent said. “Other elected officials have.”
“Other elected officials have because they’re running for mayor,” Simon said. “Look at LICH [the former Long Island College Hospital]. Bill de Blasio was there all the time [when he was Public Advocate]. There was nothing he could do about it. Nothing he could do as Public Advocate to turn the thing around.”
The controversial reconstruction plan favored by the city would bring the pollution and noise of 153,000 vehicles a day to ground level in Brooklyn Heights, and would take a minimum of six years.
The city has also considered an alternate plan, which would replace the BQE and the Promenade above it lane by lane. This plan carries its own drawbacks and would take longer, Simon said.
“The point is that there are also constituents of mine who live in the area, who are very affected by this, who disagree with your position entirely,” she told the crowd.
While both options are terrible, Simon said, the DOT’s Promenade plan “will allow it to be done quicker, and will allow direct connect to the bridges so that the traffic to the bridges doesn’t have to go through their neighborhoods. I don’t believe that I should turn my back on people who have, themselves, very legitimate issues who are going to be very impacted.”
“I have to listen to everybody,” she added. “Whether I agree with them is irrelevant. Cobble Hill will get hammered with the lane-by-lane plan,” she said. Traffic could also back up for miles along Third and Fourth Avenue.
“We’re in a state of equipoise here. Both plans suck. And they suck a little differently for different people,” she said.
Another constituent said, “I’m looking for a politician who will stand up and say, ‘I’m going to take care of the people in Brooklyn Heights who have children — “
“And I’m going to take care of the people in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, DUMBO, Fulton Ferry, Vinegar Hill and other places as well. And all of those people are not necessarily impacted the same way by this,” Simon said.
No Environmental Study Carried Out
In addition, Simon said, there wasn’t enough data to take a stand because an environmental study has not yet been carried out.
“Once there’s a process, a draft environmental impact, then you can see what those impacts are going to be,” she said.
Her office will be helping to advise people working on statements for input into the environmental review process — a process she is familiar with based on many years of involvement with the Gowanus Expressway and Atlantic Yards processes.
Asked if she backed a third proposal commissioned by the Brooklyn Heights Association — which would run a temporary replacement highway along the eastern edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park, over its sound-attenuating berms — she said she was suspending judgement until DOT completes its engineering study.
“I’ve seen the plan; the [DOT] commissioner was very intrigued by it,” Simon said, referring to the proposal as the “Berm Plan.”
“They’re studying it to see if it’s feasible.” Though DOT has not given any timeline for a decision, “It takes about three months to do enough engineering to determine if it’s buildable,” she said.
Simon urged patience. “If you want them to do their due diligence, you have to give them the time to see if it’s feasible.”
While saving Brooklyn Heights, the Berm Plan might impact people living at 360 Furman St., the Pierhouse and Pier 6, she added.
Managed to Change Minds
Simon explained the actions she has been taking behind the scenes.
“I’m talking to everybody; I’m working with the DOT to explore every alternative; I’m working with the federal elected officials; I’m working with the state elected officials; I’m hounding the state Department of Transportation. I’ve a meeting with the commissioner next week,” she said. “He’s coming to see me. Which is highly unusual for the transportation commissioner to come visit a legislator. The statement is pretty clear. We’re going to do everything we can.”
Simon “should come out publicly and say the BHA plan should be discussed, not just here where it’s safe,” Tracy Atkinson, a resident of Brooklyn Heights for 25 years, told the Eagle. “Her arguments for the lane-by-lane approach are not strong,” she added.
But Grace Court resident Andrea Levitt Baum, a member of A Better Way NYC and the Brooklyn Heights Association, was more positive.
“I came here thinking that she was more interested in defending the DOT than in representing the community, Brooklyn Heights, where I’ve lived for 50 years,” Levitt Baum said.
“But to my surprise, that was not the case at all. She seems outraged, she’s meeting with the DOT, and to my delight, when I mentioned about the state, she’s meeting with the state to get them involved, which I thought was a great idea. So that was news to us. So I was very impressed … with her commitment to save the Promenade.”
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