Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: An open letter on the BQE-Promenade plan

January 24, 2019 Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A Better Way NYC — a grassroots group focused on the environmental, economic and community impact of repairing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — has called on local officials to “force” the city Department of Transportation to engage with the community on its plan to replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a temporary six-lane highway. The rehabilitation of the decrepit BQE from Sands Street to Atlantic Avenue would take 6 to 8 years.

Below is the organization’s letter to officials, released on Tuesday.

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Dear Elected Officials,

As representatives of A Better Way NYC, a grassroots group of concerned citizens, we are writing to thank you for participating in last week’s BQE rally hosted by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the Brooklyn Heights Association and our organization. It was heartening to see our local elected officials stand with us, especially in the cold, to express concerns about the City’s failure to adequately engage with our community in regards to this monumental undertaking.

We are writing today to ask you to become our champions – to take a bold stand and demonstrate the leadership that will be required to ensure that our concerns, which are shared broadly across the community, are fully integrated into the City’s design and construction of the BQE Project.

More specifically, we are calling on you to take three clear steps:

  1. Force DOT to engage the local community about health, environmental, and noise concerns
  2. Support the creation of a new Community Advisory Board
  3. Lead New State-City-Community Engagement

As discussed when we met in November, the DOT’s proposal to replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with an elevated, six-lane highway for a minimum of six years during rehabilitation of the BQE (the “Promenade Highway”) was formulated hastily and behind closed doors. The DOT appears to have developed both of its two proposals for the BQE Project with little substantive input from the community or the countless stakeholders who live, work or go to school near the BQE, utilize the BQE to commute, or will be impacted by the BQE Project in other ways. This lack of transparency and community involvement is clearly evidenced, has not abated and represents a clear failure of civic duty.

Force DOT to Engage Community

When the DOT initially presented its proposals on September 27, 2018, the agency committed to holding community meetings to further discuss the project and its impact on residents close to the BQE. To our knowledge, the DOT only began conducting one-on-one meetings with a limited number of hand-picked residents in the general area of the BQE Project during the final days of December 2018 — three months after committing to do so — and has not held any meetings open to the larger community. We understand from participants that these meetings have not provided any new or substantive information about the environmental analysis, noise impacts, or structural issues of the Project. These meetings have also failed to address the array of questions about the impact of the BQE Project on the health and well-being of your constituents, which have been raised by a wide array of residents, workers and students in the area.

In addition, Commissioner Trottenberg expressly stated at the September 27, 2018 meeting that the DOT would “flesh out some more, some other options” in light of the community outrage to the Promenade Highway expressed that evening. (FN) When asked what other alternatives have been revisited since that time, Commissioner Trottenberg said only the proposal advanced in November 2018 by the Brooklyn Heights Association.

Unfortunately, and contrary to their claim of transparency, DOT has refused to share basic information and raw data requested by A Better Way NYC and the Brooklyn Heights Association that we believe would be essential to developing actionable alternative plans. [See update below.]

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UPDATE Jan. 28: A Better Way NYC’s letter originally stated that the Regional Plan Association had partnered with the group in writing this letter. RPA informed the Brooklyn Eagle that this information is incorrect. RPA and A Better Way asked that the letter be amended to reflect this.]

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When it became clear that this information and data was not forthcoming, we filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. DOT’s response was to offer to provide their documents in July 2019 — well beyond when we would need this information to participate in their ongoing review process in any meaningful way — and thereafter denied our appeal of that decision.

DOT’s response underscores that, without your active involvement, it will neither engage the community nor explore alternatives to the current proposals. It furthermore does not escape our notice that DOT has taken the atypical step of retaining external counsel (Sive, Paget & Riesel), seemingly preferring to use its resources to prepare for litigation rather than to engage in a sincere community-based effort to explore and develop an alternative plan that would better meet the City’s and the community’s goals.

A Better Way NYC is calling on you, our representatives, to ensure that the DOT upholds its promise and engages in a timely and transparent dialogue with our community about this significant infrastructure project. The BQE Project is significant not only in that it will have direct and serious consequences along the BQE and for all those who use it or live near it, but also to the taxpayers at large who will be shouldering the bulk of the BQE Project’s nearly $4 billion price tag. As our representatives, you simply cannot afford to allow them to get this wrong.

Create a New Community Advisory Board (CAB)

In addition to a series of community meetings – open to all residents, not just select buildings — we believe that a creation of a CAB is a critical first step towards integrating community feedback and establishing a constructive dialogue in an organized and useful manner. The CAB should be chaired by our local elected representatives, and include the DOT, the community board, representatives of all of the local neighborhood organizations and individual stakeholders impacted by the project.

It is critical that the CAB have access to details and data related to all proposals that the City has evaluated (or will evaluate) and reasons why such proposals were discounted. As evidenced by other major infrastructure projects throughout Brooklyn, such as the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group, regular meetings of the CAB and a formal committee structure are essential to providing a consistent flow of information and incorporating community voices in a systematic way.

Lead New State-City-Community Engagement

Finally, for the BQE Project to succeed, we need the City and the State to work together with our community constructively. As we have seen most recently with the L-Train Tunnel reconstruction, when new partners are brought to the table to provide unique expertise and diverse skill-sets and perspectives, innovative solutions can be achieved—even when the problems seem intractable. Now is the time to bring world-renowned experts and creative talents together to reimagine the BQE in a way that minimizes the impact on residents and commuters while meeting the future transportation and mobility needs of the City.

As the community’s elected officials, we need you to be our champions, and showcase the breadth of your leadership to ensure that our community’s voices are fully heard at DOT, at City Hall, and in Albany. We are calling on you to be our partners in this effort, and to collaborate with the community on this critical neighborhood, borough and city-wide issue. We ask that we meet again as soon as possible to outline specific next steps toward the points raised in this letter.

Respectfully,

A Better Way NYC

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Story updated Jan. 25, 2019

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