Brooklyn Heights

Stringer’s dramatic plan to turn BQE into elevated park wins praise

A truck-only highway to run underneath Promenade

March 13, 2019 Mary Frost
The proposal calls for covering the Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens BQE trench with an elevated park. The rendering above is one of several possible designs for a linear park. Rendering via dlandstudio
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New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has released his own proposal for the reconstruction of two miles of the decrepit BQE — a plan dramatically different from that of the Department of Transportation. Stringer’s strategy, published on Wednesday, would eliminate cars, run trucks along a two-lane thruway at the bottom level of the triple cantilever and turn the rest into a new linear park.

Neighborhood groups praised the idea for addressing long-term community concerns and for its forward thinking. They also gave Stringer kudos for consulting with them before releasing the plan — something they said the city initially neglected to do with its $3.4 billion proposal.

The DOT’s controversial proposal would run a temporary BQE bypass over the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for a minimum of six years. Residents of the Heights are up in arms over the scheme, which would bring the noise and pollution of 153,000 vehicles a day up to street level.

In Stringer’s plan, the elevated park — with ball-fields, dog runs, bike paths and playgrounds — would run from the “newly pedestrianized” middle level of the triple cantilever in Brooklyn Heights to a green deck over the Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens BQE trench, and from there to an upgraded pedestrian bridge and new park in Red Hook. The Promenade would remain untouched.

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Diagram via DOT; additional graphics by Mary Frost
Comptroller Stringer’s BQE plan. Diagram via DOT; additional graphics by Mary Frost

Stringer says his proposal is a way to reintegrate Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods that have long been divided by Robert Moses’ heedless positioning of the BQE. It would also directly connect each of these communities to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Stringer submitted his plan to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on March 7. “We remain hopeful that the agency can view the BQE’s deterioration not just as an engineering challenge, but as an opportunity to create something new and bold that both accommodates essential traffic and enhances surrounding neighborhoods,” Stringer wrote in his letter.

He noted that, while many voices have called out for a complete BQE teardown, the fact that the highway carries 14,000 trucks per day calls for a middle-ground solution.

“We can’t redirect those trucks on to local streets, we don’t have enough freight routes in the city, and this section of the BQE serves an essential manufacturing and warehouse corridor from Sunset Park and Red Hook to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and North Brooklyn,” he wrote.

During construction, trucks would run in both directions on the middle level of the cantilever while DOT reconstructs the bottom level, eliminating the need for any temporary highways. When that rehab work is finished, truck traffic would be permanently moved to the bottom level, traveling one lane in each direction.

Stringer’s letter said that trucks represent only 9 percent of the traffic on this six-lane section of the BQE, so one lane in each direction would be sufficient.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s plan to rehabilitate the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway would eliminate cars, run trucks along a two-lane thruway at the bottom level, and turn the rest into a new linear park running to Red Hook. Map via Comptroller Stringer’s Office
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s plan to rehabilitate the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway would eliminate cars, run trucks along a two-lane thruway at the bottom level, and turn the rest into a new linear park running to Carroll Gardens with an extension into Red Hook. Map via Comptroller Stringer’s Office

DOT reviewing BQE options

A DOT spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday that the agency was undertaking “a thorough review process that will look at a range of options for this critical transportation corridor, including the one proposed by the comptroller, accompanied by substantial community and expert engagement.”

The Brooklyn Heights Association has submitted its own alternate BQE proposal designed by Marc Wouters Studio. Another alternate proposal calling for a tunnel to bypass the BQE and cut across Downtown Brooklyn was submitted by Cobble Hill resident Roy Sloane. DOT is also considering repairing the triple cantilever section of the BQE piece by piece, a process that could add up to two years to the timeline.

BHA Executive Director Peter Bray told the Eagle that Stringer’s proposal was “a creative approach to what the BQE could become after its reconstruction and represents a serious take on the role that the BQE serves and will continue to serve in supporting freight movement within the city and its vital contribution to the city’s economy.”

“In the BHA’s view, it also importantly adds to a discussion that needs to occur about how the city’s transportation needs should be met in the future more globally and which does not simply extrapolate from what we have done over the last 70 years,” Bray said. “We need to reconsider the policies that we have implicitly been following, both as a city and as a nation, that prioritizes moving cars — typically single occupancy vehicles — above all other considerations, particularly when our mass transit system is failing and global warming poses a threat to human existence.”

The Cobble Hill Association, which has long lobbied for a deck over the much reviled BQE trench, called the comptroller’s plan “truly innovative.”

“It is exciting to see a plan that challenges the way we think about transit infrastructure and public space in NYC. We have been asking for decking the BQE for years, and most recently in the scoping meeting for the BQE rehab in early 2018, the CHA called for decking the BQE and uniting Upper and Lower Van Voorhees Parks,” said CHA President Amy Breedlove.

Breedlove added that CHA is suggesting that DOT continue the green space and pedestrian walkways beyond the Hugh Carey Tunnel to make a safe pedestrian corridor along the waterfront neighborhoods.

Hilary Jager, spokesperson for the transportation advocacy group A Better Way NYC, told the Eagle that they met with Stringer to discuss his plan.

“A Better Way NYC has been beating the drum, calling on the city to rethink its narrow-minded plans for restoring the BQE. Comptroller Stringer has stepped up to the plate with the problem-solving mentality New Yorkers expect from their elected representatives. The comptroller’s innovative proposal is a boon to the pursuit for a better way, and it has the potential to transform the city to become a beacon of progressive promise rather than a relic of Moses’s past. We look forward to City Hall and NYC DOT reviewing the plan.”

Where would all the cars go?

Stringer says the roughly 144,000 passenger cars currently use the BQE each day would have to use other routes, either through local streets or by taking the Hugh Carey Tunnel, the Belt Parkway or public transit instead of the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges.

Restricting access to the triple cantilever and the Cobble Hill trench would likely reduce car traffic, since drivers will find alternatives, he said.

“Highway traffic follows an iron rule,” he wrote in his letter. “Build more highways, get more cars; eliminate highways, get fewer cars.”

Proposed designs for decking over the BQE trench in both Williamsburg and Cobble Hill have previously been assessed at roughly $125 million, Stringer said in his letter.

An environmental review process of the eventual BQE rehab plan will begin later this year, and will take up to two years.

See Stringer’s full plan here

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