Meet the 17 people who may decide the fate of the BQE
BQE panel expects to make recommendations in the fall
To finally bring a measure of urban planning to what has been a chaotic, whiplash-inducing BQE reconstruction planning process, Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced a blue-ribbon panel of experts to look at options for the replacement of a 1.5-mile stretch of the decrepit highway.
The panel will not only attempt to sort through proposals that have appeared out of the woodwork after the city’s own plans provoked tremendous outcry, but will make decisions that could set a course for the city’s transportation future.
So who are the 17 people entrusted with the future of the BQE?
A breakdown of the announced membership shows a plethora of power hitters with a concentration of engineering, construction, business and labor experts (eight), plus the vice-president of Con Edison and the chairman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The remaining members include people who have won plaudits as being tops in their respective fields: one architect; one future-city imaginer from Alphabet (Google’s parent company); the president of the Municipal Art Society; a respected professor of urban planning at NYU; an award-winning law professor; and the president of the nonprofit Regional Plan Association.
“Our number one priority is understanding what can be built.”
The BQE panel will be chaired by Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of The New York Building Congress. Scissura was a member of the mayor’s OneNYC Panel and is on the City Charter Revision Commission. He is listed as one of City & State’s 50 Most Powerful People in Brooklyn in 2018. Scissura is the former president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
“The first thing the panel is going to do is talk to experts and get an understanding of what exactly we can do,” Scissura told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. “We can’t say we like this one [proposal] or that one until we understand what can be built with the engineering and design. Our number one priority is understanding what can be built.”
He added, “We’re starting right now to schedule meetings with the panel. We intend to meet with community leaders and officials, and hope to come to a conclusion by the fall.”
Scissura said that he “respects everybody” who put together alternate proposals for the BQE. His priority now is “understanding what makes sense as we look at the future of transportation in New York. That includes congestion pricing, two-way tolls on the Verrazzano Bridge and changing traffic patterns.”
Scissura’s number one job as CEO of the New York Building Congress “is to advocate and call on the federal government to fund projects in New York City, such as Gateway, the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway and the BQE,” he said. “The federal government is not spending the money it should in New York infrastructure. This is a wakeup call for New York.”
At this point in the process, Scissura said he wasn’t worried about finding funding for the project.
An opportunity to create the ‘best plan possible’
The section of BQE to be rebuilt includes the triple cantilever that supports the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. After the city’s preferred plan caused an outcry in the community — it would have run a BQE bypass carrying 153,000 vehicles a day over the landmarked Promenade for six years, sending noise and sickening fumes into the Heights — a number of alternate, visionary ideas were proposed by architects, officials and local residents.
“Community members and stakeholders across the city have come together to propose new ideas and call for fresh thinking on the BQE, the biggest such project the city has ever undertaken,” the city’s Department of Transportation said in a release. “This new panel presents an important opportunity to create the best plan possible—with community voices heard throughout the process.”
If the road is not reconstructed by 2026, weight restrictions may need to be implemented, including diverting all truck traffic to local roads.
The BQE panel: Who are they?
These are the members of the BQE panel, under Carlo Scissura, chair.
Kate Ascher, BuroHappold Engineering
BuroHappold is an international, integrated engineering consultancy. Ascher leads BuroHappold’s cities group, which specializes in urban planning and development. The firm was involved in projects including the High Line, the National 9/11 Memorial Pavilion and the London 2012 Olympic Stadium.
Kaan Ozbay, NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Ozbay, a professor of civil engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, is director of C2SMART; the recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award; and one of the world’s top experts in modeling large scale complex transportation systems.
Jay Simson, American Council of Engineering Companies of New York
ACEC New York’s mission is to promote the business interests of member firms through networking, advocacy, education and business services. Simson is an expert in Design-Build, an approach that provides design and construction services under one contract.
Denise Richardson, General Contractors Association
The General Contractors Association is a trade association that represents union employers in the heavy civil construction industry. They are known for building foundations and public works infrastructure. Richardson is called a leader in the heavy construction industry. She told Labor Press, “A large part of what the GCA does is to negotiate and manage the collective bargaining agreements that pertain to our heavy civil unions.”
Kathryn Wylde, Partnership for NYC
Kathryn Wylde is president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, which calls itself the city’s leading business organization. Its mission is to work with government, labor and the civic sector to build a stronger New York, with a focus on education, infrastructure and the economy.
Vincent Alvarez, New York City Central Labor Council
Vincent Alvarez was elected as the NYCCLC’s first full-time president and first Latino President. A member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) since 1990, Vinny began his career with IBEW Local 3 in Flushing, serving on numerous political campaigns, grassroots initiatives and negotiating committees.
Benjamin Prosky, executive director of the American Institute of Architects
AIA New York is dedicated to design excellence, public outreach, and professional development. Prosky is executive director of the New York chapter. He previously served as Assistant Dean for Communications at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). In 2009, Prosky cofounded ARCHITIZER.
Henry Gutman, Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp./Brooklyn Bridge Park
Hank Gutman, chairman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has also been deeply involved in the effort to build Brooklyn Bridge Park since his appointment to the Board of the original Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corporation in 1998.
Rohit Aggarwala, Sidewalk Labs
Sidewalk Labs is an Alphabet (Google) company “re-imagining cities to improve quality of life … by combining people-centered urban design with cutting-edge technology.” A Sidewalk Labs spokesperson told the Eagle that Aggarwala is serving in his personal capacity, “as someone who has done long-term infrastructure planning and has a track record of thinking creatively about how policy, design and technology make new approaches feasible/infeasible.” He was the head of PlaNYC under Bloomberg and also chaired the recent RPA regional plan.
Kyle Kimball, VP of Con Edison
Kyle Kimball is vice president of Government, Regional & Community Affairs for Consolidated Edison of New York. He directs the company’s government and community relations activities in New York City, Albany, and Washington, D.C.
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Arts Society
The Municipal Arts Society “protects New York’s legacy spaces, encourages thoughtful planning and urban design, and fosters inclusive neighborhoods across the five boroughs.” Elizabeth Goldstein is “nationally-known as a tenacious and remarkably effective advocate for parks, open spaces and historic preservation with deep roots here in New York,” according to MAS.
Mitchell Moss, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning and director of the Rudin Center for Transportation, has been described as a “New Yorkologist” by The New York Times. In 2017, he was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve on the “FIX NYC” advisory group to identify ways to raise revenue for mass transit and to reduce congestion.
Ross Sandler, New York Law School
Professor Sandler, considered an “urban visionary,” was selected by the American Bar Association Section of State and Local Government Law as as a Jefferson B. Fordham Lifetime Achievement honoree.
Tom Wright, Regional Plan Association
Tom Wright is president and chief executive officer of Regional Plan Association (RPA), the nation’s oldest independent metropolitan research, planning and advocacy organization.
UPDATE on April 11, 2019: an additional member appointed:
Steve Cohen, MacAndrews & Forbes Incorporated
Steve Cohen is executive VP, CAO and General Counsel of MacAndrews & Forbes Incorporated. He served as Secretary to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in addition to serving as Counselor and Chief of Staff in the Office of the New York Attorney General under Attorney General Cuomo. He previously served as the Chief of the Violent Gangs Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
This story’s headline was updated on June 12, 2019 to reflect an additional member of the panel had been appointed on April 11, bringing the total number of members to 17.
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