Use BQE rehab to get cars off DUMBO streets, groups say

April 25, 2019 Mary Frost
A steady stream of vehicles passes by Etsy’s DUMBO offices on Prospect Street, shown above, and other neighborhood streets. DUMBO civic and business groups want the BQE rehab plan to change that. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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Civic and business groups in DUMBO and Fulton Ferry Landing have a message for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new BQE expert panel: As long as the city is rebuilding the BQE from Sands Street to Atlantic Avenue anyway, use this opportunity to build direct connections from the BQE to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

This will get thousands of vehicles per hour off DUMBO streets like Old Fulton, Prospect and Jay streets. These thoroughfares were once surrounded by stark industry, but are now lined with residences, artisanal businesses and restaurants filled with workers and tourists flooding DUMBO and Fulton Ferry Landing.

In an April 23 letter to BQE panel chair Carlo Scissura, area leaders Alexandria Sica, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District; William Stein, board member of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association; and Melissa Prober, co-chairperson of the DUMBO Action Committee, make their case that the BQE plan selected by the city “should eliminate the use of our streets … as the route for connecting the bridges to the BQE.”

“Currently, every hour thousands of vehicles pour off of the bridges and onto DUMBO and Fulton Ferry’s streets, not to visit our residents or shop in our stores, but simply to go from bridge to BQE or vice versa, negatively impacting the quality of life and experiences of our residents, workers, and visitors,” the group writes.

Whatever the city does, it shouldn’t make the situation worse than it is now by “explicitly or inadvertently send additional cars into our neighborhoods,” they add.

Implement the best of Brooklyn Strand idea

More importantly, the group writes, “We hope the final plan reshapes the public realm below, around — and if more ambitious plans advance — potentially atop the BQE from Old Fulton to Sands Street.” This reshaping could take the Brooklyn Strand proposal as an initial guide, they write.

The Brooklyn Strand proposal would connect nearly 50 acres of public space and city-owned land from Downtown Brooklyn to the Brooklyn Bridge and the surrounding neighborhoods with green walkways and improved parks and amenities.

The rebuilding of this decrepit 1.5-mile section of the BQE is expected to cost roughly $4 billion and last a minimum of six to eight years.

Besides two contentious rehabilitation proposals devised by the city — one of them would temporarily replace the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane BQE bypass — five alternate BQE renovation plans have been presented by community groups, officials and residents.

De Blasio’s BQE panel is tasked with studying the incoming proposals and making recommendations.

One plan that has caught the public’s eye, designed by DUMBO’s Bjarke Ingels Group, would enclose the BQE as it passes the triple cantilever supporting the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and create a sweeping new Brooklyn Queens Park: the “BQP.”

But the BIG plan “stops at Old Fulton Street,” Sica told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday. “There’s been no information about how traffic … would connect back to the bridges. It’s a partial plan which doesn’t explore Old Fulton Street to Sands Street. Obviously, this is very important to Fulton Ferry Landing, DUMBO and the Farragut Houses.”

“Lots of the BQE conversation centers on the Promenade, which is completely understandable. But there needs to be solutions for all communities touched by the project and the BQE,” she said.

The DUMBO Improvement District has heard from the city’s Department of Transportation in the past “that there were some ways to make direct connections” to the bridges from the BQE, she said. “There are about 1,500 vehicles an hour traveling on Old Fulton, and obviously many on Prospect Street.”

Prospect Street is newly important for the neighborhood because of the thousands of Etsy employees now working at the DUMBO Heights building, once a Jehovah Witnesses facility, along with dozens of restaurants and a charter school, Sica said.

“We’ve been talking for years about connecting DUMBO, Downtown and the Navy Yard,” she added. “Safely crossing the traffic is always an issue, as well as quality of life. It seems daunting to cross traffic, and swaths of asphalt go under and around the BQE. We hope the master plan the panel comes up with changes that. Imagine Farragut residents trying to get to Downtown Brooklyn to work having a friendly, air pollution-free way to walk.”

Some of the more ambitious plans for the BQE need to be thoroughly flushed out and vetted, Sica said.

The BQE rehab could present “an opportunity to be one of those projects where everyone wins,” she ventured.

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