Brooklyn Boro

Fireworks frenzy: Brooklyn Heights residents worry about July 4 crowds

Brooklyn Bridge Park is shelling out $150k for security and trash pickup.

June 7, 2019 Mary Frost
Brooklyn Heights will have a spectacular view of the fireworks this 4th of July. Some community groups, however, are concerned about unprecedented crowds funneling into Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Promenade.Photo by Photo by Etienne Frossard

Brooklyn Heights will have exceptional views of the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks next month, but some local community groups and residents are voicing concern about the huge crowds expected to flood Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

For the first time since 2014, all of the pyrotechnic barges will be located south of the Brooklyn Bridge, close to Pier 17 at South Street Seaport. Fireworks will also cascade off the Brooklyn Bridge itself.

“The decision to concentrate all viewing to this small portion of the East River shoreline overwhelms Brooklyn Bridge Park, the surrounding communities as well as our 84th Precinct,” Linda DeRosa, president of the Willowtown Association, said at a Brooklyn Bridge Park board meeting on Wednesday. The Willowtown enclave is located between two entrances to the park, between Joralemon Street and Atlantic Avenue.

“Since park venues began to open we have seen occasions where the crowds are so massive that people are blocked from ever getting down to the waterfront,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle following the meeting. “There just isn’t enough open space to accommodate the crowd size that is expected this year.”

Crowds began lining up on Old Fulton Street for hours before the show in 2016. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Crowds began lining up on Old Fulton Street for hours before the fireworks show in 2016. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Brooklyn Bridge Park itself will not be getting additional funds from the city to handle the crowds, park spokesperson Sarah Krauss told the Eagle. On Wednesday, the park’s board approved an expenditure of $150,000 of its own money for the event.

The funds will be spent on “additional PEP [Park Enforcement Patrol] officers, additional custodial staff and related services, and porta potties throughout the park,” Krauss said.

Specific details about security arrangements on the piers have not yet been finalized, Krauss said. In years past, several of the piers were closed for security reasons and for VIPs.

In 2014, a park spokesperson estimated that the park held at least triple the normal weekend crowd (at that time) of 100,000 people. Park attendance has gone up since then.

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BP Adams notes concerns

“July 4th is a time for New Yorkers to gather and celebrate America’s independence. But safety will always be a paramount concern. My office has been in contact with the NYPD and know that the necessary preparations are being made for this 4th of July,” Borough President Eric Adams told the Eagle.

Adams added, “We understand there are concerns among some about safety and property, especially given the changes to this year’s program, and we will continue coordinating with all relevant agencies to ensure that this is a peaceful and joyous celebration.”

Multiple security measures expected

If this year is like 2014, half a million spectators will be moving through security checkpoints set up in Brooklyn Heights and at Fulton Ferry Landing.

Numerous Heights streets will be closed to vehicular traffic — with the exception of hundreds of emergency vehicles from EM, NYPD, FDNY and other agencies. Ambulances and small, motorized go-karts filled with emergency medical kits will likely be situated on Columbia Heights and Henry Street.

Spectators will be subject to bag checks before entering the Promenade and the park, and residents of Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO will be required to show their IDs before being allowed to drive into “frozen zones.” Garbage cans will likely be removed for security purposes, and mailboxes will be locked.

Spectators grabbed their viewing spots on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade hours before the 2016 July 4 fireworks display. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Spectators grabbed their viewing spots on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade hours before the 2016 July 4 fireworks display. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

 

A crowd on the Promenade. Photo by Mary Frost
The crowd builds on the Promenade. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Fulton Ferry could be gridlocked

Katrin Adam, a board member of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, told the Eagle that residents of the Fulton Ferry Historic District, encompassing the park’s main entrance at Old Fulton Street, have not heard from the city about crowd management arrangements.

Residents of 8 Old Fulton St., directly across Furman Street from the park, were quite concerned, she said.

“At the last fireworks south of the Brooklyn Bridge, [the] park was not known and visited then as it is now,” she told the Eagle.

Still, in 2014, “our green space that surrounds our building at Old Fulton and Furman Street was totally destroyed, despite the steel barriers we erected ourselves to protect the garden,” she said. “As we are a self-managed building, we could not fend off viewers from our building entrance steps and window sills on the first floor.”

While she thought that more protected buildings like the Eagle Warehouse had fewer concerns, “There was clearly not sufficient police protection for the more vulnerable buildings in our neighborhood.”

Adam said that residents of 8 Old Fulton St. asked if they could be included in the conversation between Brooklyn Bridge Park and the police this year.

“It was denied. The reason given, Brooklyn Bridge Park is not responsible for the fireworks. Everyone is to fend for themselves,” she said.

Bill Stein, however, another board member of Fulton Ferry Landing Association, was more sanguine.

“I don’t believe that one additional barge at this location (compared with 2014) will make a difference with the crowd size. Yes, we will be inundated, but it’s the price we pay to live in the Big Apple,” he said. “You aren’t going to see these magnificent fireworks, this beautiful skyline and this stunning Bridge living in Iowa.”

Stein said that the last time the park was a prime viewing area, “the most memorable complaint I heard was from someone unlucky enough to be returning here by subway soon after the fireworks ended. The stairs at High Street and York Street stations were impassable due to the hordes entering the stations.”

In the Heights, Clark Street Station (the 2 and 3 trains) was shut down after the fireworks in 2014 because crowds on the platform were so large some people were in danger of being pushed onto the tracks.

This photo was taken from an apartment at the Eagle Warehouse on Old Fulton Street in 2014, as spectators were leaving the July 4 fireworks display. Before the show, the police had spectators sectioned into “pens” on one side of the center yellow line, with the other side reserved for emergency access. Photo courtesy of Doree Albritton
This photo was taken from an apartment at the Eagle Warehouse on Old Fulton Street in 2014, as spectators were leaving the July 4 fireworks display. Before the show, the police had visitors sectioned into “pens” on one side of the center yellow line, with the other side reserved for emergency access. Photo courtesy of Doree Albritton
Police keep a security lane clear during the fireworks display in 2016. Photo courtesy of Bill Stein
Police keep a security lane clear during the fireworks display in 2016. Photo courtesy of Bill Stein

NYPD reliance

Martha Dietz, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said the group trusts that “the NYPD will do a good job of controlling the crowds and ensuring that everyone is safe.”

“I would also assume the NYPD will not allow more people on the Promenade or in the park and its piers than is safe for everyone, and hopefully park security will assist the NYPD as necessary,” Dietz said.

She added that the Brooklyn Heights Association hopes that the NYPD “will manage the crowds as they disperse following the fireworks display so that both fireworks attendees and neighborhood residents remain safe.”

The positioning of the barges changes almost every year. In 2014, there were three barges south of the Brooklyn Bridge, one less than this year. In 2015, it was split, with four barges upriver, and one double barge near the Seaport. 2016, four barges were positioned between 23rd and 37th streets, and one double-barge was located below the Brooklyn Bridge. In 2017, the fireworks were not visible from Brooklyn Heights Promenade but a crowd came anyway.

The fireworks display will kick off around 9:20 p.m. on July 4. Views from Williamsburg will likely be partially obstructed.

The Eagle has reached out to the Mayor’s Office and the NYPD for more information on security and crowd control plans. Check back for updates.

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