BQE neighbors present city with united vision for highway’s rehab
“This is our moment in time to do something forward looking.”
A dozen community groups representing residents along the BQE presented the city with a united vision, setting out their common expectations for the highway’s reconstruction. The groups want a plan that will reunite communities long divided by the roadway and put the brakes on “car culture.”
The 12 organizations, which represent neighborhoods from Carroll Gardens to Vinegar Hill, have joined forces to present a common vision for the BQE rehab, Cobble Hill Association President Amy Breedlove told the crowd at the organization’s annual meeting Tuesday evening. Though preserving the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade is among the coalition’s demands, the vision intends to speak across individual neighborhood interests to convey a bigger picture, Breedlove said.
“The truth is, we want a lot more than just a couple of things on a list. We’re calling for the city to rethink and reimagine this corridor. And take us to a really future-looking place where it’s community-oriented, not car-oriented. Where the air we breathe is more important than getting from Point A to Point B. Though that’s important, too,” she added. “So we want to transform the BQE, and not repair it.”
Breedlove said CHA and the 11 other organizations have been working with the Comptroller’s Office, the architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s BQE panel and the city’s Department of Transportation. The mayor’s BQE panel is led by Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress.
The coalition includes neighborhood groups from Vinegar Hill through DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights (which is home to smaller community groups including 360 Furman) and the Boerum Hill Association. A representative of the Carroll Gardens Association, which will soon relaunch, said the organization will also sign on, bringing the coalition to 13 groups.
A unified vision
In a letter released before the meeting, CHA said the coalition’s goal is to create a “transformative, sustainable solution that will permanently change the relationship of the expressway to our adjacent neighborhoods. That solution must protect our neighborhoods and parks, emphasize our neighborhoods’ historic character, and enhance pedestrian connectivity and green space.”
The vision statement included a number of asks, including a “forward-looking design that incorporates future traffic requirements,” and a “holistic re-imagining” of Van Voorhees Playground, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the promenade and smaller parks. The group envisions “greater connectivity” between green spaces currently separated by highway infrastructure.
The coalition is against a “mere rebuilding of the current expressway,” and building a temporary bypass on the historic Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
The reconstruction of a 1.5-mile stretch of the BQE underpinning the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade has had local residents in an uproar since DOT said it favored a plan — dubbed the “Innovative Plan” — that would temporarily replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane bypass.
Endorsed by the mayor before the public comment period was complete, the DOT’s plan would have destroyed a protected view plane and polluted neighborhood air with toxic particulates for six to eight years, its critics say.
That controversial plan “seems to be off the table,” Breedlove said on Tuesday.
“We know how important it is to be unified in our approach, which is why we’re so excited to release the statement with 12 signatories and plan to add more in the coming months,” Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We believe this vision statement will guide the discussion about the BQE going forward — everyone who has signed on feels the status quo is not acceptable.”
She added, “This is our moment in time to do something forward looking, to reevaluate this 1940-50s prioritization of cars over people.”
Stringer: ‘We can do better’
Civic groups, design firms, officials and individuals developed their own BQE reconstruction proposals in response to the city’s original plan, including some that would transform the triple-cantilever highway into parkland. Comptroller Scott Stringer was one of those who developed his own plan.
Stringer told the CHA crowd on Tuesday that the BQE reconstruction could represent a “fundamentally changed way” of looking at land use in the city.
“It’s easy to say let’s spend $4 billion to replace it, no questions asked. Just like it was under Robert Moses,” Stringer said. “Now, community organizations are coming together to say ‘We can do better.’ We’re going to smash the car culture right here in Brooklyn.”
The city needs the state and the federal government to buy in, Stringer said. “The politics of getting it done requires a laser focus and adherence to the timeline.” Local officials recently met with DOT and the mayor’s panel “and made it very clear we want something real.”
Stringer said he would hold another public meeting in the near future just on the BQE.
Panel report could drop in December
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh said that the word from the city was that the BQE panel is now set to drop its report containing its recommendations in December.
“We’ve been told repeatedly it will be in the fall. Fall ends Dec. 21. We hope and expect that the panel comes out with something useful,” Kavanagh said.
The New York City Council has hired its own engineers to review the city’s plans for the BQE reconstruction as well. The council selected multinational engineering firm Arup to provide outside expertise.
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon reminded attendees that the BQE reconstruction problem has been kicked around by the state since 2007 — through “Spitzer, Pattern, Cuomo.”
“It’s a challenging engineering problem, probably the toughest engineering job in the country,” she said.
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