Brooklyn without the BQE? Exhibit explores options

February 10, 2022 Editorial Staff
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An exhibit by the Institute for Public Architecture on alternatives to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway — which suggests doing away with the BQE altogether — is generating quite a bit of discussion in the Brooklyn and Queens communities.

Portions of the BQE have been under criticism in Brooklyn for many years. The elevated portion of the highway in Sunset Park has long been thought of as an impediment to the area’s renaissance.

During the 1990s, politicians and planners talked about the “tunnel option,” which would put that part of the roadway underground, but nothing was done. More recently, at a breakfast sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Carlo Scissura, head of the New York Building Congress, called the structure “a ridiculous, disgusting eyesore” and said the city and state should use money from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill to tear it down.

Somewhat further to the north, in Cobble Hill, the Cobble Hill Association and others have long advocated “Fixing the Ditch,” or putting a deck of the BQE’s below-ground trench in that area, cutting down on the effects of noise and emissions.

Yet further north, in Brooklyn Heights, the triple-cantilevered section below the Heights Promenade has deteriorated over the years and needs to be rebuilt. Many plans have been proposed, but few have advocated abolishing the BQE entirely, which is considered fairly radical.

The IPA’s exhibit, which is being shown at the organization’s headquarters on Governors Island, advocates just that, and was recently described in the Architectural Record.

The group’s proposals were made by a team of architects, engineers, filmmakers, designers, urban planners and community activists. They looked at examples of highway demolition and redesign in other cities across the U.S.

The first proposal, according to Architectural Record, is called “BQE: Freight, Mobility, Community” and focuses on reducing freight movement (meaning trucking). This would involve replacing large gas-powered trucks with vehicles carrying smaller loads, whether they be electric, low-emission gas, or bicycle.

The second, the publication reports, is called “From Hacking to Housing,” suggests rebuilding railroads and waterways in the area, with an emphasis on solar power.

The third, “Building Queens’ Economy! Bring Queens Employment! Bring Queens Enjoyment,” focuses on Newtown Creek, which divides northwest Brooklyn from Long Island City, Queens. 

This proposal involves a new industrial park along the creek, with job opportunities, resources and services for neighborhood residents.

The fourth, “NYC Loop,” would reconstruct part of the BQE as a transit line from Jackson Heights to Downtown Brooklyn with a focus on connecting neighborhoods that were initially divided by the expressway, according to Architectural Record.

The fifth proposal, “Pre/Post BQE,” introduces the concept of reforestation in the area, creating a natural urban environment.

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