BQET Coalition says city’s BQE plan misses the mark

February 14, 2023 Mary Frost
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Mayor Eric Adams says this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a grand re-imagining of the dilapidated Brooklyn-Queens Express- way — but it appears the city and state lack imagination.

It became apparent by Monday that the New York City and New York State are not working together on a “corridor-wide vision for the long-term future” of the BQE, as promised by Mayor Bill de Blasio and recommitted to by Adams. The corridor includes BQE Central, which is the section most in need of immediate reconstruction, and also BQE North and BQE South.

City’s BQE Central plan ‘flawed’

A coalition of a dozen Brooklyn organizations which has been working for years to transform the Central section of the BQE says that the city’s redesign plan is flawed and is based on yesterday’s traffic planning. The city unveiled several potential design variations in workshops this past December.

The Coalition for the BQE Transformation (BQET) sent a letter to the NYC Department of Transportation last week providing feedback on the city’s preliminary designs for the 1.5-mile section of the highway which stretches from Atlantic Ave to Sands Street, and includes the crumbling Triple Cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

In the Feb. 6 letter to Julie Bero, chief strategy officer for NYC DOT, the coalition wrote that while they appreciated the agency’s efforts, the ideas that DOT has shown the community so far “are built on the flawed premise of rebuilding a roadway that represents the transportation planning of the past.”

Six lanes is too many, and greenery doesn’t make it green

“DOT’s designs for a rebuilt six-lane highway, albeit with a few (potentially) capped areas and some added greenery, do not sufficiently address concerns about public health and the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the six-lane designs contradict decades of evidence about induced demand,” the coalition wrote.

Induced demand is the idea that more roads attract more drivers. While counter-intuitive, studies have shown that the more lanes are constructed, the more vehicle miles are driven.

The letter also pointed out that the city’s plans disregard numerous expert recommendations made over the past few years, including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2020 BQE Expert Panel report, the 2020 Arup/NYC City Council report, and the Regional Planning Association’s 2019 Reimagining the BQE report.

The coalition is advocating for a smaller, four-lane highway, instead of the six lanes the city says is likely. It is also pushing for city and state investment in transit, tolling of roads and bridges and other incentives to get people out of their cars, and more sustainable freight transportation.

The city-owned cantilever has rapidly deteriorated, weakened by road salt, moisture, and over- weight trucks. To prolong BQE Central’s lifespan, NYC DOT has limited traffic on the cantilever, cutting back from six lanes to four.

Members of BQET include A Better Way, 360 Furman Street, Boerum Hill Association, Brook- lyn Heights Association, Cadman Towers, Cobble Hill Association, DUMBO Action Committee, DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, Fulton Ferry Landing Association, North Heights Neigbors, Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association and the Willowtown Association.

State refuses to get involved

The city and state must work together on any BQE redesign because, while the city is responsible for BQE Central, the state is in charge of BQE North and BQE South, which run through primarily low-income Black and Brown communities north and south of the Triple Cantilever.

But the state stunned city officials when a representative told Streetblog on Feb. 9 that it has “no plans” to re-design the state-owned portion of the BQE.

Borough President Antonio Reynoso and 17 other elected officials issued a joint statement on Monday calling the state’s refusal to participate in the process “completely unacceptable and irresponsible.”

Reynoso joined Council- members Jennifer Gutiérrez and Lincoln Restler; representatives from the offices of Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Assemblymembers Emily Gallagher and Mar- itza Davila; state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez and community advocates from St. Nicks Alliance and the United Jewish of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn at a rally Monday afternoon to condemn the state for refusing to partner with NYC DOT on the project.

“If we miss this opportunity to address the harms of the past, make no mistake: New York State is to blame,” Reynoso said. “This is about environmental justice, this is about public health, and this is about equity for Black and Brown, Latino, and AAPI New Yorkers who have carried the burden of the BQE for generations.”

He added, “We won’t be collateral damage any longer. From Greenpoint to Brooklyn Heights to Bay Ridge, we are unified. This is our chance to deliver justice.”

Communities along BQE North and South have long suffered from poor air quality, high rates of asthma, and neighbor- hoods divided in two by the highway — exactly the types of issues targeted by President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.

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