Brooklyn officials urge Sec. Buttigieg to narrow BQE to 4 lanes

February 16, 2023 Mary Frost
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Would line up with Biden’s ‘climate­ friendly’ infrastructure bill

More than a dozen Brooklyn officials representing neighborhoods along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway sent a letter on Tuesday to U.S. Department of Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg, urging him to limit the planned reconstruction of the BQE to four traffic lanes (two in each direction).

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New York City DOT, which has responsibility for the crumbling 1.5-mile-long BQE Central portion (which includes the Triple Cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade), has not been clear about whether it plans to replace this portion of the highway with four traffic lanes or the original six constructed by Robert Moses in 1954.

“We are writing to urge the USDOT to support maintaining the highway at two lanes of car and truck vehicular traffic in each direction. Widening highways in public transit rich-New York City is in direct conflict with our shared public health, safety, and climate goals,” the officials wrote.

In 2021, DOT reduced the number of traffic lanes on the Triple Cantilever from three to two in each direction to extend the lifespan of the deteriorating highway. This “generated immediate and significant safety improvements,” the officials noted.

Limiting the number of lanes would line up with the goals of President Joe Biden’s groundbreaking Bipartisan Infrastructure bill, a long-term investment in infrastructure which aims to make the U.S. economy more “sustainable, resilient and just.”

The BQE’s viaducts and trenches cut through a number low-income and working-class neighborhoods where the majority of residents have historically been people of color. These residents have suffered from high rates of asthma and pulmonary-related disorders from “significant vehicular pollution emanating only feet away from their homes, schools, and places of work,” the officials said in the letter.

The BQE’s viaducts and trenches cut through a number low­income and working­class neighborhoods where the majority of residents have historically been people of color. These residents have suffered from high rates of asthma and other ailments. Map courtesy of NYC DOT

Rebuilding the highway with three traffic lanes in each direction would “likely represent at least six million more vehicles per year in our communities,” they estimated.

The officials also said that a six-lane highway would attract even more traffic, based on the phenomenon of “induced demand.”

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.

“Studies have consistently shown that increasing roadway capacity does not reduce congestion, but rather incentivizes roadway use and produces higher traffic volumes,” officials wrote in their letter.

Mayor Eric Adams and his DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez are currently carrying out an expedited design process to replace BQE Central, the section most in need of immediate reconstruction, and will be seeking federal infrastructure funds for the multi-billion dollar job.

Four lanes possible if other measures are taken

A BQE Expert Panel established by former Mayor Bill de Blasio published a report in January of 2020 which maintained that a four-lane configuration would be possible as a result of traffic changes resulting from the state’s congestion pricing program, the return to split-toll collection on the Verrazano Bridge, and other traffic management strategies, officials said.

“The return to split-tolling has since gone into effect, and New York is making strides toward realizing its congestion pricing program, which the BQE panel expected to end bridge shopping by equalizing costs at all Manhattan crossings, meaning fewer vehicles using the three Brooklyn to Manhattan bridges,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by 17 officials: Representatives Dan Goldman and Nydia Velazquez; state Senators Andrew Gounardes, Kristen Gonzalez and Julia Salazar; Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon, Robert Carroll, Maritza Davila, Emily Gallagher, Marcela Mitaynes and Phara Souffrant Forrest; Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso; and Councilmembers Lincoln Restler, Alexa Aviles, Jennifer Gutiérrez, Shahana Hanif and Crystal Hudson.

BQET coalition: Six lanes are too many

The officials echoed the thinking of a coalition of Brooklyn organizations that have been working on the BQE issue for years. On Feb. 6, the Coalition for the BQE Transformation (BQET) sent a letter to Julie Bero, chief strategy officer for NYC DOT, advocating for just four lanes, along with other suggestions.

“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,” the coalition wrote.

State stuns Brooklyn officials, ignores its own Climate Act

Adams, like Mayor Bill de Blasio before him, has committed to a reimagining of the entire BQE corridor, including the ten miles of BQE North and BQE South, which are under the purview of the state.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a BQE for the 21st century and transform an environmental and aesthetic nightmare into a dream come true for our city,” Adams said in December.

To that end, the city has been holding community workshops for input into a redesigned BQE North and BQE South — a project that would match up with the goals of the New York State Climate Act. Passed in 2019, the act requires New York to direct at least 35% of its clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities with heavy environmental burdens. Brooklyn was chosen as one of ten disadvantaged communities in the state by the NYS Climate Justice Working Group.

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

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