Brooklyn Boro

SHOCKER: Mayor’s private BQE meeting could divide Brooklyn politicians

City Hall seems to support 3-lane superhighway pushed by southern Brooklyn; electeds who lobbied for 2 lanes not invited

March 2, 2023 Mary Frost
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This story was updated with a comment from City Hall Friday morning.

Despite trumpeting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) in a way that would reduce pollution and restore equity across the borough, the Adams administration appears to be quietly pushing to rebuild the same six-lane superhighway that was built 70 years ago in communities along the Brooklyn waterfront.

To accomplish this, City Hall is pitting southern Brooklyn against northern Brooklyn.

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The administration has invited more than 70 southern Brooklyn elected officials and agency heads to a private 11 a.m. meeting on Friday at City Hall to line them up in opposition to limiting the highway to two traffic lanes in each direction. More than 20 district leaders (elected but unpaid leaders of the Brooklyn Democratic Party) were invited to the meeting — a move insiders say is highly unusual. 

The letter was sent out on Feb. 16 by Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi. Joshi said at a recent City Law breakfast that the city had heard from “electeds and people living north and south that want three lanes in each direction,” Kevin Dugan from Streetsblog reported.

The BQE. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

BQE Central is the first section of the interstate slated to be reconstructed due to its dilapidated condition. The city-operated stretch runs from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street near the Brooklyn Bridge, and includes the Triple Cantilever unpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. 

All of the elected officials representing this area, joined by officials representing sections of BQE North and BQE South, recently signed a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, urging him to limit the planned reconstruction of the BQE to a two-lane solution. 

“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 to Buttigieg.

The letter was signed by 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. 

None of the 17 signatories were invited to the City Hall meeting — and they are not happy.

“The Adams administration is hosting a blatantly political meeting at City Hall to foment opposition to a two-lane solution for the triple cantilever,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“They have made their resistance to two lanes clear in our meetings. Despite the strong consensus from community groups and the unanimous support of elected officials who represent the BQE from Sunset Park to Greenpoint, the Adams administration appears intent on undermining our climate goals, expanding highway infrastructure, and adding 6 million more vehicles to the BQE annually,” Restler said.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon told the Eagle that she found the City Hall meeting to be “offensive.”

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon on Thursday explained her stance to constituents upset about her supposed lack of “outrage” over the city’s plan to replace the beloved Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six-lane highway while the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is being rebuilt. Eagle photo by Todd Maisel
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. Eagle photo by Todd Maisel

“Not because I wasn’t invited, but because there is such a lack of trust between the community and DOT. To me, they’re buying into this strategy of North Brooklyn vs. South Brooklyn. It eats away at their recent effort to build trust when my community says, ‘Don’t trust DOT.’ I am hard-pressed to say they are working with us closely.”

“We should all care about each other’s climate,” Simon added. Pollution from the BQE is “causing harm to communities throughout Brooklyn, including southern Brooklyn. We’re in this together.”

UPDATE FROM CITY HALL: On Friday, a City Hall spokesperson told the Eagle, “The city holds regular briefings with elected officials and community members about a range of infrastructure projects, including the BQE. In addition to outreach, we are analyzing the traffic impacts of both two- and three-lane configurations for the BQE Central so that we can make decisions based on data that best benefit New Yorkers. We’re committed to prioritizing our bold climate goals and to building as narrow a roadway as possible, within federal safety guidelines.”

A personal letter from Frank Seddio

The Southern Brooklyn invitees also received in a separate email a personal letter from Frank Seddio, former chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party (sometimes referred to as “chairman emeritus”) and currently a Democratic district leader representing the 59th Assembly District.

“Although you do not represent this area directly, the reason for my contacting you is that there is a proposed plan being offered by our Northern Brooklyn colleagues to shrink the size of the BQE to a permanent two (2) lane roadway instead of the current three lanes which now exist,” his letter said.

Frank Seddio. Eagle file photo

Seddio told the Southern Brooklyn officials that a temporary lane reduction put in place by DOT to extend the life of the Triple Cantilevered structure has slowed down traffic on the BQE, putting an “enormous burden … on traffic attempting to travel to Northern Brooklyn and beyond and to the various Downtown bridges … Ask any of your constituents how they feel about being stuck in the area of this lane reduction which can sometimes be for more than half an hour.”

He added, “Don’t let our Northern colleagues be the only voice heard.”

DOT’s Bero says politics won’t influence DOT’s decision

DOT officials, including the agency’s Chief Strategy Officer Julie Bero, received invitations to Friday’s meeting at City Hall. 

Bero has told people and organizations attending planning meetings that NYC DOT has “heard the voices” of residents and officials on the need for two lanes, and is “working with our partners at the state and local level” to study the feasibility of that solution. 

NYC DOT “is committed to studying both two- and three-lane configurations,” she reiterated during the Feb. 28 workshop.

Bero told the Eagle after that workshop that politics would not influence DOT’s decision regarding the number of traffic lanes.

“We’re a data-driven agency and think about safety, so we will have to use those values to move forward. There’s always politics, but we have to move above it and do what’s right for the community,” she said.

At a presentation for members of the media on Feb. 28, Bero said that the current temporary lane reduction had slowed traffic from 30-50% in places. Bero cautioned, however, that the slowdown only occurred in some areas. “We need to see how it affects the entire corridor,” she told reporters.

The Adams administration is hosting “a blatantly political meeting at City Hall to foment opposition to a two-lane solution for the Triple Cantilever,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler told the Brooklyn Eagle. Restler is shown above at a BQE Central workshop held on Feb. 28. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Long-term transformative vision, or same supersized BQE?

Those pushing for a transformative BQE redesign say a smaller highway is needed to reconnect divided neighborhoods, restore equity in disadvantaged areas and reduce the high levels of toxins and pollution emitted by vehicles traveling along the highway. Air studies have shown that neighborhoods all along the BQE corridor suffer from high levels of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Numerous engineering and environmental studies — including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2020 BQE Expert Panel report, the 2020 Arup/NYC City Council report, and the Regional Plan Association’s 2019 Reimagining the BQE report recommend slimming the BQE from three travel lanes in each direction to two in each direction.

Rather than packing as many vehicles as possible onto a rebuilt highway, planners say that other steps must be taken to reduce the number of vehicles altogether. The roadway typically carries roughly 155,000 vehicles a day including about 25,000 trucks. 

All three of the BQE Central options that were modeled by NYC DOT on Feb. 28 were shown with two traffic lanes in each direction. DOT says the designs would still work with three travel lanes in each direction. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

These steps include the implementation of congestion pricing, rethinking freight delivery, providing better mass transit service to areas poorly served currently and other traffic management strategies.  

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

The city has accelerated the BQE Central planning process in order to apply for these federal infrastructure funds.

On Thursday, Simon tweeted, “This isn’t just about 2 lanes — It’s about reducing the traffic that deteriorates the cantilever; It’s about public health & safety; It’s about the climate crisis & environmental justice.” She added, “We Are All Connected.”


Our Readers Respond: BQE 6-Lane Proposal

Responses directly to our website:

  • No surprise. The tone deafness, echo chamber of the BH’s-oriented BQET groups has blinded them to the realities and opinions of other parts of Brooklyn. A quick read of the comments sections in local newspapers should have warned them that there is a very large part of the population, certainly most of the population is not in favor of a 4-lane BQE. They are fearful that it will cause more traffic to overflow into their communities — a point they are probably right about. Leadership has always been required — not reliance bumper sticker slogans. There is a very real possibility that what could have been a win-win is now going to be a $3-$5 Billion lose-lose as a 6-lane TCR will do not provide solution for anyone — expect to possibly prevent a truck from falling through a section. And, even that possibility will be increased due to the delays that the inevitable lawsuits will create.


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