Howe’s Brooklyn: Laurels & Darts, 03.03

March 3, 2023 Sam Howe
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LAURELS, To The Dedicated and Highly Intelligent Leadership Working to Solve Our BQE Problem

So many great people have labored literally for years to examine solutions, both in design and environmental concerns, for the troublesome strip of highway that runs under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Sad to report, their job has become intolerably complex. Hoping to bring together the many critical entities involved, some unrevealed as yet, they may not yet have the whole picture. As we all see happening in Washington every day, it is a fearful mixed bag of money, motives and modus operandi.

But nevertheless they toil, and we owe them our thanks for being patient with the powers that be.

✰✰✰

DARTS, To The Loathsome, Undeniable Facts That Threaten To Destroy New York’s First Landmark Neighborhood

Three elements have conspired to destroy ‘BQE Central,’ the section that includes the cantilever structure erected by Master Builder Robert Moses more than 70 years ago: Time, unanticipated overweight trucks, and salt. Yes, salt. According to engineering sources, more than half a century of dumping salt on the elevated roadway has taken its toll. And every time it rains, literally, EVERY time, the corrosive action of old salt continues to eat away at the structure. Waterproofing the structure could have bought some years of time for a new plan, but that approach was rejected and it might soon be too late. Why not take available steps to protect the existing roadway? Who is pushing for more drastic remedies — the construction lobby or perhaps the truckers’ lobby? 

One more word on salt: the city does have access to a non-corrosive salt substitute, but it is expensive. They have chosen, it seems, for years and with some callousness, to use corrosive salt on the cantilevers. We guess they assume those cantilevers are going to be torn down at some point in the future anyway. After all, the masterpiece Brooklyn Bridge has already been built. DOT engineers, knowing they can’t possibly compete, just build things with planned obsolescence to keep alive their relationship with big construction. We know that can’t really be true, but if it’s even partially true, it’s worth yet another dart.

Consider this: would we allow trucks on the landmarked Brooklyn Bridge? No, we consider it precious. The landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade is also precious to a broad constituency that uses it every day.

Also notably troubling is the apparent impact of the trucking lobby on DOT engineers.  Apparently the driving force behind the plan to tear down a portion of Columbia Heights and the Harry Chapin Park, as well as Squibb Park itself, is motivated by the need to accommodate bigger trucks on the highway below. The repercussions of removing that portion of the cantilever give a grim preview of what removing the Promenade would encompass: the DOT wants to destroy a beloved park, and even the Promenade, because it thinks it can eventually build one that is bigger and better. No one doubts “bigger,” no one believes “better.”

In a larger sense, the removal of the Promenade paints an unthinkable and more grim image of the destruction of western Brooklyn Heights.

Most of the buildings that back onto the Promenade have foundations that abut the cantilever. Some even incorporate it into their sub-basements.

Old trees and the famous Brooklyn Promenade gardens, fostered for generations, would be destroyed. Loss of the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Promenade, as well as damage to many of the signature 19th century homes abutting it, would be a crushing blow to New York City’s first landmark district.

DOT engineers and the city officials who support them seem oblivious to the political blowback that will occur if such an unthinkable idea is considered seriously. Better they should figure out, with their engineering education, a way to shore up the Promenade portion of the cantilever, separate the roadways below if necessary, and then proceed with their best plan.

Job one: save the Promenade, or quite simply, face hell.

But it remains possible to have sympathy for the DOT, as it is actually caught between a rock and a hard place. They cannot intrude on the billion-dollar investment called Brooklyn Bridge Park for roadway relief… Nor should they destroy the multi-billion dollar real estate portfolio called Brooklyn Heights Landmark District.”

Maybe it’s time for some steel pillars to shore up the existing roadway, save the Promenade, and then proceed, yes, to BUILD A TUNNEL!

Sam Howe, who describes himself as “long-retired, but far from tired,” is a former sales rep, stand-up comedian, freelancer and blogger who splits his time between Clearwater, Florida and his beloved Brooklyn. He is reachable at [email protected].


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