Breakfast seminar boosting commerce highlights Adams’ infrastructure agenda

Sweeping initiatives in business, transportation presented by Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce

May 3, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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WILLIAMSBURG — Each year, billions of gallons of water pass through New York City’s taps and toilets. Twelve thousand tons — or the weight of nearly 150 Boeing 737 aircraft of trash and recycling – are cleared from the City’s streets. While rarely grabbing sexy headlines, the nuts and bolts of operating and improving the city are mind-boggling. And in the Adams Administration, spearheading these responsibilities often falls on the shoulder of Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi.

On Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Joshi joined Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President, Randy Peers, and nearly 100 movers and shakers of the Brooklyn business community at the Chamber’s Economic Development breakfast at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg.  In front of an eager and receptive crowd, Joshi set the stage for her remarks with an aspirational framing for her work, that while infrastructure is often overlooked, it is the “foundation for security for people to follow their dreams”. And from her purview at City Hall, she oversees agencies responsible for everything from school construction to filling potholes at such an immense scale, that a change in policy on NYC’s streets quite literally can change the world.

Joshi took on one the hardest topics in Brooklyn first, the City’s plans for the rehabilitation of what she described as “the highway of horror” and the “Big Ugly” — the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Particularly the Triple Cantilever section of the highway which runs underneath the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Already serving long past its intended useful life, the BQE Cantilever has been studied by City and State agencies for rehabilitation since 2006. It is the most monitored highway in the region according to Joshi, and the Adams Administration, noting the public’s lack of patience with the government in the wake of the Covid pandemic, plans to take action to address the longstanding highway issue.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Joshi was short on details, however, on how the planned BQE fix, could happen in a way that would not devastate Brooklyn Bridge Park. A hard-won public space victory that also required many decades of planning and construction, that has just barely settled into its spot as a crown jewel of Brooklyn parks, drawings users from all over the borough and the world. Nor did she acknowledge in significant detail the exploration of alternative solutions, from rerouting trucks off the BQE permanently. To another round of interim repairs, as suggested by the Deblasio Administration, that would shore up the Cantilever for a few more decades and punt on major rehabilitation decisions in anticipation of electric vehicle technology advancements that may make more ambitious fixes like burying the highway completely more feasible in the future. As noxious exhaust venting issues preclude such ambitious thinking today.

Joshi did share that three designs for the rehabilitation are now being considered an attempt to achieve a hybrid of hiding sections of the highway under more open space, and that the selected design would be entering into environmental review this Fall, with construction slated to begin in 2027. Acknowledging that substantial funding for the project would still need to be allocated by the federal government, she remained optimistic that now was the time to act given the rare, and highly functional, relationship between the Mayor of NYC, Eric Adams and the Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul.

Turning to a topic on the lips of a majority of New Yorkers today — homelessness. Joshi described the disorder and chaos that homeless encampments are causing across the City. While taking great pains to point out the inhumane conditions that are created when we tolerate “people using sidewalks as beds, with no bathrooms, or basic services to help address their needs”.  Drawing a stark point of comparison with the DeBlasio Administration who depended on 311 complaints to reactively deploy homeless services, Joshi highlighted how the Adams Administration is proactively using the NYPD to conduct a daily survey of problematic homeless locations in all five boroughs and then deploying resources on a “census-based approach” to reach those in need. She shared that to date nearly 1,000 homeless encampments have been cleared across Brooklyn.

In the vein of high priority quality of life issues, Joshi proclaimed that in the Adams Administration, “green spaces are just as important as concrete spaces,” which is why the Parks Department now reports to her in another departure from previous Administrations. And why the Mayor has emphasized a significant investment of time and resources in enhancing NYC’s public realm. Everything from expanding the Open Streets program in Brooklyn to include 16 new corridors, in addition to the 46 already in place, like Vanderbilt Avenue. To bring the number of public plazas in BK up to 30 in short order. To examine more closely the link between the City’s 400 miles of bike lanes, street furniture and restaurant sheds

According to Joshi, the City’s Open Restaurant program helped Brooklyn’s more than 3,000 restaurants stay open during Covid, and supported hundreds of thousands of jobs citywide. But many have fallen into disrepair, and 82 abandoned sheds have been cleared in Brooklyn alone. And while updated guidelines for the program are in final stages of review by the City Council, creating a more comprehensive approach to public realm improvements is a priority of Joshi and Mayor Adams. Which is why the appointment of Ya-Ting Liu as the City’s first Public Realm Czar, as a “central point person to oversee the City’s public spaces including parks, plazas and car-free streets” is so notable. As well as continued investments in new public realm projects like the simultaneous press conference taking place in East New York, where Mayor Adams and other City and State agency leaders were announcing nearly half a billion dollars in public realm and infrastructure investments in Broadway Junction.

Rounding out the morning’s presentation, Joshi updated the crowd on a slew of programs aimed alleviating the climate crisis. From hinting at potentially piloting a vague but intriguing “zero emissions zone” in Red Hook. To a low-cost, public financing model to help install new solar panels on more than 3,000 homes and buildings. To expanding a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the Borough, in the hopes of ensuring that every New Yorker is within 2.5 miles of a fast-charging stations in the near future.

Perhaps most ambitiously, Joshi zeroed in on the early stages of a long-term plan to vastly reduce the amount of freight trucking that enters NYC. Sharing that she is encouraging her agencies to conceive of a freight network that becomes more dependent on the waterborne movement of goods through enhanced and expanded commercial pier sites. An idea that has been discussed since the Bloomberg Administration’s Vision 2020 Plan.

Housing was conspicuously absent from Deputy Mayor Joshi’s comments. Perhaps because of the stunning setback of the State’s housing agenda by lawmakers in Albany over the last few weeks. Or simply the fact that the housing agencies do not report to Joshi. Though she did share that close to 16 million square feet of new space received building permits in Brooklyn over the last year.

At the conclusion of Joshi’s remarks, Councilmember Farah Louis rose to voice her support for the myriad of ambitions and accomplishments of the Adams Administration that Joshi shared, and encouraged her to continue to do visionary work in Brooklyn. Joshi shared earlier in the morning, that while she hails from Philadelphia, she really thinks, “Brooklyn is the Best”.

(From left to right) Gregory Anderson of Bridge Street Development Corporation, Council Member Lincoln Restler, Ana Oliveira and Randy Peers of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
(From left to Right) Orlando Marquez, Barbara Hildebrant, Nicole Chen, Fabio Barbieri and Jordan Mann of Chase Bank.
Ana Oliveira Talks with John Abi-Habib of MSI.
Ana Oliveira, Council Member Farah Louis and Paola Peña Ahues of The Consultate of El Salvador.
Antonius Agelink of Newton Brown Urban Design talks with others.
Breakfast is served.
City Council Member Lincoln Restler with Randy Peers of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
Daniel Murphy of The Alliance for Coney Island asks a question.
Deputy Mayor of Operations Meera Joshi and Randy Peers of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce take questions.
Dina Rabiner of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Jilian Gerstan of the Brooklyn Arts Councill.
Evie Pope and Michael Woloz of CMW Strategies.
George Arzt of George Arzt Communications and Robert Francis Goldrich of CMW Strategies.
Hank Gutman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (left) Rick Russo of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (middle) Kenneth Fisher of Cozen O Conner (right).
John Agostinelli and other audience members listen.
Juan Perez of Highbrid Media asks a question.
Kendall Christiansen of Gaia Strategies asks a question.
Kenneth Marable of Prudential (left) with Jonathan Marable of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (right).
Kenneth Marable of Prudential asks a question.
Nancy Webster of Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and Shari Hyman of Turner Construction Company.
Nicole Abe Titus of the Julia Seabrook Gallery and Kenneth Mbonu of the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction BID.
Paola Peña Ahues of the Consulate General of El Salvador.
Randy Peers of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Hank Gutman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Randy Peers of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce speaks.
Ryan Russo of Together Projects and Hank Gutman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Ryan Russo of Together Projects with Fifi Bell Owner of the Crabby Shack.
Shari Hyman of the Turner Construction Company and Hank Gutman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Sheila Ho of Boston Consulting Group.
Susan Teichman of RE.Flex Solutions asks a question.
Tim Cecere of St. Francis College (center).

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