Brooklyn Heights

16 organizations reject city’s plans for BQE

Some worry that NYC is working towards a foregone conclusion

August 17, 2023 Mary Frost
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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — On Thursday, 16 community and citywide organizations serving residents across sections of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway corridor released a letter to city and state officials forcefully rejecting the city’s proposed plans for rebuilding the BQE.

In their polite but scathing letter addressed to Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, Deputy Mayor Joshi and NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Rodriguez, the organizations, ranging from the Brooklyn Heights Association to El Puente and Transportation Alternatives, criticized the city’s approach to one of its most massive transportation projects in years.

The letter restates the objections community members have been expressing at meetings and workshops since the process began: That the city’s plan doesn’t address the BQE as a whole; that it will perpetuate or even exacerbate the pollution and safety issues caused by the current highway; it will needlessly tear down and then reconstruct cherished sections of the “BQE Central” neighborhoods to accommodate even larger trucks; and it doesn’t consider long-term climate issues, among other problems.

Models at three BQE design options displayed by NYCDOT at a BQE workshop. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

The organizations say they keep seeing the same general designs presented by the city at its dozens of workshops and community meetings, regardless of the input of numerous stakeholders, and worry that the city is working towards a foregone conclusion.

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This feeling has only intensified since some stakeholders were informed that the city is going ahead with its application for federal infrastructure funds on Monday, despite the incomplete status of the design.

“Having now seen the full range of DOT’s proposals for the ‘BQE Central’ section, as well as the proposed street-level improvements on the ‘BQE North & South’ sections of the corridor, we want to state unequivocally that the concepts, designs, and indeed the overall car and truck-centric approach to this work do not meet the expectations or needs of the impacted communities nor the warming planet,” the letter reads. 

BQE Open Letter

The letter says that the city’s plans perpetuate — or even exacerbate — the same unsafe and polluting problems caused by the existing highway, and don’t address the needs of neighborhoods along the North and South sections of the BQE.

The coalition presents four recommendations. These include going back to a more deliberative timeline developed by an expert panel convened under the previous administration (informally referred to as the “20-year plan”). The organizations are also pushing for a holistic, corridor-wide transformation; the immediate implementation of traffic demand management strategies; and the acquisition of available federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act for improvements in public transit.

Daniela Castillo, Program Director for El Puente’s Green Light District program, said the organization is calling for a more holistic, comprehensive BQE plan. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

El Puente: We Need A Comprehensive Plan

The BQE’s disastrous effects on Southside Williamsburg’s noise and air, and its disconnection of the neighborhood, has been the “focus of a long, protracted struggle, continued through youth and community organizing and air monitoring efforts,” Daniela Castillo, Program Director for El Puente’s Green Light District program, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“We are calling for the process to be more focused on a comprehensive plan so as not to make the same mistakes with the BQE that were made in the past,” Castillo said. “Seeing as the harm caused by Robert Moses has been invoked throughout this process, we want to be sure that billions of dollars don’t go towards reinforcing the existing infrastructure, and instead on the potential to move away from a dependency on it and move towards our state’s climate goals. We have been calling for a more holistic, comprehensive plan that centers on environmental justice and is led by impacted communities along and across the corridor, rather than a piecemeal, segmented approach.

At a BQE Community Visioning Council meeting held Thursday, stakeholders expressed an “overwhelming amount of feedback and concern,” she said. “Folks fear an expansion of the infrastructure, rather than a truly visionary approach away from it with this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity, as referenced throughout the process.”

More than a dozen organizations serving residents across sections of the BQE corridor released a letter to city and state officials on Thursday forcefully rejecting the city’s proposed plans for rebuilding the BQE. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Columbia Heights, Harry Chapin Playground, Squibb Park, Promenade In Crosshairs For Destruction

The city’s BQE project would rebuild what it dubs “BQE Central,” the crumbling, city-owned stretch from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, which includes the Triple Cantilever underpinning the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

“Rather than take the opportunity to rethink mobility to meet our health, climate, and economic development goals, the proposed ‘BQE Central’ highway rebuild will cost billions to merely recreate the highly problematic infrastructure of the past—while taking large parts of Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Promenade out of commission for years,” the Brooklyn Heights Association said in an email to members on Thursday.

In order to ease the movement of large trucks on the BQE, the city plans the “needless destruction and reconstruction of the Columbia Heights Bridge, Harry Chapin Playground and parts of Squibb Park,” BHA added.

In a statement on Thursday, DOT spokesperson Vincent Barone told the Eagle, “We will not wait decades and needlessly spend hundreds of millions of additional taxpayer dollars keeping this outdated structure as it is today. The Adams administration is seizing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to access the federal funding necessary to reimagine and rebuild a safe, resilient BQE Central with expanded green space and better neighborhood connections for pedestrians and cyclists while advancing a corridor-wide vision to address historic inequities along the highway.”

Groups signing the letter say the city’s plan will perpetuate or even exacerbate the pollution and safety issues caused by the current highway. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

The project has been fast-tracked by the Adams administration, which rejected the 20-year timeline, which would have carried out necessary repairs while a more visionary solution was developed.

Adams said the accelerated schedule would allow the city to take better advantage of the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill.

DOT has denied that their plan would impinge on Brooklyn Bridge Park. But a June 5 letter to Deputy Mayor Joshi, signed by all ten of the appointed members of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Board (not the Conservancy, which handles programming, but the Board of the government agency that is responsible for building, maintaining, managing and operating the Park), contradicts that DOT assertion.

Speaking of the destruction of parts of historic Brooklyn Heights, DOT has never denied that their plans for Columbia Heights would involve destroying and later rebuilding Harry Chapin Park and access to the Squibb Park Bridge.

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