A Closer Look at Vinegar Hill’s Historic Cobblestones

Over the weekend, The New York Times delved more deeply into the controversy over replacing the historic Belgian blocks in Vinegar Hill. The Department of Transportation wants to dig up and replace the old stones with new ones and reorient them to comply with the American With Disabilities Act and put a bike lane through the neighborhood connecting all of Brooklyn and Queens. To appease critics, the DOT has proposed artificially pre-weathering the stones to look old, “like a pair of stonewashed jeans,” as the story put it. Neighborhood residents and historic preservations are appalled. Do you think the DOT should proceed with its plan or should an exception be made for Vinegar Hill, arguably a unique, not to mention tiny, enclave?
To Replace Old Cobblestones, Old-Looking Cobblestones [NY Times]
Photo by the known universe

30 Comment

  • I’m all for accommodating everyone but this is asinine:

    But many of the stones must be replaced, the Transportation Department said, in part because, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, stones on a crosswalk or sidewalk must vary in height by no more than a quarter of an inch — far less a discrepancy than is found along the typical stretch of Belgian block.

  • Government regulations at their finest!!!!!

  • It’s asinine until you’re the one in the wheelchair or with a walker trying to cross the street or get out of your car.

    Sometimes fixing a street to make it better for cyclists also makes it better for everyone else. Why does the street only have to be “charming” and accessible for drivers?

  • I’m all for keeping historic-looking streets. But it’s ridiculous to make an argument against making the streets more accessible for the disabled because you think the old stones look charming.

  • These people complaining about the upgrade are spoiled elitist brats!

    These roads are public rights-of-way. the DOT does not even have to ask their opinion, and they are going out of their way to be accommodating, and yet they still complain.

    The old cobble stones are a dangerous condition for the public; cars, pedestrians, and cyclists alike, and they are long overdue for an upgrade.

    We live in a modern, teeming city and these long forgotten streets are seeing a lot more traffic now, and will only see more in the future. They are not Vinegar Hill’s private street museum. Get over it!

  • The Belgian block streets are great at traffic-calming. You can’t drive very fast over them either on 4 wheels or 2. I think that is why the residents in places like Tribeca and SoHo have worked so hard to save them and to replace them in kind. It also adds to the distinctiveness of an area. I have not seen the new smoother blocks. Maybe they are OK, definitely better than plain blacktop.
    Of course maintenance is also an issue. The blocks need to be attended to especially if damaged by plows or by utility companies. It is not pavement from Mars. Lots of cities have granite block pavers and as I mentioned defore, several very upscale nabes in Manhattan seem to do OK with them.

  • Do these sorts of discussions take place in European cities?

  • Philadelphia is resetting the cobblestones in a lot of the small “ways” and “alleys”

    My government regulation comment was just chumming looking for the types that get all bent out of shape by it!!!!

  • I’m all for preserving neglect & decay for the aesthetics, but these are public rights of way. Europeans dont have these discussions probably because europe doesnt have lawyers like we do — i wonder if the locals objecting to this would be happy to assume full liability for the slip & fall damages that the city would have to underwrite if they left it like this? somehow i think the cobble-preservationists prefer that the rest of us keep paying on their behalf…

    • Europeans also don’t have these discussions because they remember a time when their cities weren’t overrun with cars and they tend to have to pay for on-street parking. We here in NYC believe car parking is a god-given right and that our streets were preserved in amber sometime in the 1950s. I guarantee you that this is less about preserving cobblestones and more about preserving parking.

  • let’s preserve a time when society referred to people with disabilities as lame. yes. i like the look of these streets too but so what. by not making these public, man made streets accessible to everyone is discrimination.

  • Why not install travelators. One could concrete over the East River also, to make things easier. Better still demolish the whole messy neighborhood and replace it with hi-density passive housing on a gemoteric plan and populate with cloned people.

  • Not surprised to see the car haters here. Good morning, Ditmas.

  • Although I don’t live on this street, I oppose the use of modern machine built blocks. I visit the area to photograph and to experience an historic piece of old Brooklyn 19th-century look and charm. After all necessary repairs work has been done, replace the Belgian blocks to their original 19th century look. It is my opinion that this is a waste of valuable city tax dollars and the money being spent to do this work could, would, and should be better spent elsewhere.

  • This boils down to a bicycle issue. People with disablities use the sidewalk. Crosswalks can be paved in smoother pavers like ones in SoHo.
    However Belgian block streets are bumpy when on a bicycle. No question. How to balance the desire of the bike riders who want smooth paving with that of the local property owners and the landmarks commission who want to keep the distinctive Belgian blocks? That is the challenge the DOT faces.

    • It’s more than just a bicycle issue, but bikes have precipitated the change. The old dilapidated cobbled streets are a nuisance to all; cars, pedestrians and bikes. it is just as bone jarring to drive on these streets as biking, and you could twist an ankle just walking on them.

      • With all due respect, I really think that it is mostly an issue for the bikers. Have you driven on the FDR lately? It is much worse than any Belgian block street. Drivers are used to horrible NYC roads. Pedestrians usually use the sidewalks.
        Bikers want to peddle on smooth macadam. That’s basically the issue here. No judgments, just observation.

    • How do people with disabilities use the sidewalk when they need to cross the street or get out of a car onto the roadbed?

  • how about cycling on the “bike lane” on adams street? the bike lane on adams street between tillary and sands parallel to concord vil. is ridiculous. it’s impossible to ride you find yourself going into the street and then cars drive by. it’s incredibly easy to fall into a hole they need to worry about that street first considering its a major thoroughfare to get to the manhattan bridge and sands street/flushing ave bike paths.

  • The 1/4 inch discrepancy is a little foolish. A dog paw print in unset cement is 1/4 inch – a neighbor of mine had to have her pavement done twice because a dog walked through the first one. Meanwhile, if a sidewalk has heaved because of a tree, nothing can be done about it. There should be some consistency & rational thinking about how smooth any surface has to be. And I agree w/ Minard, even out the crosswalks but leave the road surface.

  • The key phrase is “comply with the American With Disabilities Act.”

    It’s primarily about DISABLED people. People in walkers and wheelchairs, as Ditmas mentioned.

    The disabled are most impacted by cobblestone streets in comparison with bikers, walkers and drivers.

  • “People with disablities use the sidewalk.”

    Just how do they get from one sidewalk to another?

  • “replacing the historic Belgian blocks”

    No one seems to realize that these age-worn cobblestones are valuable. Who will get them when the city pulls them up? Too often they disappear into the car trunks and pickup trucks of the workers.

    These cobblestones are valuable to architects and landscape contractors for driveways and walkways. Do not let them get away for nothing. They should be sold to defray the costs of their replacement.