At a project update meeting last night for the rehabilitation of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Peter Bray, the president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, kicked off the public comments by comparing the situation to Dante’s “Inferno.”
“It’s not the circles of purgatory,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in response. “It’s the circles of hell.”
This was the general tenor of the night, which stretched to three hours with over 40 speakers. The room was packed with around 300 people, many of whom had to stand in the back because all the seats were full.
The DOT — represented by Trottenberg, Deputy Commissioner Robert Collyer and Senior Program Manager Tanvi Pandya — opened the meeting with their presentation of two rehabilitation methods, which they call the traditional approach and the innovative approach.
With the traditional approach, a new expressway will be built lane by lane. This is a slower process, the DOT said, with far less certainty that it will be completed on time and at cost. This approach will also require more full weekend closures, overnight lane closures and a greater amount of nighttime work.
Part of the innovative approach, and the most controversial point of the evening, was the temporary elevated roadway that would replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This approach, the DOT said, would shorten the time of the project, could result in a bigger rebuilt promenade, eliminate vibrations and minimize noise. They would have to work less at night, they said, and result in fewer weekend closures.
The audience was unanimous in their rejection of this approach and the closure of the promenade.
These were only two possible solutions, the DOT was quick to point out. They were open to other options, which they said they would explore.
And people were eager to share their ideas. But first, they wanted to know if they could trust the DOT. “This community has gone through a decades-long planning for the Brooklyn Bridge Park, and we have seen that the local government did not live up to promises they made to us about development,” said Susan Rifkin, a Brooklyn Heights resident. “What guarantees are you going to give us that will stand up in 10 years that we will get the [new] promenade, and that the scenic view will not be affected in the way it was by Pierhouse?”
Brooklyn Bridge Park, in fact, became a focus of the meeting. When Eric Landau, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park, attempted to defend the park he was met with loud jeers from the audience. “Look at all the harm you’ve done to Brooklyn Heights!” one man shouted at him.
Others suggested that the temporary elevated highway actually could be built above Brooklyn Bridge Park, which would not require the loss of the promenade. “Nobody lives in Brooklyn Bridge Park!” another man shouted, perhaps implying its luxury apartments are unoccupied investments.
The audience presented other solutions. Some advocated for help from the state through congestion pricing. “We need the state’s help,” said Councilman Stephen Levin. “The city should not be doing this all by itself.”
He offered another solution, one that was echoed a few other times throughout the night: building the elevated roadway above Furman Street. The innovative approach, with the temporary removal of the promenade, is “unfathomable for many of us,” he said.
Others argued for simply tearing down the BQE altogether. “It’s an ugly thing,” a local resident named Barbara said. “Why replace an ugly thing with another ugly thing?”
The DOT did not have many answers. But they promised to look at different solutions and admitted that no option was going to please everybody. “This is the most challenging project not just in New York City, but in the United States right now,” Trottenberg said.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
- New Plan: Brooklyn Heights Promenade Will Become Highway for Three Years
- Hated, Beloved and Highly Used: The Past, Present and Future of the Brooklyn-Transforming BQE
- Closing Bell: Overnight Lane Closures on the BQE Begin Tonight