Transit Blog: NYSDOT Shot Self in Foot with BQE Planning Proposal


Transit blog Mobilizing the Region adds a dose of reality to the controversy over the  “Standard Alternative” plan presented by the New York State Department of Transportation at its May 26 BQE EIS stakeholders meeting.   That plan calls for the demolition of many homes and land in Willowtown and North Heights area in Brooklyn Heights to bring the road up to federal guidelines.

MtR puts things in perspective:

Mobilizing the Region: In presenting three very preliminary alternatives for the project, the State DOT presented the “Standard” alternative, a concept design that shows the highway alignment if all of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ safety and operational standards (for curve radius, lane width, etc.) were applied.  Because these standards are largely one-size-fits-all, many are simply inapplicable to an area as built-out as NYC.  That said, the Standard alternative provides a useful model by which to measure other (more realistic) alternatives.

Unfortunately, the name “Standard” came off to many members of the public as an adjective, as in “this is the standard way we do things.”  Did we mention that the alternative blasts through five blocks of the Brooklyn Heights historic district?

To be clear, the State DOT doesn’t plan to make half the neighborhood homeless, and its efforts to include all relevant stakeholders in the design and review process ought to be commended.  But the agency isn’t helping its cause by scaring the living daylights out of everyone in the room.

In response to a TSTC letter gently critiquing their presentation, the project manager admitted, “We discussed various ways to present this information to the [stakeholders committee] and in retrospect probably could  have been clearer in what we were trying to convey.” He went on to explain that they chose to err on the side of more disclosure rather than risk appearing to do the planning “behind closed doors.”

The BHA has conveyed the attitude that the NYSDOT is simply doing its due diligence here adding that if a Moses like battle were to come of this they’d “know what to do”.  Do you think sitting back like this during the early planning stages is the right strategy?  What do you think should be done now that’s not being done?  Comment below.

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  • Free & Safe

    We certainly need new infrastructure & we needed it done yesterday! Also, our economy is in dire straights, & this beneficial project will improve transit & provide thousands of good jobs! It’s called progress.

    In light of the above , I hope those Heights know-it-alls won’t tie this project up & delay it for years & years because some old houses may be affected. We voted for leaders to make decisions like these, remember?

  • my2cents

    The DOT can’t seem to win. Either they share their “brainstorming” phase with the public in the name of transparency and people get mad, or they keep it secret and then get killed later when this plan is exposed. I commend the BHA for recognizing that the controversial design is just one of many hypothetical concepts, and for not having a knee-jerk confrontation with the DOT over what amounts to initial sketches. I think that sensible people will prevail in the decision making ultimately. Even if they used eminent domain to take the property, they’d still have to pay people for the property they take, and also fight legal battles, which could in the end be just as expensive as and even more time consuming than digging a tunnel.

  • EHinBH

    I dont see how this could ever be done — to this extent — in the North Heights. With 2 bedroom/2 bath apartments reaching a million dollars, how could the State/City ever afford to buy all those people out?

  • John Wentling

    “Free and Safe” – you’re a very scary individual.

  • William Spier

    I am not sure if any commenter But 2cents and EH above have, so far, any idea how much destruction this proposal entails. If you look closely at the diagram, the road pushes up against 55 Poplar Street and will render the place unlivable. Add to it the loss of the most diverse garden in the borough, maybe the City. There are trees there that would cost tens of thousands to replace. 55 Poplar has to be worth $40 million on the market–at least. When DOT looks at the real cost of eminent domain, they might think twice. You don’t jam a highway up against landmarked million dollar plus condominiums.

    Add to this lawsuits from adjacent 75 Poplar Street and this diagram becomes nutty. I like the comment from Personal Trainer; that will convince DOT to go forward.

  • AEB

    F & S: “…We voted for leaders to make decisions like these, remember?…”

    No, actually, I don’t. When was THAT election held, and who ran? Was BP involved?

  • Heights Guy

    I think Free & Safe is either an idiot or an “elected official” himself (or both).

  • John


  • Demonter

    Brooklyn Heights is the most lovely neighborhood in New York City. Not one single building should be trashed in the name of “progress”.

  • DanInBrooklyn

    I couldn’t disagree more with the comments of “Free & Safe” and “Brooklyn Personal Trainer.”

    In my opinion, the creation of historic districts like Brooklyn Heights and the landmarking of historic buildings has been extremely important to maintaining New York City’s beauty and character and has been hugely important to keeping tourists coming to NYC. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in NYC’s economy, as Mayor Bloomberg says frequently.

    I think that sacrificing a portion of one of NYC’s most beautiful historic districts in order to make somebody’s car ride 30 seconds or a minute faster would be a grievous error.

  • my2cents

    I agree, Dan. Not only that, but I don’t really care if the BQE conforms to the Federal Hwy curve radius standard. I think this whole scheme is just to show the feds that hey, we can’t possibly conform to your standards without spending a sh*t ton of money and committing political suicide. Hence the BQE route will stay the same, and we will just spend the money re-doing the cantilevers as they are in the end.

  • Demonter

    Would a desecration of a great city’s historic district ever be seriously considered in Paris or Rome?

  • nabeguy

    Interesting angle, my2. Kind of like shouting “fire” in a theater just to get a reaction. Does anyone know if the we lose federal highway subsidies by NOT conforming to their “standards”? If so, I fear that the old saw about the “suffering of the few for the benefit of the whole” may be heard somewhere down the line, and argument will be turned around to make the residents look like obstructionist nut-jobs.

  • Troubled Reader

    I think the BQE should be turned into a park, kind of like the Highline. Someone call Michael Van Valkenburgh!

  • epc

    Interesting thought…what happens if the BQE loses Federal certification? Maybe all those trucks could get diverted to …help me here, something which would undermine Atlantic Yards would be nice.

  • my2cents

    Nabeguy, in my professional design career we often do this to get clients in line. They say they need something a certain way and then rather than argue with them, we show them that their way would look terrible and cost more than what we are proposing. I can see that the DOT *might* be doing that here – showing a very unpalatable option so that the option they really want seems desirable in comparison. Or they might just be brainstorming all possible scenarios. Who knows…

    Demonter, you should recall that all of modern Paris was built by the bulldozing of the medieval city by Baron Haussmann in the 1860s. All the lovely tree-lined boulevards we love today were built on the rubble of the ancient city, and I daresay the “stakeholders” were not consulted. More recently, the construction of the Pompidou Center in the late 70s required demolishing an entire small neighborhood. So it happens there too. In Rome, their problem is that every construction project unearths archeological sites, so that presents another entirely different set of problems.

  • nabeguy

    my2, I do the same thing at my job…in fact, it’s my responsibility to make sure the the end product passes the esthetic test without breaking the budget. I can only hope that this is the DOT’s tactic as well, but that leaves us in a position of having to trust that what “they really want” is no worse than this particular proposal. And the idea of a tunnel running underneath my 180-year-old foundation is not comforting. BTW, how can they even build a tunnel given the existing train lines? I already can feel the rumble of every A train that goes by, and presumably any tunnel would have to be above the train lines, so how is that going to work?

  • Bob

    Why not finish the Park before we start on the BQE? Why not enclose the BQE in a tunnel and then we can use the land over it for access to the Park? Why not allow the buildings in questions to sit on said tunnel? (None of its going to happen, but why not think differently? Isn’t there a way to engineer the BQE so its not outdated before its renovated?)

  • cat

    Wow, all that money and destruction for a slight change in the curve around Brooklyn Heights. What a waste.

  • nabeguy

    Bob. I’m not sure where your argument is heading, but the last line of it goes to the crux of what we are facing today. I find it amazing that these cantilevers were knowingly constructed with a pre-determined life span, especially given that they are in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, which was built with enough redundancies to allow its survival for hundreds of years. As for finishing the park, one can only scratch their head at an administration that was fully aware of the necessary repairs to the BQE and yet allowed the park plan and One Bridge Plaza to go forward, thereby thwarting reasonable construction alternatives that would not involve the destruction of exiting properties. Personally, I think they should impose the “last hired, first fired” rule and lose One Bridge Plaza and the park and use the land as a temporary work-around.

  • my2cents

    Nabeguy, they probably built in a 50 year lifespan for one of 2 reasons.
    1) They thought we’d have flying cars by now
    2) This is Robert Moses’ revenge on Brooklyn Heights!

  • nabeguy

    my2, you’re brilliant. But even you know that Moses was too dedicated to asphalt to make option 1 feasible, so I’m going with number 2…and, yes, you can can read that as a metaphor for Moses and what he did to this neighborhood.

  • Free & Safe

    I see some of you need to get with the program.

    It’s far past time we place tolls on all of our main thoroughfares, including the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges, BQE, LIE, etc., and our more efficient roadways will pay for themselves. (No more free rides for the selfish out there!)

    On a much larger scale, changes & sacrifices must also be made. We elected Mr. Obama to be our Commander & Chief, thank God! He is already shielding us under the protective umbrella of the United Nations to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order–a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations!

  • nabeguy

    Free & Safe, you need to get with the human race. Or at least with a race that has advanced beyond the primordial sludge that you’re depositing on this site.

  • zburch

    hmmm methinks there is a troll in our midst

  • nabeguy

    Every troll has a role
    But it helps to be droll
    Unlike F&S, who’s just an a-hole.

  • John Wentling

    Every time that person speaks I hear “Das Lied der Deutschen” in my head.

  • Bryan

    Does anyone out there understand that “Free and Safe” is actually “Full of Sh*t”, lampooning the situation if you will? Good stuff, Full of Sh*t: hats off to you for stoking a good fire.

  • William Spier

    I don’t think the President dwells on “jungle law” much, or, for that matter concern himself with the rule of law outside the United States–except with regard to international treaties and conventions. “Changes and sacrifices” make sense if there is a world view based on logic and and impact from actualization of that world view.

  • John Wentling

    I just figured out who “Free and Safe” is – kudos indeed.