‘Concerned Resident’ Proposes Speed Decrease Along Brooklyn Heights Portion Of BQE

An anonymous “Concerned Resident Of Brooklyn Heights” is circulating a proposal to lower the speed limit for large vehicles on the BQE under the Promenade “in order to significantly decrease traffic‐induced vibrations in buildings, a major complaint of local residents.” The author asks that neighborhood citizens and their representatives petition the Department of Transportation.

Specifically, he or she proposes that the clip of I-278 between exit 27 and 29B be reduced to 30 mph for Class 3 vehicles and above (buses, tractor trailers, pickups, vans, campers, motor homes, etc.), noting that “poor road conditions and the speed of large vehicles on Interstate 278 through Brooklyn Heights has a significant impact on the quality of life, specifically when it comes to vibrations in buildings. Resident complaints are rampant as described in The New York Times and Brooklyn Heights Blog.

“Logically speaking, vibrations make it more difficult to live in the neighborhood, rent properties for higher rents and sell properties at higher prices. It also increases maintenance on historical buildings,” the letter states. “Maintenance on the road is carried out occasionally but the fair conditions only last a short period of time before large vehicles pound the roads back into disrepair. Insignificant budgets and an increase in the weight of vehicles over time are compounding the problem. Residents and even those very motorists are affected emotionally and monetarily.”

The “Concerned Resident” suggests that the “easiest, lowest-cost solution” is to lower the speed limit for vehicles FHWA class 3 and higher to a reasonable 30 mph from exit 27 to exit 29B, “resulting in an estimated 2.4 minutes of extra travel time for those vehicles and a significant decrease in building vibration.”

An Institute for Research in Construction study by the National Research Council of Canada is June 2000, is cited, which notes differences in speed reduced vibrations as much as 300%.

References to the author’s claims and statistics are included in the original letter, which you can view as a PDF here: Brooklyn Heights

Thoughts, comments?

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  • harumph

    In total agreement – the vibrations are starting to rock the foundation of not only buildings on Columbia Heights but farther into the neighborhood. We are are block down from the promenade on Pierrepont and are starting to experience foundational issues that have never existed before in our building. Clearly no one understood what the vibrations from this cantilevered roadway would cause in the years since it was built – and now that they are deteriorating, it is only becoming worse.

  • MonroeOrange

    Firstly, I’m not discounted that the vibrations are an issue. However, as a life long BH resident and having owned a car for the last 30 years, this proposal will have no affect as that portion of the highway is almost always in a state of traffic jams and when not clogged with traffic, most traffic slows to enjoy the view or in anticipation of exiting. And larger vehicles such as trucks will not obey a decreased speed limit. The issue of vibrations probably stems from the volume of traffic and not much can be done about that.

  • mtobe

    How about reducing the BQE “run-off” traffic into the streets of Brooklyn Heights? Hicks, Henry, and Clinton Streets get quick a bit of traffic from people trying to avoid backups on the BQE. They use streets in the Heights like an on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. This is surely a big problem for the neighborhood. I’m surprised that children have not been run down by speeding BQE motorists trying to get to the bridge a few minutes faster than if they stayed on the highway.

  • Cranberry Beret

    @monroeorange – the heaviest truck traffic is late at night/wee hours of morning. The truckers know when to avoid the backups from the city residents, when they can drive fast. Vibrations are really bad between midnight and 5am.

  • Hicks St Guy

    @mtobe, how would you propose reducing that traffic?

  • mark

    You could decrease the speed to 10mph and no one is going to slow down. And it is not like cops are going to give tickets and pull someone over and cause a huge traffic jam.

    I would think a smoother road surface would have the greatest positive impact. If the cars and trucks are not bouncing up and down all the time, they will not be creating as many vibrations.

    @mtobe I have never noticed a problem with “run-off” traffic on Clinton or Henry, and I am out there with my dog at least 3 times a day.

  • Villager

    MonroeOrange and mark and both exactly correct.
    The de facto speed limit is whatever conditions will allow.
    Slow during the rushes, fast during off-peak.

  • Silly

    Yes – clearly the vibrations from the BQE have made it very difficult to “rent properties for higher rents and sell properties at higher prices” in Brooklyn Heights. That’s why it’s one of the cheapest neighborhoods in Brooklyn to rent or buy in.

  • harumph

    @silly – appropriate name.
    these vibrations are causing structural damage to our historical buildings – this has nothing to do with rents or real estate.

  • Elmer Fudd

    Great idea about limiting the speed limit. At night is when the traffic is lighter and the trucks get rolling, it’s like having a 5 point earthquake every few minutes. Limiting the speed limit will help save what is left of the BQE structure until a more permanent improvement is made.

    It will be hard to enforce a reduced limit at night, but something needs to be done. If nothing is done soon, the BQE structure or the buildings near by will certainly break apart.

    I believe the BQE had a fifty-year replacement life. It is 10-years over that now, and the amount of traffic volume greatly exceeded original estimates when it was designed and built in the early 50s.

  • Silly

    @harumph – the original complaint from the “Concerned Resident”, listed above in the original post (which i clearly quoted) was trying to frame his argument in a real estate context – That’s is what i thought was silly.

  • Tony Gooch

    Agreed! Wouldn’t it also be good if the city prohibited honking (especially of huge truck horns) in that part of the BQE except for real emergencies?

  • Hicks St Guy

    @Tony, the City already does, everywhere. it’s not enforced.

  • Mr. Crusty


  • Mr. Crusty

    I demand that the city pass an ordinance that outlaws passing gas by pedestrians when they walk in Brooklyn Heights. We have our property values to protect. We live in “the Heights” after all.

  • sajh

    As far as I know, isnt the BQE already at a speed limit of 35 mph? I could be wrong but I am pretty sure it is. However, most drivers when traffic is good, do about 50 to 60. So basically if no one slows to 35, no one is going to slow down further. The BQE is also the 278 Interstate so I wonder if the NYPD even has the ability to police an interstate highway. Even if they do, they dont have the manpower. My apartment vibrates from the trains that go underneath it. And I live 2 blocks from the subway entrance. Can’t do anything about it. I’m mostly use to it now.

    The only way this problem is going to be solved is to have a structural engineer look at the foundation and see if there is any interference with the BQE and do an analysis as to what effect those vibrations might be to the buildings. But slowing down the interstate highway is not likely to win support.

    Just another thought though, maybe the increased speed late at night is somewhat a result of the Brooklyn Bridge inbound being closed at nights now. I think there’s another 2 years left of these closures and once it reopens, the exiting traffic (and people that wait last minute to exit) will slow down the BQE at this point again.

  • ruben

    Slowing speeds down will have no effect on the damage already caused by 60 years of vibrations. A newly built roadway will. The Promenade is going to collapse one of these days.

  • Rick

    @Hicks St Guy – One proposal I’ve heard that makes sense to me is to reduce the desirability of streets like Hicks & Henry as an alternative to the BQE by changing the direction partway down it, forcing cars that use its entire length through the Heights to go around the block once. That impediment would soon become common knowledge to truckers, who would then no longer see the Heights as a high-speed shortcut. Another solution would be more traffic lights.

  • hortense

    I hate the bqe – it’s bad for brooklyn heights, making the Furman 2 way was a ridiculous way to make it a cut off from the bridge to the bqe – which backs up at Front street at rush hour and destroys that nexus of park goers and tourists.

    It’s becoming more and more of a blight now that the water front is being developed. Walking down from jorelaman to the park ends in a disgusting underpass, so too Atlantic, so to from henry

    I would support doing anything to reduce traffic, slow traffic, enclose traffic. It’s us (heights property owners) against them, through traffic goers and a zero sum game, where their gains are our loss. There is no peaceful coexistence of a highway and a landmarked, beautiful neighborhood

  • Jorale-man

    I agree with @hortense that with the waterfront development, the BQE is increasingly a blight on the area.

    With regard to vibrations, when was the last time it was repaved? I would assume that most vibrations occur when trucks hit large potholes and their trailers bounce up and down.

    With regard to speeding traffic in the Heights, I’ve often thought they should install speed bumps like they have in parts of Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill. Drivers would have no choice but to slow down or take a different route.

  • Sid Meyer

    I wonder why the concerned citizen won’t post their name?
    The BQE was a compromise. Robert Moses wanted to build right through the neighborhood. The triple cantilever design was itself a compromise. It separated what was a gritty working waterfront from the neighborhood and created the promenade-montague street had a direct connector to that waterfront. The BQE brings most food and other supplies to Brooklyn the rest of Long Island. the now stopped cross tunnel connector which would have allowed trains to cross and by pass was what the governor of NJ stopped- it would have eliminated a significant amount of truck traffic. The tunnels that have been suggested to by pass Brooklyn Heights and Cobble hill would cost more than the big dig and not really fix the problem by eliminating the truck traffic.
    As for speed bumps on the highway all that will do is make it worse as the trucks jump the bumps….Ask people with bumps on their blocks what really happens. You can slow the traffic down…truckers don’t like moving violations-Albany needs to approve speed camera enforcement too…

  • Sid Meyer

    btw there was a raised intersection-speed bump- built at Hicks and Pierrepont…notice its not there any more…too much noise

  • okra

    I agree with Mark, that creating a smoother roadway is the best solution to the problem. It is the bumps and potholes that cause the vibration, exacerbated by the weight and speed of the trucks. Since there will never be adequate enforcement of the weight and speed of the vehicles it makes more sense to fix the underlying cause. I don’t think you are going to win any support by complaining about property values but I agree that the vibrations are disturbing for residents and may damage the adjacent buildings.

  • BH’er

    with sales records being recorded week after week, it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to buy the de-valued neighborhood excuse – when brownstones along the Promendade start to empty out, the city will act…

    until then, have there been any seismic studies done? with the Second Ave subway, building owners had scientific measurements taken from their foundations during blasting and tunneling to ensure the vibrations stayed within limits – it would be great to see some hard evidence of just how bad this problem is…

    also, on the lower speeds… it seems that slowing down and hitting a pot hole actually makes the impact worse (since the tire has more time to fall deeper into the hole before impact) – increasing speeds would have the reverse affect – the tire would be more likely to skim further over the pot hole

    but the best resolution is to just keep patching them up and/or stabilizing the other side of the highway with supports, so the cantilever structure doesn’t bear the full weight.

    I sure don’t want to be around when they try to replace that thing – that’s a nightmare and no politician or highway supervisor (or engineer) will want to have any hand in replacing a structure that acts as a retaining wall to so much high-value property – that’s risky business!

    good luck!

  • Andrew Porter

    Wasn’t the greatly increased truck traffic on the BQE originally caused by reversing the tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge? By having all cross-Hudson and Brooklyn/Staten Island tolls collected in one direction, we created the problem of trucks avoiding paying the tolls by using the BQE and then the tunnels and GW bridge to NJ.

    Damn that Senator John Marchi!

  • http://n8han.technically.us/ Nathan H.

    The enforcement problem is easy to solve. Camera enforcement works and is practically free compared to paying the NYPD to do something they don’t like to do and will only do poorly. If you choose to speed through a camera enforced zone, announced with prominent signs, you get a ticket.

  • Maria B

    I wrote a journal piece (unpublished) about the history of the BQE from its inception. The BQE south of the Heights area was not planned for the number of trucks that speed by; they come from Staten Island and the Gowanus. Beautiful brownstones built in 1900 are being destroyed by the constant sound of “bombs” each time a truck speeds by hitting the busted roads which the State won’t repair. Yet each year they have to repair cracks along Hicks Street and the BQE retaining wall which continually cave in. The Red Hook-West Carroll Gardens above it suffers the most with noise pollution and damage to precious property! Their foundations and walls crack from the deafening unrelenting rumble. They’ve spent the last 50 years trying to figure out what to do, e.g. build a park over the BQE, more walkways, etc., but nothing ever happens!

  • She’s Crafty

    You’d have to do some sort of real traffic analysis and reroute the trucks along a different route (not local streets in the Heights either). That’s probably the only thing that would make a real difference. I doubt that the cars could go much slower; that stretch is always backed up. The exhaust is as bad as the rumble.

  • William Spier

    It is doubt to me, a longtime resident, that vibrations and noise are from I287 are taking a toll on the buildings and quality of life. As a vehicle swings north from the Promenade and under the bridge DOT has always had one steel plate or another on the roadway. I certainly am in agreement that Heights, the BHA, and local pols (Joan) should put presssure on DOT to slow the commercial traffic and get working on smoothing out that stretch of roadway. If they do confront traffic calming, law enforcement has to get serious about it; this is no small concern as it seems that enforcing speed limits in this City merits low priorty to them.

    You can enforce speed limits and DOT can pave that stretch of highway. Unless there is a unified effort by the community, DOT will ignore the whole thing.