Quick Takeaways From Tonight’s BQE Town Hall

The Town Hall convened just hours after a bombshell announcement by Mayor de Blasio that he has appointed a panel of experts to evaluate the various proposals for repair of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, thereby backing away from his earlier support of a City Department of Transportation proposal that would replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with a six lane highway for a period of at least six years.

At the meeting’s outset, Hillary Jager of A Better Way NYC (at left in photo, with Martha Bakos Dietz, President of the Brooklyn Heights Association) said she and other community representatives had met with City officials, who “said they want to take a fresh look” at how to deal with the BQE.

All of the elected officials and their representatives present expressed strong support for any alternative that would avoid either closing the Promenade for an extended period or diverting traffic to local streets. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson described the Promenade as “a treasure” and noted that the Council, along with the State Legislature, must approve any final plan. He observed that congestion pricing, just approved by the State, will likely cause less traffic on the BQE, and that the City needs to “re-prioritize” its policy regarding cars as opposed to public transit. Finally, he said the City Council will hire its own independent experts to evaluate options.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer also stressed the need to invest in public transportation: “That’s the future,” he said, “it’s not just about the BQE.” The City needs to break away from “the development outlook of the 1950s” and “stop building luxury towers.” Instead, we need to find how to make the City an affordable place for all, so that his young children would not be forced to leave New York.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “Don’t just think outside the box; destroy the box.” State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon stressed the “need to look regionally” and noted the importance for reduction of truck traffic of restoring tolls in both directions on the Verrazano Bridge. This would require action by Congress. A representative from the office of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said he expected this to be included in an appropriations bill to be introduced in May of this year. State Senator Brian Kavanagh said the DOT “realized it made a fundamental mistake” by limiting its planning to solutions that stayed within the existing BQE right of way. He stressed the need to get all concerned agencies on board, including the MTA and tha Port Authority.

Representative of the architectural and design firm Bjarke Ingels Group, “BIG,” described their recently announced plan, which they developed at their own cost pro bono, to re-route the BQE at the level of Furman Street, placing it under a roof that would extend the size of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

At the close of the meeting, representatives of A Better Way NYC and the BHA noted the need for continuing community involvement in the environmental impact and land use review processes. We will keep you advised of relevant dates and deadlines.

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  • Roberto Gautier

    Brooklyn Heights showed itself as a vibrant, engaged breeding ground of highly-organized alternatives to unhealthy, out-of-touch city planning. Scott Stringer hit a high note with his critique of the community unraveling impact of the Bloomberg/DiBasio development strategy of building unaffordable luxury towers, removing LICH and a great local library. The DOT’s plan to rebuild the BQE was thoroughly discredited in its attempt to impose an ill-conceived project which was made irrelevant by the imaginative scope of Bjarke Ingels Group’s pro bono alternative.

  • Jorale-man

    I really hope the “BIG” plan has legs and city commission gives it serious consideration. The idea of physically connecting the park to the promenade and covering the highway is a no-brainer. I guess it’s about how they manage the intersections at the north and south ends of the park, and build around the hotel and One Brooklyn Bridge Park. But that’s why we have engineers.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    I’ve been known to go off topic, but this makes even me gasp.

    Those luxury towers are NOT unaffordable, whatever else you can say about them.

    Stringer is already proving to be just a different kind of political hack than deBlasio who – you may remember – made “over my dead body” noises about LICH … until he didn’t. (having been elected Mayor … with oh so many people to “pay back”)

    But you ARE 100% right about the BIG plan. I’ll just add that for a “knowledgeable crowd,” almost equal applause for 3 very different plans is NUTS – except as a blunt “ANYTHING would be better than the DOT plan” message.

    Stringer’s plan WOULD send a zillion (more) cars down Clinton Street, Cadman Plaza, etc.

    The BHA plan was a rush job to show that they could do something beyond writing angry press releases and has the same Achilles heel as the DOT plan, financially – TWO big builds is great for labor unions and contractors, but is bad every other way. The BIG plan BURIES our still toxic passenger and freight vehicles – sensibly – AND gives the city an amenity that combines the best of NYC’s 2 great parks, the High Line and something we kinda sorta had with Randalls Island – a participatory sports complex!

    If the BHA were “principled,” not ego-driven and all but inept over the last 10 years, they would – “convention-style” – throw their votes behind the BIG plan.

  • Local_Montague_Man

    I am all-in on the BIG plan

  • StoptheChop

    The plan apparently provides for the highway to go right through the east section of OBBP. The building lobby and part of the 2 floors directly above it would be seized by eminent domain, to create the highway. It’s unclear how that would be handled structurally, so as not to create too much noise or vibration affecting the remaining part of the building, Also unclear is how OBBP would then connect to the rest of the neighborhood- there would be a pedestrian-access-only lobby on the what’s now the 2nd floor, which would still be several stories below Promenade level and several stories above the bottom of Joralemon Street.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7nPOzGeyaw Arch Stanton

    Had to suffer thorough almost an hour of blow-hard self congratulations and irrelevant fluff before anything meaningful was presented.
    Clearly, BIG’s BQP proposal is the most attractive but also the most; technically complex, expensive and legally challenging, thus least likely to succeed…

  • Banet

    The claimant that they intend to use eminent domain to take over some of the apartments in One Brooklyn Bridge is just a vicious rumor. How could they possibly be seizing apartments when the building has a two-story tall lobby with two floors of parking garage on top of that. Unless they intend to build a highway that’s five stories tall that is.

  • StoptheChop

    The lobby is on the ground floor; the high ceilings reach to the mezzanine, one floor up, which is where the resident parking is (on one level, not two). Then apartments are above that. The new building lobby would apparently be at that apartment level.

    But you’re ok with the lobby being taken by eminent domain?

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7nPOzGeyaw Arch Stanton

    That is not correct. The plan is to build the highway directly adjacent to the building thus blocking off the first two floors, It wouldn’t actually go through the lobby. The building entrance would then need to be relocated to approximately the third floor level.
    The same condition will impinge on the back of the apartments on Columbia Place, Eminent domain would need to seize their backyard and block off the windows to the lower floor apartments…

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7nPOzGeyaw Arch Stanton

    They would still need to use eminent domain to force major modifications to the building.
    Talk about disrupting people, it will be pure hell living in that building if this far fetched plan ever gets built…

  • StoptheChop

    How would a 6 lane highway fit on Furman Street, even including the OBBP sidewalk, without taking the lobby?

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7nPOzGeyaw Arch Stanton

    It would run through the space currently occupied by the south end of the cantilever structure and the backyard of the apartment buildings on Columbia Place. Yeah, it’s a monumental proposal, many technical and legal issues to overcome…

  • A Neighbor

    Thanks to the BHA and A Better Way for getting us here – an energized neighborhood, a batch of thoughtful alternate plans, supportive pols, and, most recently, DOT throwing in the towel on its pathetic proposals.

  • Cranberry Beret

    I really like the BIG plan. That said, the self-serving slide at the end purporting to show a clear mathematical edge for their plan on the basis of time and cost was too much. The eminent domain around Joralemon would be an enormous suck of time and legal costs. Look at Atlantic Yards. I predict much of the BIG plan will go through, but without the bells and whistles at Joralemon and Atlantic.

  • Cranberry Beret

    Uh, thanks for your all-knowing take, o seer of the neighborhood. I’m sure the BHA will remember to consult you next time.

  • Banet

    If this plan doesn’t go through it’s going to be pure hell all through the reconstruction regardless.

    But with this plan, 1BBP comes out smelling like roses. Instead of cramped, noisy, narrow street in front of their building, and a 40’ tall brick wall, and an endlessly roaring highway… they get light, open space, greenery and quiet.

    Obviously the transition would be rough but think of the increased resale value for all those east-facing apartments that would have the noisy, polluting highway just… disappear. 1BBP should be the single loudest advocates for this plan.

  • Banet


    I guess the larger point is that yes, the plan would be disruptive but 1BBP would come out the other side smelling like roses.

  • Jorale-man

    I tend to agree. I always wondered if they have a really hard time selling apartments there that look right onto the BQE.

    The plan that Scott Stringer put forward a few weeks ago also had some appealing aspects that might work better around 1BBP. I don’t remember the specifics now but perhaps we could be looking at a hybrid of his plan and BIG’s.

  • Herman on Henry

    I think this all one big dog show and the DOT is just placating to Brooklyn Heights residents and Association. At the end of the day, they are going to move forward with their original plan because it fixes the issue in the shortest time (whatever that is) and least expensive. Kicking the can down the road again. Either way it’s going to be a nightmare for drivers and residents alike.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    2 quick thoughts. (a) There ARE, as the BIG plan was presented, many ways you can tweak a plan to deal with defects either obvious up-front … or as work proceeds. MAYBE, “at grade” construction will have to yield to “drilling down,” so as to avoid the problems at 360. (I am not an engineer, but it’s clear that the recently constituted “expert panel” is loaded with folks with those creds.)

    (b) [Again, not easy – BUT NOTHING IS, in this connection] If our electeds come through and get the lane count reduced from 6 to 4 – is 5 a possibility to handle rush hours? – most of this obstacle goes away. (We still friends, CB?)

    This is NYC, folks – there will be lawsuits! … Tough question – will those experts consider as many angles as “we do?” Even ground-rules as basic as “get it done soonest” or “get it done cheapest” will probably not be spelled out in advance.

    Sorry if I come across as arrogant – I, in turn, have trouble with Arch, whose only non-negative comment on this was “go the tunnel route.” … That Mark Baker (just maybe) stated the ball rolling that “came up BIG” should give us all a little extra courage and willingness to engage one another!

  • BrooklynHeightzer

    Have they thought in their BIG plan about the the fact that the area is in the flood zone! Just curious.

    I would rather focus on speeding up the buildup of the electrical vehicles infrastructure and creating the necessary incentives so that 10 years from now at least 50% of the car in NYC are electrical. This way the entire city will benefit not only BH.

  • Andrew Porter
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  • Andrew Porter

    One question: are you a member of the BHA? Support their work with your money?

  • Jorale-man

    I think the original “innovative” plan is effectively dead. The City wouldn’t have put together this commission to evaluate the newer plans otherwise. And the newer plans (BIG, Scott Stringer, etc.) are all projected to cost less, take less time, and cause far less disruption and environmental/health impact. That said, the community still needs to keep fighting and staying on the case. Nothing’s a done deal yet.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7nPOzGeyaw Arch Stanton

    Don’t shoot the messenger.
    I can’t help it if you read reality as negativity. Truth is, you and many others here are apparently ignorant of the technical and scientific facts & limitations facing these alternate proposals.

    Yes I still believe the Tunnel is the best approach, especially now that the eminent domain and 8B+ dollar lines have been crossed. With the Tunnel we can have the best of the BIG/BQP plan and not have the highway in the neighborhood at all.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7nPOzGeyaw Arch Stanton

    That’s wishful thinking on your part. Until a better plan is vetted and deemed viable, the innovative plan is still probably the leading choice of the DOT. While it is great the city is considering the alternative proposals, none are guaranteed to be chosen.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    I’ll leave it there, except to say that if BIG or something like it isn’t chosen, seek me out and I’ll give you “a Franklin” … provided you agree to take the other side of that bet.