BQE Developments: the Number-of-Lanes Controversy

As we noted a week ago, the City Department of Transportation is considering the question of whether “BQE Central,” the cantilevered part of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street and below Brooklyn Heights should, in whatever final design for a rebuilt BQE is adopted, keep the two lanes and shoulder in each direction configuration (see photo) that was adopted to reduce wear and tear from the weight of traffic while structural repairs are done, or revert to three lanes in each direction once structural issues are resolved and BQE Central is rebuilt to whatever new design is adopted.

The DOT’s announcement that it was considering keeping the two lane configuration was welcomed by the Brooklyn Heights Association (don’t forget their Annual Meeting coming this Wednesday evening, March 8, to which all are invited) and by local elected officials. In our previous post we quoted City Council Member Lincoln Restler saying that “adding a third lane … would amount to 6 million more vehicles releasing emissions in our community each and every year.” Since then, State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon has included this in her letter to constituents:

I was also concerned that the city’s initial proposals attempted to expand the roadway to 3 lanes (the triple cantilever portion had been reduced to 2 lanes to extend its lifespan given its rapid deterioration). The desire to limit lanes may seem counterintuitive since we all want reduced traffic congestion, but in fact studies have consistently shown that increasing roadway capacity does not reduce congestion, but rather incentivizes roadway use and produces higher traffic volumes. Restoring the Triple Cantilever portion of the BQE to three traffic lanes would likely represent at least six million more vehicles per year in our communities. This is not just about lanes, but about our public health, climate change, road safety and a modern approach to reconnecting communities.

Streetsblog reported Saturday about a “closed door” City Hall meeting yesterday, to which southern Brooklyn elected leaders and agency representatives were invited but to which none of the electeds who had expressed desire for a two lane solution were included, at which the attendees received an email letter from former Brooklyn Democratic Party head Frank Seddio, who wrote, “I don’t understand what anybody sees as doing good of having a two-lane roadway. Is there some magical thing I’m not aware of that’s gonna make the cars suddenly disappear?”

Mr. Seddio raises an interesting question. We haven’t seen any statistics concerning traffic volume on the BQE before and after BQE Central was reduced to two lanes. It seems likely that the pandemic, which preceded the lane reduction, caused some decrease in volume as many people turned to remote work. It also seems likely that, as more employers return to requiring in-office work, traffic volume will increase independently of the number of lanes available in BQE Central. Proponents of two lanes point to other instances in various places, including the West Side of Manhattan, where reduction in highway capacity or complete elimination of highways has not resulted in traffic problems. It would be useful to look at these incidents to see what happened. Did commuters shift to public transit, bikes, car sharing, or other means of reaching their destinations? Did some of them move closer to their workplaces? It seems also to matter if proponents of two lanes want, as some of them imply, to impose the limit on the entire length of the highway, north and south, instead of just BQE Central.

Mary Frost in The Eagle, stated concerning Friday’s meeting that “the Adams administration appears to be quietly pushing to rebuild the same six lane superhighway that was built 70 years ago in communities along the Brooklyn waterfront.” She added that “[t]o accomplish this, City Hall is pitting southern Brooklyn against northern Brooklyn.” The Eagle received a reply from a City Hall spokesperson, which Ms. Frost added to her story. It concluded: “We’re committed to prioritizing our bold climate goals, and to building as narrow a roadway was possible, within federal safety guidelines.” Ms. Frost also quoted DOT Chief Strategy Officer Julie Bero, who assured her “that politics would not influence DOT’s decision regarding the number of traffic lanes.”

Photo: C. Scales for BHB

Share this Story:

, , , , , , ,

  • Angela De Marco

    Anyone who believes that politics will not influence a decision is delusional.

  • Jorale-man

    I think Jo Anne Simon is correct when she says “studies have consistently shown that increasing roadway capacity does not reduce congestion, but rather incentivizes roadway use and produces higher traffic volumes.”

    Also see: “Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?”

  • Cranberry Beret

    If you think Eric Adams is going to pay attention to logic or the results of some academic studies, then I have a bridge (or two) to sell you.

  • JamesM

    Does anyone seriously think that when you reduce the lanes to two that traffic will mysteriously disappear? How many north-south axis’ are going through Brooklyn/Queens/Manhattan one can choose from? Anyone who is not taking public transportation because it takes 2.5 hours to get from home to work and it requires multiple means of transportation magically switches to public transportation? When I come from Long Island from work I have noticed the difference in traffic since the cantilever has become 2 lanes. Going on the BQE south after the kozciusko bridge can take 45 minutes to the Tillary Street exit. Guess what I do? I get off the BQE and drive through Williamsburg to the heights locally like so many others. You are just moving the problem from the BQE into the local neighborhoods.

  • Carlo Trigiani

    Agreed. All those elected officials, who supposedly represent our local interests, obviously haven’t experienced the traffic backed up on Hicks and Henry and Atlantic Avenue. Crossing Atlantic on foot with the light is always dangerous, certainly worse since the BQE was reduced to two lanes. Logic would tell you what we need in areas of congestion, Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, is four lanes in each direction. Certainly not two! This is common sense.

  • Mike Suko

    I think what you and many others miss is that except for zealous fools, NOBODY believes that this or that lane or road closure will magically reduce the number or duration of traffic jams.

    Rather, it’s a multi-pronged and multi-year effort (hard to communicate in 2023) that combines IMPROVING public transit options with disincentives to driving. Of course, if drivers use the political process to thwart things like congestion pricing, ideas like lane closures become MORE attractive, because (as with masks) “your” freedom to drive comes at the expense of a kid with asthma! None of us knows how many single occupancy vehicles on the BQE represent caustic “Heck, owning a car in NYC sure costs enough, so I’m gonna use it every chance I get.”

    We need something dramatic – “trucks and buses and cabs and ambulances ONLY” on that “miracle mile” from 10-4, say.” Subways really are “too big to fail,” but as with medical costs, if we don’t bend the deficit curve, millions will lose out. $Trillions on road repair is part of the reason community colleges aren’t free.

    Manhattan x-town traffic moves more slowly than a person walks. There’s really only 1 viable response!

  • Jorale-man

    Yes, I don’t expect Adams to see things with such a perspective but I would hope that his transportation commissioner could bring to light what the data and research says (whether or not Adams listens is another story).