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