In Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker sci-fi trilogy he imagined something called an “SEP field.” A spaceship surrounded by such a field became invisible because it was “Someone Else’s Problem.” The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, it seems, isn’t covered by a single SEP field, but by a multiplicity of them, depending on the point of view. For those of us living near the triple cantilevered portion it is an environmental problem consisting of air pollution, noise, and vibration. For those living elsewhere who rely on the BQE to commute by car, and for businesses that rely on it for delivery or shipment of goods, it is a problem of maintaing and possibly improving traffic flow. To them our environmental concerns are SEP, as are their transportation concerns to us. The City’s Department of Transportation is required to take environmental matters into consideration, but its principal concern, like that of the drivers and business owners, is traffic flow. Those living north and south of the cantilevered portion would like to see the impact of the BQE on their neighborhoods minimized, perhaps by covering the trenched parts or by burying the elevated ones. A complicating factor is that those parts of the BQE are under state control, while the “central” part from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street is under city control. This means that different sets of elected and administrative officials, who may have different concerns, must be involved in reaching any comprehensive solution.
A particular matter of concern for Brooklyn Heights, Fulton Ferry Historic District, and DUMBO residents and businesses is the Department of Transportation’s plan, described in Mary Frost’s Eagle story, to take down the “bridge” that carries Columbia Heights over the BQE in order to raise it a few inches to accommodate larger trucks. This would also entail destroying the Harry Chapin Playground, which DOT says will be replaced with an improved version. For the duration of the demolition and re-construction it would block direct access between the Heights on one side and on the other the Fulton Ferry Historic District and DUMBO, as well as the northern parts of Brooklyn Bridge Park, including Jane’s Carousel. It would also block access between PS 8 and the Park, and deny use of the Hillside Dog Park to Heights residents and their pets. All this is not to mention the extreme discomfort the demolition and reconstruction process will cause residents of the North Heights. Former DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman is quoted by Ms. Frost as describing this plan as his “favorite proposal for sheer chutzpah.”