BQE on the QT

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Here’s another way to muffle the noisy Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as it roars past the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Park development — instead of 30-foot mini-mountains, a Brooklyn Heights architect proposes a solar-panel-covered envelope to encase the highway.

The proposal calls for wrapping the BQE’s triple cantilever in translucent acrylic shells to suppress roadways sounds, allowing the builders of the open space component of the ailing waterfront development to eliminate the planned sound-stifling hills.

“This will be much more effective than berms,” said architect Donald Rattner of the Studio for Civil Architecture, which is pushing for the so-called “Brooklyn Bridge Connector” — which would cost between $8 and $10 million, and could qualify for federal stimulus dollars.

“The top of the berm is not high enough to really block the noise, and in the places where the berm will be interrupted by buildings, sound will come in,” added Rattner, who claims that his proposal would reduce current BQE noise from 85 decibels to 65 decibels — five decibels quieter than the reported noise-stopping berms.

The Joralemon Street resident also claims that his three-tiered tunnel — which would be layered on the inside with sound-absorbing materials, and on the outside with glow-in-the-dark photovoltaic cells — would allow for better views from the Promenade and more light to reach Furman Street.

But whether the project is totally tubular or just a case of tunnel vision is up to the State Department of Transportation, which has promised to repair the triple cantilever between Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge without affecting the Brooklyn Bridge Park development.

The agency will have a chance to examine how the “Brooklyn Bridge Connector” fits in with its difficult renovation project when the public scoping process begins in the next two months.

“During that time, we will welcome any suggestions from the community and any other interested parties that may produce mutual benefits for the users of the roadway and the users of the park,” said spokesman Adam Levine. “I cannot comment on a specific suggestion [now].”

Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Acting Executive Director Nancy Webster said that she was eager to hear about sound-stifling proposals — but she disagreed with the calls to eliminate the berms.

“The berms provide more than sound attenuation,” she said “They also will enhance the park experience by adding visual and topographical interest to the site, providing a variety of pathways and plantings, particularly shade trees, that will help provide protection from wind and sun.”

The proposed tunnel is just one more twist in the ever-tumultuous Brooklyn Bridge Park development, where ballooning costs and questions of funding have put the project’s future in jeopardy.

The “Brooklyn Bridge Connector” proposal can be seen at — but visitors should turn down their computer speakers before surfing to the Web site, which features a loud sound loop of actual BQE noise (no, really).

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Reader Feedback

Janice Webvb from IL. out of state reader says:
Just noticed this very interesting solution to the noise problem at the Brookland Bridge Park development. Sounds like an idea well worth researching. A tunnel would also solve the nasty, costly problem of winter snow and ice removal. Plus good noise alleviating landscaping next to the tube/tunnel could lower the noise level even more. It would be great to have such tunnels here in Chicagoland!
April 9, 2009, 2:02 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
I actually like the idea but do you really think it would only cost between 8-10 million?...The EIS will cost a couple of million and the engineering studies including wind tunnels etc will be more than 8-10 million alone. Its estimated to rebuild the BQE between Atlantic and Tillery will cost more than a billion dollars....
April 9, 2009, 2:31 pm
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
This idea sounds to good for the city to say yes to it. I sure the city will find a problem with it and put on the shelf. Imagine a solution to a Robert Moses albatross.
April 9, 2009, 9:45 pm
Mara from Williamsburg says:
It is just like an architect to suggest that what a park needs to solve all its troubles is a fancy new structure.

Exactly how would this tunnel allow for better views from the Promenade than the mini-mountains that don't obstruct the view anyway?

I agree with the woman from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy that the mounds are doing more than just stifling noise - they are making for a more exciting and ecologically functional landscape. I guess, however, you would have to have faith in the power of the landscape to make urban spaces in order to see the value of something as simple and straightforward as the design for Brooklyn Bridge Park sound hills. Maybe this is just something that architects and certain entrenched journalists will never allow themselves to see, even when it is being built before their eyes.

I also agree with Sid from Boerum Hill that the 8-10 million dollar price tag seems a bit on the low end.
April 10, 2009, 2:20 am
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
Mara, you sound like you just came from Des Moines. A city park does need a mound,a pitcher's mound! Do you have an idea on how to stifle the noise polution from the BQE? There is no way landscape is going to control the noise coming off the BQE. A functional landscape will only help the owners of One Brooklyn. A city park needs to be functional for the children and the people of Brooklyn not the private sector or dogs.
April 10, 2009, 1:52 pm
Mara from williamsburg says:

I'm not sure what you mean by the Des Moines comment, I guess - there are plenty of reasons for hills in a park, especially in a city park. Central Park comes to mind.... Or, are you calling me naive because I am not in lockstep agreement with the author of this piece?

I am also confused by your suggestion that an ecologically functional landscape is only useful for people in One Brooklyn - aren't we all kind of in this ecology thing together? I have two city children who have no interest in pitcher's mounds but love running up and down hills. They have no interest in staring at the broad side of a massive architectural monument, but they happen to love trees and the way they change with the seasons. I have a dog too, but I am more interested in the kinds of parks (and the environmental-decision making) that are for people.
April 10, 2009, 2:40 pm
bill from boreum hill says:
mara, you are a dope. the berm serves no purpose but to shield the Promenade swells from the sight of the rest of us using this "park". you are mad to think it serves some sort of "functional landscape" for the "park". It is sealed from use (study the pictures, woman, there are hostile scrubs planted on it and fences to bar walking on them). we need BASEBALL, and SWIMMING and ICE SKATING and lots more active recreation. what are you, 70 years old?

this architectural idea is brilliant. hope the politicians go for it but then again, they seem more like our mara these days - delusional and dopey.
April 10, 2009, 8:32 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Bill I guess civil discourse is a thing of the past.
April 10, 2009, 8:56 pm
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
Bill, I couldn't put any better.
April 11, 2009, 9:14 pm
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
Mara, are you from Iowa or a midwest state?
April 11, 2009, 9:15 pm
Mara from williamsburg says:
The phrase I used was "ecological function" - namely the fact that the plants are eating up carbon dioxide and the landforms are absorbing rain water rather than directing it into the sewers. I am also pretty sure that the fence doesn't come in until halfway up the slope, so there is the chance to use these landforms to get up higher on the slopes for the views.

The park does need active recreation, but if that were all that were necessary, we could just trace the lines overtop of the concrete and asphalt today. The idea that green urban parks offer a necessary moment of relief from the density and intensity of city life is hardly revolutionary. In truth, Brooklynites need this kind of park experience far more than surburbanites.

Regardless of whether you are playing basketball or sunbathing, the photovoltaic shell, which is a continuous feature along the length of the BQE, is overstated and monotonous. The trees and lawns are a better foreground to the Brooklyn skyline.

The sound-absorbing usefulness of the landforms is not a matter of my opinion, it is the work of acoustical engineers who (presumably) are not in cahoots with either the future tenants of the buidings near the park referred to by Pacholo, or the "swells" on the Heights referenced by Bill.
April 12, 2009, 2:59 am
Pacholo from Red Hook says:
Mara you didn't answer the question but you gave yourself up. You see in NYC the rain water gets recycled and you didn't know that. You just arrived in Williamsburg. The future tenents that you talk about are already living in One Brooklyn Bridge Park. The monies from that building is suppose to support the park. The trees and lawns make for a better view for Manhattanites.
April 12, 2009, 4:48 am
mara from williamsburg says:
Pacholo, I'm sorry that I made a mistake about the where the rainwater goes. I'm sorry that I am not up to date on the evolution of a real estate market that I can't afford to be into. Mainly, however, I am sorry for you that rather than listen to my perfectly valid comment about the monotony of the photovoltaic shell that you would resort to juvenile insults. Is this the way that you bully diverse opinion off of this website?
April 12, 2009, 8:35 pm
Mara from williamsburg says:
Oh wait, I forgot to answer your "question" - I am not from the midwest, although I have nothing against midwesterners - do you?
April 12, 2009, 8:46 pm
buddy11210 from Heights says:
Mara, the berm will bring the sound down from 95 decibels to 85. Both levels are deafening. Additionally, look at the pictures on the BBPDC website. The whole berm is fenced off. So much for any utility for this space. You really need to look at the facts - in that way you will see the complete folly of this design.
April 12, 2009, 10:25 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
Most rain water that falls in NY City is not recycled. It goes down the drain and over flows the system and is discharged directly into the Hudson and bay. Some of it(less than 1% I believe) is recycled. The DEP does try to sequester for later processing the first rain as it contains most of the pollutants that caused problems...they aren't doing that everywhere yet. The processed water is disposed of directly into the bay and the Hudson with the solids being sent to other places for processing and either recycling or burial. NY has what is called a combined sewer and storm drain system. Other places separate them so that storm water(you know rain) and handled differently...not NY.

As for re doing the whole BBP design. So far about 30 million dollars was spent/wasted on the design phase. I think that about half the park including the berm has been funded and will be built by the end of 2011 or 2012.

So what is you position on NY City talking over responsibility for the park? I think the State has been a disaster on leading the development of the Park....yet some people believe that if the City should be allowed to take it back, that the State should impose ITS rules on what the City can do with it and how it should be funded....the worst of all worlds. The State would have no responsibility and dictate to the NY City electeds how it should be built and funded....

please explain how that is right.
April 13, 2009, 12:18 pm
mara from williamsburg says:
Buddy, where did you get the info about the 95 decibels? Is this on the BQE itself, or at street level? I thought I had read that, at worst, the area where the park is being built has decibel levels in the 85 range and that the sound analysis said that the berms cut it down to the 65-70 range. It all depends on where you are taking your reading from, though.

Also, I have looked at the plans on the BBP website to see where the fenced-off line is for the berms, but I am not seeing the smoking gun that you are referring to. Which image is it? It was my understanding that the super-steep portions at the top and down towards Furman street were off-limits but there was a more gentle slope leading down to the park pathways that was accessible. I know that my thinking on "landscape backdrop as something that is good for an urban park" hasn't played well with anybody else in this comment section, but I stand by my contention that, in addition to the sound muffling, that the planted hills add something to the way that people use and enjoy the park that would be lost if you just flattened everything out for more sportsfields and erected that photovoltaic shell as a backdrop. How tall is that thing? 30 feet? Would it be reflective?

The point about more active recreation and working to make maximum use of park space that others have brought up is well-taken, however.

Thanks for the clarification on the city rainwater Sid. I personally don't have a strong opinion on the City takeover without knowing the details, but I would be interested to know what other think.
April 13, 2009, 3:23 pm
The Truth from Fulton Ferry says:
Watch Michael Van Valkenburgh's video tour on Youtube and see if you still favor the acrylic shells.
April 14, 2009, 7:50 pm
Neema says:
3 hours is not enough for student to do Examination. and also your bring us the material which we are not tought
Aug. 12, 2009, 6:21 am
PE from Park Slope says:
I hope they put Solar Cells on top & use it to light the Park.
Nov. 21, 2009, 8:53 am

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