Anywhere but here! Locals to city: Keep cars off Promenade, send them along Bridge Park

No ‘Big Dig’: Planners likely to take BQE tunnel option off the table
The Brooklyn Paper / Evan Gardner

Transit officials must keep their hands off Brooklyn Heights’s beloved Promenade and return to the drawing board with their plan for rerouting Brooklyn–Queens Expressway traffic during the looming repairs to its triple cantilever, hundreds of fired-up residents demanded at the first of several public meetings about the job on Thursday.

Some attendees said they would rather vehicles be rerouted along Brooklyn Bridge Park via Furman Street than see a six-lane highway replace the scenic esplanade for up to six years while the crumbling stretch of three-tiered expressway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street is shored up.

“Why can’t the six-lane temporary roadway be built out to the west above Brooklyn Bridge Park?” asked local Scott St. Marie, whose question was met with a more than 20-second ovation from the crowd, along with an audible “Oh, boy…” from transit chief Polly Trottenberg, who joined other city officials on a panel at the event.

Packed house: Andrew Ball, at mic, joined hundreds of locals who turned out to the first public meeting on the Department of Transportation’s plans for repairing the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway’s triple cantilever.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Department of Transportation bigwigs claimed their studies showed a park-adjacent roadway would be unfeasible, but the local councilman said he’d support further exploration of that option — even if laying down asphalt requires destroying the multi-million-dollar, noise-muffling berms that meadow officials recently built along parts of the green space.

“It’s not out of the question,” said Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights). “If that wastes tens of millions of dollars, then that obviously would be a shame, but this is a four-to-five-billion dollar project. I would like to see every single option on the table.”

In the hot seat: Department of Transportation chief Polly Trottenberg fielded questions — and boos — throughout the three-hour affair.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

And a local civic guru in the standing-room only crowd — which two attendees estimated included between 1,300 and 2,000 people, but a Transportation Department spokeswoman claimed was more around 500 — blasted officials for seemingly already moving forward with that plan despite revealing it just one week ago.

“People came by my office this week to express their concerns, they have all been vehemently opposed to the temporary elevated structure,” said Brooklyn Heights Association president Peter Bray. “One thing that a number of people believe is that the decision has already been made to go with that option.”

Transportation Department leaders promised to build a new, wider Promenade if they rip up the existing infrastructure, but Bray questioned whether there will be enough cash at the end of the fix to foot its bill if that option, which would cost between $3.2 and $3.6 billion, is chosen.

Crowd favorite: Scott St. Marie drew prolonged applause from attendees when he asked Trottenberg why expressway traffic couldn’t be rerouted along Brooklyn Bridge Park, instead of on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

“What guarantee do we have that you won’t run out of money and the Promenade will not be restored,” he said. “I think all of us would appreciate hearing on that issue.”

Agency leaders, including Trottenberg, assured the funds to rebuild the Promenade would not disappear should they proceed with that plan — which she also said is not a done deal, before admitting that no solution will be pleasant.

“We’re in circles of hell,” Trottenberg said. “A lot of people are going to hate what we propose, but none of the alternatives are loveable.”

Don't touch: Residents pushed the city to find a way to repair the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway's triple cantilever that won't require ripping up the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
The Brooklyn Paper file / Kelly Guenther

Last week, the city also proposed an option to repair the cantilever lane by lane that would not require turning the Promenade into a speedway, and would only close it for up to two years, but cautioned that job would cost between $3.4 and $4 billion and could last until 2029 — three years after Transportation Department leaders said the expressway would start to crumble beneath the weight of the thousands of big rigs that travel it daily, forcing the city to send the trucks down local streets instead.

Trottenberg, who fielded several boos from the crowd throughout the three-hour session, emphasized that the meeting was the first of many about the forthcoming project — which is set to kick off in 2021 after the state approved local transit leaders’ use of the streamlined designed-build process earlier this year — and that officials will continue to talk to locals and review all options in order to devise a final solution.