The state’s plan to rename the Battery Tunnel in honor of Hugh Carey, and the city’s plan to rename the Queensboro Bridge in honor of Ed Koch are not going to “Koch” on too quickly. Does anyone call the West Side Highway the Joe DiMaggio Highway?
If you’re giving someone directions, you’re not going to tell him to take the Gov. Hugh Carey Tunnel. It’s going to be confusing. The name is too entrenched. It will always be the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel. It’s been too many years — it opened in 1950, 60 years ago, connecting Brooklyn with Lower Manhattan, aka the Battery. It’s called the Battery Tunnel because in the early days of New York, there was a fort in Lower Manhattan, Castle Clinton, with cannons to protect the harbor from invading ships during wartime. When you have cannons at a fort, it’s called a battery.
There’s a joke that goes along with that. If you’re driving from Brooklyn and going toward Manhattan, and you’re crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll notice at night that the lights are much brighter in Lower Manhattan than in Midtown Manhattan. The answer is because Lower Manhattan is closer to the battery.
To co-name the tunnel after Carey would be fine, as long as the Battery Tunnel remains the main name. But to change the name completely, I think that’s a big mistake. When you take the name away, you take away some of the history of New York City.
What about all of these community establishments that mail out directions on how to get to the location? They’re going to have to change their fliers because instead of saying “the Battery Tunnel,” it’s going to have to say the “Gov. Hugh Carey Tunnel.”
On the other hand, if the city’s going to spend money on signs, it should put up a sign saying that you’re on the Gowanus Expressway. If you look at traffic reports, every single day, the Gowanus Expressway is always jammed, yet there’s not one sign telling you you’re on the Gowanus Expressway. If you’re giving someone instructions coming from Manhattan and getting on the Gowanus Expressway, he’s going to look for a sign for the Gowanus Expressway, and he’s not going to see one, because it doesn’t exist no matter what direction you’re going.
Ron Schweiger is the official Brooklyn Borough Historian.