Locals pan city metered parking plans beneath Williamsburg BQE

BQE Meeker and Union
DOT wants to turn three blocks of Meeker Avenue beneath the BQE, seen here at the intersection of Union Avenue, into more than 300 metered parking spots.
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The city wants to completely transform the long-neglected wasteland under Williamsburg’s section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — by charging you $1.50 an hour to park there!

North Brooklynites lambasted a Department of Transportation scheme to turn disused lots along Meeker Avenue into more than 300 metered parking spaces at a heated virtual civic meeting Thursday night, saying locals have been asking the city to make the area a nicer community space for years, not add more car infrastructure.

“This highway has divided this community in half for three generations,” said Greenpoint resident Kevin LaCherra at Community Board 1’s Transportation Committee meeting on Nov. 5. “We’re starting to think about and talk about what this space can be going forward into the future, whether it can be parks or basketball courts, whether it can hold stormwater, green infrastructure, parks, whatever it may be — paid parking was never a part of that conversation.”

DOT pitched the project as a way to regulate the space that currently has free parking, while also cleaning up rampant illegal dumping and moving out people experiencing homelessness that have set up encampments there.

“We believe that this proposed parking facility is now needed and will add to the positive ongoing changes to the neighboring communities of Williamsburg and Greenpoint,” Carlos Torres, the agency’s director of parking facilities management, read from a prepared statement. “This proposed facility will have regulated parking and continued maintenance and serve as an asset to the community.”

The revamp will start its first phase from Metropolitan Avenue to Leonard Street, before continuing all the way to Morgan Avenue, and street planners claimed the overhaul will pave the way for a long-awaited Meeker Avenue bike lane, which officials will present to the board in early 2021.

The board’s district manager didn’t buy those promises, saying DOT should come back with fully-fledged plans. 

“DOT speak with forked tongue,” said Gerald Esposito. “If this is the beginning of this wonderful area that’s going to be under the expressway that they’re going to promote and do, then let’s see the full package, because they certainly can’t be trusted.”

A rep for Councilman Stephen Levin’s office added that the pol and many residents have complained about the garbage for years and that the city should not dress up an unpopular proposal with basic municipal services.

“That is something that our city has a responsibility to address, that is why we have a Department of Sanitation, that should not be as a goodie or something offered as bait to move forward a plan,” said Elizabeth Adams, who is also running for Levin’s seat next year. “I do think it’s important that we not use extortionist methods to make decisions around parking when we have such urgent public space needs for our city.”

Several committee members noted that the agency held a workshop in 2017 gathering input on how to upgrade the desolate area, with slides showing transformed public spaces around the city for inspiration, such as the plaza around the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station at the Bushwick-Queens border, or the 125th Street Plaza beneath the Metro North Railroad tracks in Manhattan.

A slide from DOT’s 2017 input workshop gathering input on the area’s future showed transformed spaces like 125th Street Plaza in Harlem.DOT

“The general feeling was that we were going to see more people-friendly uses for under the BQE, not additional car infrastructure,” said the board’s Transportation Committee chairperson Eric Bruzaitis. “Just to have the announcement that we were going to do this phased-in metered parking, I think it came to a shock to a lot of us.”

That brainstorming session is a far cry from today’s pandemic-ravaged city budget where funds to pay for such larger-scale project are scant, according to a borough liaison for DOT.

“The visioning session that happened in like 2017, we’re in a different time now than that,” said Ronda Messer. “We wanted to hear what people’s ideas were — whatever they were. But at this point, if you wanted to put in a park… or something that doesn’t involve DOT infrastructure, there would have to be a comprehensive proposal on who is going to pay for that and who is going to maintain it.”

Even though the community board does not have veto power for the project, the committee unanimously passed a symbolic motion to oppose DOT’s plans and demand the agency return with a comprehensive proposal based on the earlier workshops.