Op-Ed | Equity Matters: Sunset Park deserves more in DOT’s plans for BQE South and Third Avenue

sunset park BQE rally
Sunset Park needs more than what the DOT is proposing in its revisioning of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, writes Julio Peña III.
Photo courtesy of Julio Peña III

In the intricate maze of New York City, Sunset Park stands as a vibrant embodiment of diversity and resilience. Three years ago, our community experienced yet another loss with the tragic death of Clara Kang — a dedicated nurse whose life was cut short while cycling home. On Nov. 19, we stood together to commemorate Clara’s memory and others on World Remembrance Day, advocating for Safer Streets. Despite promises and officials pledging “not one more death on Third Avenue,” the reality remains largely unchanged. The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plans for the BQE in Sunset Park sadly echo a distressingly familiar narrative of inequity.

sunset park vigil
The community rallied in honor of Clara Kang after her death in 2020. Photo by Julio Peña III

On Nov. 6, in the cafeteria of PS 24, NYC DOT released proposed improvements for the BQE and Third Avenue corridor. While many had and continue to advocate that the BQE should be torn down altogether, the City and State have fallen short of embracing this proposal. In their “revisioned” BQE North and Central, proposals include capping and trenching the BQE and adding significant investments like parks and green infrastructure. Whereas the proposal for the Sunset Park community “BQE South,” a predominantly working class immigrant community, was left with crumbs. The BQE South vision included “metered parking and micro-hubs,” which is a fancy way to say additional truck parking in service to the massive delivery hubs, which communities like ours, are fighting against. This stark disparity raises a glaring red flag, spotlighting a systemic equity issue that demands all of our attention.

Sunset Park deserves more than inadequate plans. The current proposals not only miss the moment but also erode the core principles of equitable urban planning. As the Department of Transportation charts the future of Third Avenue and the BQE, it must grapple with the uncomfortable truth that historical urban planning in this city has disproportionately left certain communities worse off. Our community deserves and demands a future where planning serves all, leaving no one behind. The lackluster proposals for BQE South perpetuate a narrative of neglect, leaving Sunset Park residents questioning DOTs duty to keeping streets safe for young and old alike whether passing by on foot, bus or bike. 

Equity cannot be a checkbox in the planning rooms of DOT. It has to translate into real results for the communities who have been most historically wronged, especially in a city-organized “revisioning” and development initiatives. The working-class immigrant spirit that fuels Sunset Park’s heartbeat deserves infrastructure that uplifts, not perpetuates and stagnates issues of community concern. 

We understand the complexity of city planning and acknowledge DOT’s efforts. However, we urge a recalibration of priorities to ensure that every segment of the BQE receives the attention it deserves. Sunset Park cannot be an afterthought in New York City’s development plans.

dot sunset park session
The DOT is hosting community feedback sessions as it works on its proposal for the BQE South. Photo courtesy of Katherine Walsh

The proposed improvements must align with the character of our community, addressing pedestrian safety concerns, enhancing accessibility, improving air quality, and fostering a sense of pride in our shared spaces. Sunset Park deserves a vision that is thoughtful, comprehensive, and reflective of the resilience that defines us and addresses the concerns raised by its residents.

As the DOT moves forward, let it not be blinded by the glaring inequality in the proposals. Sunset Park stands united, demanding not just a fair share, but a visionary approach to the improvements for BQE South. Our working-class immigrant community deserves to be at the forefront of urban development, not relegated to the shadows. 

Julio Peña III is Chair of Brooklyn Community Board 7 and has been a member of the board since 2016. You can view the proposals for Third Ave/BQE here. On X (the site formerly known as Twitter) @Julio_PenaBK. Community members are invited to share views on the Third Avenue/BQE proposals at the next Transportation Committee of Community Board 7, Monday, December 11 @ 6:30 p.m. at the Board Office.