Promenade in peril! Mayor says replacing walkway with highway is better option for fixing BQE

The story of Brooklyn Heights? Stability
The Brooklyn Paper file / Kelly Guenther

Mayor DeBlasio would prefer to turn the Brooklyn Heights Promenade into a speedway for thousands of vehicles to zip through the neighborhood instead of sending that traffic down local streets during the looming repairs to the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway, he announced on Friday.

“It will definitely have a big impact, but I think it’s the way to address the bigger problem once and for all, and as quickly as we can,” Hizzoner told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer during an episode of the journalist’s eponymous show. “It’s a painful approach, it will definitely create a lot of inconvenience for people — I don’t want to underestimate what impact it would have.”

Last month, the city’s Department of Transportation unveiled two options for repairing the 70-year-old triple-cantilevered portion of the expressway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street: Either close the fabled walkway above it for no less than six years to make way for a six-lane highway, or reconstruct the three-tiered roadway lane-by-lane, causing traffic jams that officials warned could stretch for up to 12 miles.

Both options would cost more than $3 billion, nearly double what agency leaders originally predicted, and reconstructing the expressway lane-by-lane would still require closing the Promenade, but likely only for up to two years, according to transit officials.

Brooklyn Heights residents and pols, however, overwhelmingly opposed the plan to replace the walkway with a six-lane highway — not least because they claimed the cars, trucks, and busses that would travel it would rush past some area apartments at eye-level — and demanded Transportation Department bigwigs go back to the drawing board and come up with more options that wouldn’t require ripping out the Promenade, including potentially paving over parts of Brooklyn Bridge Park in order to reroute vehicles along the green space.

But many locals worried the city already made the choice to turn the walkway into a speedway shortly after announcing the two repair options under consideration, the executive director of civic group the Brooklyn Heights Association told transit officials last month.

And the mayor coming out in favor of the plan to temporarily destroy the Promenade, which officials promised to rebuild if they demolish it to fix the expressway, has only stoked those fears — and came as a slap in the face to residents advocating for another solution, according to the Heights Association’s president.

“At a time when the BHA has been trying to meet again with the DOT to urge serious consideration of alternatives to its two proposals, the mayor makes it clear that the city does not care to hear our community’s opinion,” said Martha Bakos Dietz. “His reference to the DOT’s alternative plan as a band-aid approach is condescending and dismissive of the very real consequences to Brooklyn Heights of an approach that would place six lanes of highway traffic in close proximity to a historic district, and its almost 2-centuries-old buildings.”

The piecemeal approach to repairing the triple cantilever could take nearly a decade to complete once workers begin the job sometime in 2020 or 2021 — making it virtually impossible to finish before 2026, the year experts predict the expressway will start to suffer irreparable damage under the weight of the thousands of trucks that travel it daily.

And that’s why getting the job done as fast as possible by paving over the Promenade is the better of the two “painful” options, according to DeBlasio.

“One would cause a huge number of vehicles to go through the streets of Brooklyn and clog up residential areas and business areas, and I think that’s extraordinarily problematic. It would also take longer – several years longer to achieve the change in the BQE,” he said. “The other is kind of the pull-the-band-aid off approach.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.