Promenade prose: Locals covering Heights walkway in chalk-written odes

Promenade prose: Locals covering Heights walkway in chalk-written odes
Celia Weintrob

They hope the chalk is mightier than the wrecking ball!

Brooklyn Heights residents are inviting locals to show how much they love the neighborhood’s imperiled Promenade by taking chalk to the walkway and covering it in messages stating what the esplanade means to them.

The personal odes to the nearly 70-year-old Promenade — which the city may destroy in order to repair the triple-cantilevered part of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway it sits above — are an attempt to get officials to notice just how important it is in peoples’ lives before they decide to bulldoze it, according to one resident who lent her hand to the cause.

“It’s trying to get publicity and the attention of elected officials, the community, and the city as a whole,” said Celia Weintrob, a Heights resident of more than three decades and a former co-owner and publisher of this newspaper. “It’s something that the mayor, the transportation commissioner, and Councilmembers can look at and see that we mean business.”

Weintrob visited the Promenade — which runs between Remsen Street and Columbia Heights — with a bucket of chalk in hand around 8:30 am on Tuesday, and said some preservationists already left messages including “a place that makes city living sane” and “Mr. Mayor, please don’t wreck this gorgeous place” on the pavement.

She left her chalk — which she said she will replenish over the coming days if need be — on the walkway, and encouraged others from the neighborhood and beyond to come grab a stick and scrawl a message, with the goal of covering the entire Promenade in sentiments before rain forecast for this weekend washes them away.

“We want to cover every inch with messages about why the Promenade is important in peoples’ lives,” Weintrob said. “It’s better than standing around chanting, and holding up signs. It’s a very sincere expression.”

The chalk-writing exercise is the brainchild of the newly formed grass-roots group Save the Promenade, according to Weintrob, whose members also recently launched an online petition urging the city to spare the esplanade that by 2 pm on Tuesday received more than 15,000 signatures, including John Hancocks from such notable supporters as actor Mark Ruffalo.

The preservationist group formed in the days after officials announced their two options for repairing the crumbling 1.5-mile stretch of expressway from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, one of which calls for closing the Promenade for no less than six years and replacing it with a six-lane speedway for cars, trucks, and other traffic, with the other proposing a lane-by-lane reconstruction of the highway that would cause traffic jams stretching for up to 12 miles.

Earlier this month, Mayor DeBlasio publicly endorsed the option to replace the esplanade with a temporary highway — which he equated to pulling off a Band-Aid — calling it the less-painful choice because it would allow the city to finish the job by 2026 if it begins as soon as 2020, while the lane-by-lane option could last for nearly a decade. Both scenarios would cost more than $3 billion, nearly double the price tag officials originally predicted, and reconstructing the expressway lane-by-lane would still require closing the Promenade, but likely only for up to two years.

But many locals blasted Hizzoner for supporting the option to demolish the esplanade at the same time Department of Transportation leaders promised to explore other solutions — including a proposal supported by Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) to pave over berms recently installed along the Furman Street border of Brooklyn Bridge Park in order to build the temporary roadway there.

And seven days after he came out in favor of ripping up the Promenade, which officials promised to replace should they proceed with that option, DeBlasio dialed back his conviction for that solution, saying that all options — including sending traffic closer to the park — are still under consideration.

“I am the first to say a lot of times a government has good ideas, and there are a lot of other times when someone at the community level or other experts come forward with another alternative that may work,” the mayor told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer during an Oct. 19 episode of the journalist’s eponymous show, exactly one week after he endorsed the option to temporarily destroy the Promenade on the same program. “So we will definitely look at that.”