Red Hook residents push to route trucks away from Van Brunt Street

Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.
Photo by Ben Verde

Red Hookers are pushing the Department of Transportation to remove Van Brunt Street from the city’s truck route map, contending that the massive vehicles that barrel down the corridor are out of touch with the street’s present-day use as the neighborhood’s Main Street.

Alex Washburn, a former planner with the Department of City Planning and member of the neighborhood group Resilient Red Hook, says the 18-wheelers that treat Van Brunt Street as a shortcut to avoid congested Hamilton Avenue create noise pollution and pose a serious threat to residents’ well-being.

“We can’t sleep at night and our houses are coming apart,” Washburn said at an Oct. 29 meeting of Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee. “It’s just an incompatible scale.” 

Washburn has documented trucks in the neighborhood creating sounds that near 100 decibels, comparable to an airplane taking flight.

The large trucks can also have adverse impacts on aging infrastructure in the neighborhood, another Red Hook resident said.

“It’s not only the noise,” said local marine equipment manufacturer Jim Tampakis. “I’m over on Richards [Street], one block over from Van Brunt, and when I have tractor-trailers coming by my place, my building is an old building, it’s over 100 years old, and the whole building shakes.”

In recent years, Red Hook has transformed from a mainly industrial neighborhood into a more mixed-use area with residences and small businesses that attract weekend crowds, making the trucks that cut through the heart of the commercial strip out of place, Washburn contended at the meeting.

“It is our main civic thoroughfare in the neighborhood,” Washburn said. “The existing truck route is incompatible with the necessary community uses on Van Brunt Street.”

The waterfront neighborhood’s current traffic conditions will likely only worsen thanks to a series of last mile distribution centers where online goods will stop on their way to their final destinations in the works on its shores. The warehouses, one of which is in the works at 640 Columbia St., and another at 537-555 Columbia St., will bring with them a dramatic increase in truck traffic. 

The board voted unanimously on Oct. 29 to support Resilient Red Hook’s resolution to ask the Department of Transportation to route trucks away from Van Brunt Street, but board members cautioned that an alternative route must be presented in order for the resolution to carry any weight. 

“I don’t see us being able to just automatically take it off the truck route without having an alternative place to put it,” said board member and Department of Transportation staffer Leroy Branch. 

Washburn said he favors a new route that would take trucks off public roads and through the Port Authority-owned Red Hook Container Terminal, similar to a plan that was backed years ago by the board.

The resolution will go before the full board for a vote later this month. The Port Authority declined to comment on the plan.