By Mary Frost
Back to the drawing board, please: The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) on Monday met with top Department of Transportation honchos and pushed them to consider alternatives to the city’s plan to replace the Promenade with a six-lane highway during the $3.4 billion reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
They also challenged DOT to drop several restrictions that limited engineers’ ability to spare the venerable esplanade, known as the jewel of Brooklyn Heights.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg along with other DOT officials, project engineers and elected officials met with BHA leaders for two hours.
BHA presented its alternative plan conceived by Marc Wouters Studios, a Heights-based architect-urban planning firm. The Wouters design would move traffic to a temporary two-level structure west of the existing triple cantilever, as opposed to DOT’s six-lane highway on the Promenade.
BHA said in a statement that the alternative design would impact Brooklyn Bridge Park’s noise-attenuating berms — steep, grass-covered hills — to some extent but would not affect the park’s usable space. It would also involve noise protection features so that the area now occupied by the berms could become useable parkland post-construction.
BHA Executive Director Peter Bray told the Eagle on Wednesday that Trottenberg “was receptive to having her engineers analyze Marc’s concept and for a later meeting with them to enable us to go into the technical aspects of the alternative proposal — what we call the Parallel Highway vs. DOT’s Promenade Highway. We anticipate that that meeting will occur once DOT has done a preliminary analysis.”
The design submitted by BHA offers several advantages, the group said.
“In addition to avoiding the terrible impacts of DOT’s Promenade Highway on numerous residential buildings along Columbia Heights, as well as on 360 Furman, the concept offers other advantages, such as various construction techniques that could accelerate the project’s completion,” BHA said.
On the downside, the alternative design would entail more temporary lane closures at certain locations than DOT’s preferred plan, making traffic management techniques necessary.
Rip Off the Band-Aid
The city — and Mayor Bill de Blasio — pushed for the “rip off the Band-Aid” version of the massive rehab because it will be faster than the typical lane-by-lane repair approach — roughly six years vs eight or more.
Replacing the storied esplanade with the BQE, however, would bring exhaust and noise from roughly 153,000 trucks and cars a day into neighborhood backyards.
The Promenade itself is include in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. Even its sweeping views— of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge — are protected by law. But that might not be enough to save it, celebrated preservationist Otis Pratt Pearsall told the Eagle earlier this month. Pearsall led the community’s seven-year effort in the 50s and 60s to designate Brooklyn Heights as the city’s first Historic District.
Landmarked status “is an important factor but I can’t say it’s a silver bullet … It’s just one arrow in our quiver,” he said.
BHA said the city unnecessary assumed the project had to stay within the city’s right-of-way; accommodate the same level of traffic as present currently; and limit planning to only that which is under the city’s control. The Wouters plan is an example of working outside of these self-imposed limitations, BHA said.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said they would work with the Governor’s Office and state transportation agencies on the project. Councilmember Stephan Levin and a representative of Borough President Eric Adams also attended.
On Monday afternoon another meeting took place. BHA and A Better Way NYC, another local group fighting the Promenade Highway, met with a roster of major New York civic and preservation organizations to enlist their support.
A Better Way NYC has gathered 50,000 signatures on a change.org petition and carried out a campaign to bring the issue to the attention of the public. A Better Way NYC has also joined forces with BHA to create the groundwork for a lawsuit, should it come to that.
The 3-D renderings of the concept have not yet been converted to a 2-D printable image. Check back at brooklyneagle.com for updates.