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Posts from the "Brooklyn-Queens Expressway" Category

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What It Looks Like to Walk the Length of the BQE

Here’s a project we’re glad not to be doing (but we’re thrilled someone is). Gallery owner Robert Hult is spending today walking the route of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, not on the highway but as close alongside it as possible, and posting regular photos to his Twitter account.

Taken collectively, the snapshots create a real vision of not only how Robert Moses’ massive highway transforms the blocks along its ten mile path, but how the communities around it have responded to the mega-structure abutting their homes and workplaces. Going through the full collection of photos, especially in order, is well worth your time.

Many of the images look something like this, a blank wall and plenty of asphalt. Nothing pedestrian-friendly or economically vibrant here.

So close to the highway, car-oriented design dominates. The Turbo Laundry Center advertises “ample parking,” and boasts a half-block curb cut for its surface lot.

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What If There Were Tolls on the BQE?

Workers redeck the Gowanus Expressway. Plans to overhaul the road completely were cancelled due to budget shortfalls. Photo: NYS DOT

The state Department of Transportation announced yesterday the cancellation of plans to rebuild 5.3 miles of the BQE and the Gowanus Expressway. It wasn’t a new round of freeway revolts that killed these projects but the state’s busted transportation budget.

“The economic downturn has affected all areas of government and Transportation is not an exception; recent projections show insufficient funds to meet our infrastructure needs,” reads the official notice of the projects’ demise in the Federal Register. “The cost of the alternatives being evaluated do not fall within NYSDOT’s funding constraints.”

This marks a decided change of tone from the state DOT, which until very recently was calling the repairs “critical needs” for public safety, as the New York Post reported today. Together, the two projects could have cost between $2.3 billion for rehab work alone and $35 billion for the most expensive tunnel alternatives, according to NYSDOT’s estimates.

At Streetsblog, we’re not going to shed tears about a major highway project being cancelled or delayed, especially not while transit is being stripped off the Tappan Zee Bridge and the MTA is being forced to put necessary repairs onto straphangers’ credit cards. But it’s interesting that in the absence of any political will to put a price on driving, even infrastructure projects designed to benefit motor vehicles, are falling by the wayside.

Not that New Yorkers won’t still be paying for the BQE. Even without the reconstruction projects, these are expensive roads. The ongoing redecking of just the Gowanus — meant only to be an interim solution — costs around $680 million, according to the state. Canceling the major rehab could end up costing much more in the end if expensive upkeep stretches on for decades, though it would let the state kick the can down the road during a time of fiscal duress.

The situation would be different if new tolls were on the table. Putting a price on the BQE would require federal approval, but Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has expressed a clear willingness to allow tolls on interstate highways where appropriate. Had tolls been on the table for the BQE and Gowanus, there would have been any number of different outcomes possible.

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Fixing the Ditch: Planning a Less Awful BQE Trench

BQE_Pic.pngThe BQE trench divides a neighborhood in two, spewing noise and air pollution. Photo: NYCEDC [PDF]

Between 1950 and 1964, Robert Moses gouged a path across two boroughs to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. In Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, the BQE slices through the urban fabric in the form of a below-grade trench, which has given many residents of those neighborhoods hope of covering that section of highway. As more people have moved to the west side of the ditch, the pressure to do something has mounted, but the BQE trench won't get capped any time soon.

Old_Neighborhood.pngBefore the BQE trench was built, the neighborhood had a fully connected street grid. Image: NYCEDC

The damage inflicted by the highway on residents' ears and lungs, however, could still be lessened, and some of the lost street connections can be restored. Right now, locals put up with traffic noise as high as 76 decibels -- at 80, you're subject to long-term hearing loss -- and dangerously elevated levels of asthma-causing particulate pollution. Their neighborhood is effectively split in two. A study sponsored by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who secured $300,000 in federal funds, offers a few partial solutions to "fix the ditch."

The project team developing the study held its first community planning session last week, and the Brooklyn Eagle reports that improved bike-ped connections across the highway, noise-reducing walls, and environmental remediation measures are the favored changes. (This is a separate project from the reconstruction of the BQE in downtown Brooklyn, which could have major implications for the local and regional transportation system.)

The NYC Economic Development Corporation is leading the study, in partnership with NYCDOT and a host of consulting firms. The goal for now is to produce a plan that can be shopped around for additional funding. After two more community meetings, the lead planners will put out a conceptual design and engineering report in July. In the fall, they'll issue three alternative plans for the trench. The money isn't in place yet for the redesign itself. 

Neither is funding available for capping the trench, which could create new real estate for public space or private development. Seattle famously decked over part of I-5 to create Freeway Park, and Los Angeles is considering doing something similar where the 101 Freeway divides downtown. Though the Eagle reported that many residents near the BQE trench still hold out hope for such a bold scenario, planners don't expect to have access to the kind of money needed for more than incremental changes.

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StreetFilms: Bay Ridge Bus Commuters Talk Congestion Pricing

StreetFilms joined up with Transportation Alternatives' Executive Director, Paul Steely White to talk about congestion pricing with express bus commuters in Bay Ridge. Bus riders told White that they'd like to have more buses and a faster commute. One commuter pointed out that virtually every automobile on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway carries just one person.

Another bus rider pretty well summed it up with this:

Congestion pricing would be $8 for cars. I pay $10 every day to get into and out of the city -- on a bus. Sometimes that bus isn't on time, sometimes it takes me three times as long as it should. I don't see what the problem is with other people paying.

If congestion pricing is approved, New York City will receive a $354.5 million federal grant that will be used to put 367 new buses on 36 routes in 22 neighborhoods as well as additional funds for the ferry and ferry improvements.

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Brian Ketcham Proposes a “Simpler, Cheaper Traffic Fix”

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Distribution of vehicles entering Manhattan CBD by direction and pricing status (Zupan & Perrotta, 2003).


In an op/ed piece in Monday's Daily News, Brooklyn-based transportation consultant Brian Ketcham proposed some changes to Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan. Ketcham, who has been pushing for some form of congestion pricing since his time working for the Lindsay Administration more than 30 years ago, argues that New York City should:

  • Put tolls on the free East River Bridges.
  • Move the pricing zone's northern boundary down to 60th Street.
  • Eliminate all free and long-term street parking and charge hefty garage rates at on-street meters inside the Central Business District.

It is not surprising to see the idea of East River bridge tolls popping up right now. Prior to Mayor Bloomberg's Long-Term Sustainability announcement in April, virtually everyone who was doing serious thinking about New York City traffic reduction was focused on the 170,000+ vehicles traveling over the free East River bridges each day.

In July 2003, Ketcham and economist Charles Komanoff published, The Hours, a study that found that tolling the free East River Bridges would "do away with more than 9% of the idle time that motorists, truckers and bus riders now lose in traffic tie-ups throughout New York City" with significant congestion reductions in the outer boroughs, in particular.

Earlier that year, Komanoff also published "Who Will Really Pay," a study that found commuters who drive to work over the East River bridges earn, on average, $14,300/year more than those who don't drive to work over a free bridge (download it here).

A September 2003 Transportation Alternatives study of East River bridge tolls by Bruce Schaller made similar findings. Schaller also noted the difficult "political realities" of tolling the bridges.

In November of 2003, Jeff Zupan and Alexis Perrotta at the Regional Plan Association published a study that tested four different congestion pricing scenarios, all of which included some form of East River bridge tolls (download it here). One of their models found, "At the East River bridges traffic would drop by about 25 percent, likely leading to the virtual elimination of congestion at those crossings," as well as "relief on local streets" and "less traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

With all of that in mind, here is Ketcham's Daily News editorial, re-printed in full:

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They Come to Bury the BQE, Not to Praise It

bqe.JPGThe Brooklyn Paper reports that there's talk brewing about seizing an opportunity to bury the section of the BQE that runs underneath the Promenade, rather than simply repair it (right, the Atlantic Ave. overpass where the roadway rises near the site of the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Park and the One Brooklyn condo development):

Some Brooklyn Heights residents now want to replace the part of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that runs beneath the famed Promenade with a tunnel. "The beauty of a tunnel is it can [go] anywhere," said Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon at a Tuesday meeting with the state transportation officials. The current plan for repairing the busy highway calls for rebuilding the steel and concrete decks, but Simon sees "an opportunity" to fix a "cockamamie" design once and for all, noting that one such tunnel was built beneath the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A Department of Transportation said the state would "look at a tunnel option if there was a strong consensus that [it] must be looked at."

Photo: Sarah Goodyear
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Eyes on the Street: Grim, Immovable

BQE.jpg

The BQE, as seen from Lorimer Street.

All this talk about Robert Moses lately leads one to think about the Freeway Revolt.

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Streetfilms: The Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway


The Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway
A Clarence Eckerson Streetfilm
Running time: 11:42, 28.21 MB, QuickTime

In the midst of his reign has New York City's master-builder, Robert Moses proposed building a network of massive expressways through the middle of Portland, Oregon's inner-city core. One part of Moses' plan was to replace a stretch of vibrant, healthy neighborhoods with a 40-foot-deep trench that would have been called the Mount Hood Freeway.

Almost identical in design to the entrenched section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway running through filmmaker Eckerson's Brooklyn neighborhood, construction of the Mount Hood Freeway would have eliminated one percent of all of the housing units in the entire city of Portland.

The plan had the blessings of everyone who was important in Portland politics and was considered a "done deal" until Portland's neighborhoods organized to stop it. The defeat of the Mount Hood Freeway, "radically altered the city of Portland forever," Eckerson says and set Portland on an entirely different trajectory. The story gives us a hint of how New York City could have been and could still be if we begin to prioritize neighborhood life ahead of the goal of moving motor vehicle traffic.


Today, many of the Mt. Hood Freeway's "ghost ramps" lead to bike paths and parks.


Portland's transit systems go out of their way to help commuters leave their cars at home.


Portland's growing lightrail system was built with money that would have been poured into freeways.