Wall Street Journal Scribe Joins Streetsblog in Calling for BQE Teardown

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is in danger of collapse. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is in danger of collapse. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Why not tear the whole thing down?

That’s the right question being posed about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway this morning in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by reporter Anne Kadet.

Kadet’s piece argues that a boulevard-style roadway — like the, ahem, West Side Highway conversion decades ago — might lead to “economic development and improved livability.”

We came up with the same idea when the city announced its plan in September to rebuild the portion of the BQE under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. So we asked New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg about it.

“I read what SB had to say,” Trottenberg said. “Here’s the challenge: for better or for worse, this roadway right now is carrying 153,000 vehicles a day — a lot of trucks — and a lot of that traffic is within the city. … A lot of trucks are delivering food, furniture goods you name it. … A part of me would love to say we could do without this roadway, but I just think from what we’ve seen even when you see the smallest of delays or crashes on this roadway, the backups can be catastrophic.”

Trottenberg admitted that she shares Streetsblog’s “desire to see a city someday that has far fewer vehicles and doesn’t need a massive highway,” but added, “I don’t think that’s where the city is right now.”

Streetsblog asked her about massive tolls on the BQE to at least make drivers pay their fair share, but Trottenberg declined a full answer.

“That’s not my department,” she said. “I’m working with the hand I’m dealt.”

Watch the full, exciting video below:

  • “I don’t think that’s where the city is right now.”

    With a garbage mayor, it never will be

  • Larry Littlefield

    “A lot of trucks are delivering food, furniture goods you name it.”

    She’s right. It’s essential for freight, which is something a lot of people don’t want to bother thinking about. As one transportation engineer once told me “people don’t like trucks. But they want the things that come in trucks.”

    “This roadway right now is carrying 153,000 vehicles a day.”

    My guess is that one-third of them, 51,000, are a lot more essential and have many fewer acceptable alternatives that the other 102,000. My alternative, once again, is here.


  • Elizabeth F

    I suspect Trottenberg may be right. A quick look at NYC map reveals that Brooklyn has by far the largest stretches of area without any major boulevards / freeways / parkways.

  • Danny G

    Make it commercial vehicles only. You could likely rebuild it with two lanes and be done in half the time for half the price.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    The very end of the article where they suggest shutting it down and see what happens is a very good idea. I doubt the world will end and I imagine viable alternatives will emerge.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    Commercial only is an interesting idea. There’s a commercial traffic only “access road” in South Boston that I’m thinking of.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    There it is. South Boston bypass. Two lanes in each direction. Commercial only. Roughly 1.3 miles (BQE from the Battery Tunnel to the Brooklyn Bridge is roughly 1.8 miles.) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e6b7c4db252a14ae7facae3b1dc8eaa47b6d9b6d7ff09a3adf815f2112197bf1.png

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    Also, it’s partially elevated and partially depressed, not unlike the BQE.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Divert traffic by closing this segment to general traffic, and probably general traffic on the rest of the road would fall as well, making it even better for trucks.
    Comes down to politics in southern Brooklyn and Staten Island. I’d say extend the extra lane of the SIE right to the Goethals as part of the deal.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    We could make better use of Brooklyn’s existing freight railroad:


  • Larry Littlefield

    Stuff would still have to be distributed by truck, however. All you do is shift the transfer point across the river.

    And when this was proposed back in the day, people went nuts when that transfer point — the place where all the trucks would come from and go to — was identified.

    You still need this stretch of road.

  • Larry Littlefield

    A look at the through truck route map is even more stark.
    The through truck routes are:
    1) the BQE.
    2) Atlantic Avenue east from the BQE, to Conduit and on to JFK, Sunrise Highway and the South Shore of Long Island. (No trucks on the Belt Parkway).
    3) The Prospect Expressway from the BQE, then Church Avenue through the heart of Flatbush, then Flatbush Avenue.
    That’s it.
    When I ride over the BQE on the Manhattan Bridge in the afternoon, it’s 1/3 to 1/2 trucks.

  • crazytrainmatt

    Kind of like an “anti-parkway” — perhaps out of all the Moses-era decisions, building most of the highway network so that it can only support light cars is the most crippling.

  • crazytrainmatt

    I don’t know the area well except for having biked along it, but it seems the belt parkway between the Verrazano and JFK would have relatively fewer bridges to rebuild to truck clearances as it mostly abuts the water.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They have been rebuilding all those bridges for years. They either rebuilt them to truck clearances or they didn’t.

    But what about trucks going to north Brooklyn and the industrial areas along Newtown Creek?

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    The freight arrives by water from NJ. The dock/train transfer point in Brooklyn is located next to the Army Terminal 0% residential, is put onto an existing freight-train line and then delivered by much smaller trucks to final destinations. Or, dare I say it? Cargo-bikes!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Hours of delay and big increases in cost at each point, not to mention the need for land. Lots of land. Every change of mode is time and cost.

    The transfer point can’t be at the Brooklyn Army terminal, because any tunnel would come to the surface inland. There was some talk of having trains switch, go backward, etc. The only place that makes sense is along Newtown Creek, Queens side. But lots of property would have to be taken, and all those trucks would have to go alongside the cemetary to the LIE/BQE.

    No easy answer, even if all our future money wasn’t going to senior benefits and health care, nationwide.

    It’s like wanting to fund the MTA exclusively with the hidden $billions from the two sets of books and advertising revenues. It’s popular, until it doesn’t work.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If you want to get crazy, and ignore the society-wide financial picture, how about a national conveyer belt?

    Isn’t it a little silly they are thinking of self-driving trucks when we don’t have self driving trains?

    Every subway car has its own traction motors. Now imagine flat cars with their own traction motors carrying containers around the country, on grade-separated, electrified rights of way, individually or in platoons, exiting to transfer points to be quickly dropped on truck trailers. Double track, single stack instead of double stack, single track, with the tracks not taxed to death.

    What am I thinking? This isn’t China! Intermodal freight moves at 30 miles per hour at best, and spends an average of 24 hours piling up at the terminal. It accounts for a small share of overall non-bulk freight movement.


  • AMH

    One lane in each direction!

  • Daphna

    Roads for commercial vehicles only are a great idea. NYC has gone in the exact opposite and wrong direction and has many roads that are designated for private car only, no commercial traffic (FDR, West Side Highway, Park Avenue, etc.), which should never be the case.

  • Vooch


    remove the BQE


    restore the pre-existing grid.


  • Aaron Sosnick

    From a friend in LA: I’m continually fascinated by the removal of the Seoul’s freeway over the Cheonggyecheon River. That freeway carried 170,000 vehicles per day, which is more than the 110 handles north of the 101-110 interchange in DTLA. I cannot even fathom LA contemplating removing the 110 entirely north of downtown, and yet that’s what Seoul did, and as a result traffic dropped, air quality improved, and the city created an incredibly popular park and open space that has transformed its quality of life for the better.

  • neroden

    Shifting the transfer point to east-of-the-city for the Long Island deliveries is a very, very big deal.

    Jerrold Nadler has been backing the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel for decades; it was supposed to have been built in the 1900s, but they just didn’t do it, and the result is excessive truck traffic.

  • neroden

    Self-driving trains are a solved technological problem and are used by Vancouver SkyTrain. The only reason others aren’t using it is laziness.

    CSX is the second-worst of the major freight railroads in North America (after CN) and its lines need to be purchased by the state government ASAP. To their credit, Massachusetts has already bought most of the CSX lines in that state (and will probably buy the rest soon), and NY has finally leased the CSX line from Poughkeepsie to Albany, so we may see more purchases from CSX soon.

  • neroden

    Two transfer points: Newtown Creek for Brooklyn/Queens, and a point substantially further east for Suffolk/Nassau trucks.

    The real win for reducing truck traffic is less obvious: there should also be a transfer point in Westchester County or Connecticut. Right now all freight for Connecticut and Westchester gets trucked in, often through New York City.

  • neroden

    Through trucks shouldn’t exist.

    There should be zero through truck routes through NYC.

    That’s why we need a train route through NYC. If you’re running through traffic from one end to the other, you should be running it on the train.

    Trucks for local deliveries to NYC only.

  • neroden

    It’s worth sorting local truck traffic from through truck traffic. Local truck traffic is valuable; long-distance truck traffic is a mistake and should be on trains. (But the Port Authority has avoided building the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel for over 100 years, for dumb reasons.)

  • Joel N. Weber II

    Does the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel actually help NJ to MA at all? What’s wrong with staying west of the Hudson to Selkirk NY and then taking the Boston & Albany to West Springfield MA or Worcester MA?

    There’s also perfectly good track from Springfield MA to Hartford CT and New Haven CT, and there’s a perfectly good Providence & Worcester Railroad. Perhaps these NJ to CT/RI rail routes aren’t quite as direct as the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel would be, but I think they’d still provide significant labor savings over trucking.

    Also, is adding two tracks to the new Tappan Zee Bridge to be shared between freight and commuter rail an option? Would it make more sense than the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel?

    Freight once traveled through New York Penn Station, too. Once Gateway gets built, maybe there might be enough spare capacity to send single stack container trains through New York Penn Station?

  • NSKBridges

    You guys forget geography. Truck traffic to and from Long Island depends on two expressways through the city: the BQE and the Cross Bronx. Making an urban boulevard would be economically destructive.