Comptroller Scott Stringer Wants the BQE for Trucks Only

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

The city shouldn’t spend $4 billion to completely rebuild a crumbling three-tiered section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but should instead rehab it into a truck-only highway with a park on top, said City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The likely mayoral candidate, who has opposed the city’s plan to fully rebuild a short segment of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn Heights, is demanding the city study turning the two-mile stretch from in Dumbo to Hamilton Avenue in Carroll Gardens into a truck-only route with a green-space above it to create sustainable pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. The plan also calls for decking over the long-reviled Cobble Hill trench that slices through several neighborhoods.

“We think there is a possible middle-ground that both responds to traffic needs while also dramatically improving local air quality, reducing noise pollution, and rebuilding neighborhoods that have long been divided by the BQE,” said Stringer. “That solution … is to convert the triple cantilever and the Cobble Hill trench into a truck-only highway with a new, vibrant linear park on top.”

Here's a map of Stringer's plan. Photo: Office of the City Comptroller
Here’s a map of Stringer’s plan. Photo: Office of the City Comptroller

In September, the Department of Transportation proposed two equally expensive — and equally criticized — options for rehabilitating the 1.5-mile stretch of the Robert Moses-era triple cantilever between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street: a temporary six-lane highway on the historic Brooklyn Heights Promenade until the old highway is completely rebuilt in place, or rebuilding the expressway lane by lane, potentially creating traffic jams for up to 12 miles.

But instead of rebuilding the entire infrastructure, Stringer’s plan calls for rehabilitating just one of the highway’s levels for truck traffic in each direction.

During construction, trucks would run in both directions on the middle-level of the triple cantilever while the Department of Transportation builds the bottom level, so no temporary roadways would be needed, according to his report.

Stringer’s proposal comes on the heels of an even bolder one from his likely competitor in the 2020 mayoral race: Council Speaker Corey Johnson last week demanded the city rethink its much-maligned plan to replace the triple cantilever — which carries 153,000 gas-guzzling vehicles every day — and perhaps just knock it down.

But Stringer conceded that the precedent in other cities to tear down expressways is different from it is here, since those roads were used only by car drivers. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway carries an average of 14,000 trucks every day, in addition to more than 150,000 cars.

“Nearly all of these highway teardowns have been car-only parkways — which is dinstinctly different from the BQE, which carries some 14,000 trucks per day,” said Stringer. “We can’t redirect those trucks on to local streets, we don’t have enough freight routes in the city, and this section of the BQE serves as an essential manufacturing and warehouse corridor.”

The Brooklyn Heights Association — which is so against the city’s two plans that it tapped its own architect to come up with an entirely new way, which calls for creating a temporary roadway along Brooklyn Bridge Park — applauded Stringer’s proposal.

“We were enthusiastic about the proposal with respect to the fact that it’s a creative idea and that it deserves further development,” said Executive Director Peter Bray.

Here's the vision. Photo: Office of the City Comptroller
Here’s the vision. Photo: Office of the City Comptroller

But Bray also called the proposal a “work in progress” in that more details need to be hammered out, like where the thousands of cars will go when they are kicked off the new truck-only Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. He suggested implementing a High Occupancy Vehicle-only lane, similar to what was proposed for the Williamsburg Bridge before Gov. Cuomo abruptly cancelled the L train closure.

“There are some open questions about how to handle reducing the number of cars that would be displaced from the BQE,” he said. “Under the Comptroller’s proposal, if one level of BQE is proposed to be trucks only, that could be broadened to include cars that had multiple occupants inside as well as buses. It could be a way of the minimizing the possibility of more traffic congestion on local streets.”

Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas echoed Bray’s suggestion in calling for carpool requirements, but specifically during construction of the new highway.

“Something like during construction you have to have four people in the car, that would either get rid of these trip altogether or be more efficiently used,” she said.

Now, Stringer says the cars will likely head to the Hugh Carey tunnel, Belt Parkway, or will rely on public transportation and carpooling.

“Diverting cars to the Hugh Carey tunnel, to the Belt Parkway, to public transit, and to carpooling, we believe that the impacts of closing two miles of the BQE to car traffic can be mitigated to a large degree and will, in fact, incentivize more sustainable transit,” he said.

The Department of Transportation says it is reviewing several options for the BQE, including Stringer’s proposal.

We are undertaking a thorough review process that will look at range of options for this critical transportation corridor, including the one proposed by the Comptroller, accompanied by substantial community and expert engagement,” said spokeswoman Alana Morales.

Last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg dismissed Streetsblog’s call for eliminating the BQE (as the video below shows), but perhaps her views are evolving…

 

  • r

    But Bray also called the proposal a “work in progress” in that more details need to be hammered out, like where the thousands of cars will go when they are kicked off the new truck-only Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

    They will go away. That’s it. That’s how it works. Especially if a teardown is done with street improvement projects that filter traffic and offset one-way streets so that the only drivers going through Brooklyn Heights are people who live, work and shop there.

    Stringer’s plan makes the most sense. It would be madness not to pursue it.

  • Elizabeth F

    This is an interesting inversion of the original Robert Moses-era vision for these roads: in which cars would zip by on the elevated expressways while trucks and buses used the surface streets.

  • Jacob

    “But Stringer conceded that the precedent in other cities to tear down expressways is different from it is here, since those roads were used only by car drivers.”
    Some fact checking here would be nice:

    The West Side Highway (NYC) carried trucks
    SF’s Central Freeway carried trucks
    Inner Loop (Rochester) carried trucks
    Southeast Freeway (DC) carried trucks
    Park East Freeway (Milwaukie) carried trucks

  • Profligate_Penguin

    I’ve been following the proposals for this project closely and I’m so in favor of this idea–I live nearby and own a car, and for about 90% of trips I already use the alternative routes mentioned because the BQE is garbage in just about every way possible.

  • AMH

    This sounds reasonable–trucks can run in both directions using the two outer lanes where there is sufficient clearance. Finally someone is thinking strategically!

  • Joe R.

    This makes a lot of sense. Say what you will about the Robert Moses era highways but it’s far safer to have trucks on highways instead of local streets. If this proposal is implemented, it could even be the start of similar things on other highways. In fact, in the long term no reason all of NYC’s highways can’t be turned into truck and bus routes only. That would allow narrowing them by at least one lane in each direction. It would allow room for a bike lane. Bicycles should have non-stop routes through the city also if we want to encourage more bike use.

  • reasonableexplanation

    The examples you gave ignore something very important:

    SF’s Central Freeway carried trucks
    SF’s population was essentially flat from 1950 – 2000, it’s only surpassed 1950 levels in the last few years.

    Inner Loop (Rochester) carried trucks
    Rochester has been shrinking in population since 1950.

    Southeast Freeway (DC) carried trucks
    DC still hasn’t exceeded the population it had in 1950.

    Park East Freeway (Milwaukie) carried trucks
    Milwaukee has a lower population now than it had in 1960.

    The West Side Highway (NYC) carried trucks
    When the West Side Highway was closed in 1973, NYC’s population was declining (by about 10% for the decade).

    NYC’s population is increasing at the moment (and about 20% higher now than when the West Side Highway was closed). The fact that we got the surface level “west side highway” we have now, and not an underground “Westway” as originally planned, is a travesty. There’s no reason for all those cars to be mixing with pedestrians when they could have been underground instead.

  • Andrew

    The fact that we got the surface level “west side highway” we have now, and not an underground “Westway” as originally planned, is a travesty.

    I certainly don’t think it’s a travesty that the funds that had been allocated to Westway were instead used to bring the subway system back from the depths of the deferred maintenance era.

  • Elizabeth F

    Cars don’t “mix” with pedestrians on the West Side Highway. It’s a well controlled road. Yes you have to be patient to cross it, but I’ve never felt unsafe doing so once might light turns green.

    With infinite funds, I suppose an underground highway (Boston Central Artery style) would have been nice. But what we have now is reasonable, and they’ve built an excellent bike highway (in spite of the dangerous truck-and-bus crossings). And over the next 50 years with sea level rise, it’s probably better not to have stuff underground there.

  • Danny G

    This is a smart idea. It saves time and money conpared to the current DOT plan, and it will keep trucks off local roads. What can be done to help push this plan forward?

  • douglasawillinger

    Why should have such transit funds been raised by cancelling Westway? Was that truly the best way to raise such funds?

  • cjstephens

    Just remember: it was the environmentalist movement that killed Westway.

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