Community Leaders Slam DOT for Planned BQE Detours
12:01 AM EDT on July 13, 2022
Community leaders and pols in areas of Brooklyn affected by next year's repairs to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway are slamming the city for planning to detour tens of thousands of trucks and cars onto local streets without so much as a heads up.
Assembly Member Bobby Carroll (D-Park Slope) penned a letter last week chastising the Department of Transportation for failing to advise him, or the Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Prospect Park South communities he represents, of its plans to reroute tens of thousands of vehicles down residential streets when it undertakes the repairs.
The city revealed last month to Brooklyn Community Board 6 — which comprises Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope — that it plans to close sections of the highway in each direction during an undisclosed number of nights and three weekends between March and October 2023, and send rerouted traffic onto East Fifth Street and Caton Avenue in Carroll’s district, Third and Fourth Avenues in Sunset Park, and down Linden Boulevard, which runs through Flatbush and East New York and then into Queens.
But the DOT has not extended the same informational courtesy to residents who live along those corridors. Carroll, who said he only heard about the detours in the pages of Streetsblog, says the city needs to more equally distribute the weight, and keep all neighborhoods informed, not just the some.
“I was not aware of this proposal until I read your article and some constituents reached out,” said Carroll. “(The rerouted traffic) should be equitable, so no one community is overly burdened and all carry equal weight.”
The current proposal has Carroll fuming.
“East Fifth Street is a one-way narrow residential block with a school, playground, library, and Caton is two-way with two schools and a park — directing hundreds of thousands of trucks onto it seems insane,” he said. Roughly 153,000 vehicles use the BQE daily, though only a portion of those use the battered roadway on nights and weekends.
And other local leaders were also left in the dark. Barry Spitzer, the district manager of Community Board 12, which comprises Borough Park, Kensington, Ocean Parkway and Midwood, was especially baffled, he said.
“We have not been told anything. I really don't understand why we were left out,” said Spitzer.
And DOT also excluded Community Board 14, which also encompasses Caton Avenue and a stretch of Linden Boulevard, down which the city intends to reroute freight traffic, after a circuitous detour from the highway’s Prospect Expressway exit around Prospect Park and to the east via Caton Avenue, when the BQE's Queens-bound lanes are closed.
That truck detour could make an already dangerous situation worse. Last year on Caton Avenue and Linden Boulevard between the terminus of the Prospect Expressway and Kings Highway — a stretch of 2.8 miles — there were 257 reported crashes, injuring 139 people, city statistics show. Since 2014, there have been 3,610 reported crashes on that tiny stretch — an average of 380 per year — injuring 1,512 people and killing two pedestrians.
Yet the city failed to warn the board, according to its chairperson.
“Considering that Caton Avenue is a truck route, they absolutely should have reached out to us,” said Jo Ann Brown, adding that the DOT has engendered mistrust. “There’s been no community engagement yet about this plan.”
And the thoroughfare already has a problem with illegal 53-foot trucks that the city does not enforce, which have wreaked havoc on the area’s narrow roads, said Brown.
“There has been very little enforcement about truck size. That small stretch will be absolutely inundated,” she said. “We have premature erosion of the infrastructure of our roadways.”
Former Mayor de Blasio punted a full-fledged redesign of the six-lane highway to the next administration, promising that doing more immediate piecemeal work to shore up the beleaguered BQE would mean that the city could take its time coming up with a more complete re-imagination of the Robert Moses-era highway that bifurcated communities.
In order to “get this right,” de Blasio said at the time, the city would “engage affected communities from Staten Island to Queens, including businesses and the freight industry, on a corridor-wide vision for the long-term future of the BQE” — a grand scheme now taken up by his successor, Mayor Adams, who recently pledged to at least move faster.
But if the city’s weak initial outreach to those neighborhoods has left leaders with little confidence, said Jeremy Laufer, the district manager of Community Board 7, which encompasses Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace.
Laufer says he was told nothing of the planned detours, but that the city claims they are still trying to present to his community board some time this summer with plans to start the outreach for the more robust redesign in the fall.
“Is that bullshit? I don’t know at this point. I’m kind of jaded. Fool me once, fool me twice,” said Laufer. “DOT reached out to other communities prior but did not reach out to us….they were going to get to us, that’s their excuse. DOT did not communicate very well and some are more equal than others.”
And it’s laughable, he added, that the city would even propose sending more massive big rigs into Sunset Park before ever addressing residents' long-requested study of the effects of traffic patterns in the district.
“We have been asking for a pedestrian safety study for Third Avenue for more than 20 years, none seems to be forthcoming. To put added pressure on the most dangerous corridor in my district without dealing with the underlying issues, I think it’s going to result in tragedies,” said Laufer.
And similarly low is the confidence in the city's proposed timeline for the work — just three weekends over the course of many months seems unlikely, said Carroll.
“I don’t know if I believe it'll just be three. Over a seven- to eight-month period has a way of getting extended,” he said.
The DOT says it is reaching out to all of the expressway's impacted communities a year in advance (it's actually nine months) in order to respond to as “much feedback as possible.” The agency says it is also working on scheduling more community meetings in the coming weeks and months. And DOT added that the nightly closures for routine maintenance, unlike the full weekend shutdowns, "largely go on unnoticed."
“We have minimized disruptions for these essential repairs — including limiting the closures to three weekends only — and are reaching out a year in advance of the 2023 start date to share information with impacted communities and respond to as much feedback as possible," said Vin Barone, a DOT spokesman.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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