BY ANNA QUINN
APRIL 4, 2019
If crowd appeal is any indication, a new idea that proposes turning the Brooklyn Queens Expressway into the Brooklyn Queens Park is probably the most popular option yet for rebuilding the section of highway.
Architecture firm Bjark Ingels Group presented their “BQP” proposal for the first time publicly to a packed crowd at Plymouth Church, who were gathered for a Town Hall on the city’s controversial plans to reconstruct a 1.5 section of the highway.
And while the uproars of applause for the new idea were far from the only exciting moment during the more than two-hour meeting, the possibility of turning the triple-cantilever section of the expressway into 12-plus acres of riverside parkland definitely stole the show.
“In the face of environmental concerns — which are so real with the BQE — and technological innovation, we need grand plans for our future transportation systems and BIG has devised just such a plan,” said Mark Baker, a Brooklyn Heights resident had also suggested turning the cantilever into parks around the same time BIG was studying the highway.
The architect firm’s plan would bring the six-lane highway down to the level of Furman Street and cover it with a deck, leaving the two levels of the triple cantilever empty of cars and creating a new surface above the now-enclosed highway.
BIG then proposes a few options for turning those surfaces into parkland. The three-level structure could be maintained and create multiple layers of green space, or filled in to create a hillside connecting the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to the new Furman Street parkland, lead architect Jeremy Siegel said. He added that the Furman Street corridor could even provide a thru-way for the upcoming Brooklyn-Queens Connector street car.
In either plan, the new park space would connect the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The plan could even be the start of a “linear parkway” that connects Dumbo to Red Hook, the architects said, depending on how the new street-level section is connected to the rest of the expressway.
The plan is one of several suggestions that have been proposed as alternatives to two largely unpopular options proposed by the city Department of Transportation in September, the most controversial of which would build a six-lane temporary highway that would close down the Promenade for at least six years.
BIG said Wednesday that by their own calculations, the BQP plan offers the least cost-risk of all the options proposed thus far. It would specifically be vastly cheaper and faster than DOT’s temporary highway plan, they said.
“Build it once, not twice, and you save a lot of money and you save a lot of time,” an engineer with the firm said.
All of the new suggestions — including options developed by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Heights Association-commissioned architect Mark Wouters and Mark Baker — will likely be reviewed by a panel of experts who Mayor Bill de Blasio created just hours before the meeting. The new panel, in response to fervent community pushback over the last few months, will take a fresh look at all scenarios, de Blasio said.
Another level of scrutiny was also announced Wednesday by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who said during his speech at the Town Hall that the City Council plans to commission its own independent firm to evaluate any options brought forward by de Blasio’s panel.
Johnson, Stringer, Councilman Stephen Levin and other elected officials at the Town Hall called for a more creative solution than simply rebuilding the deteriorating highway.
“If we’re going to spend billions and billions of dollars on a project that is important to our city and this neighborhood shouldn’t the end result be better than what we began with?” Johnson said.
Leaders of the two groups hosting the Town Hall, A Better Way and the Brooklyn Heights Association, lauded the progress that the community has made since starting the fight against the DOT proposals September 27.
But even with a sense of optimism throughout the night — including a “We’re going to win this — it’s clear” rallying cry from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — elected officials and activists urged the community not to let up. The process, they said, will be a “marathon, not a sprint” as the project goes through the panel and then through the city’s land use process, the City Council and the state Legislature’s review.
“Instead of what are we fighting against, which was really the question we all wrestled with on September 27, the question I have for you tonight…is what are you going to fight for?” A Better Way co-Founder Hilary Jager said. “What are you going to fight for and what are you going to do about it?”