It’s time to build the Brooklyn Strand
March 17, 2018
Few New York City infrastructure projects are more pressing than the rebuild of the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway triple cantilever from Atlantic Ave. to Sands St., now under environmental review. In 2016, the city’s Department of Transportation found that if significant repairs are not made by 2026, vehicle-weight limits and truck diversions will be necessary.
But the estimated $1.8 billion rebuild shouldn’t be an investment for cars and drivers alone. As planning moves forward, the project scope should extend beyond the highway’s barrier walls to include the jumble of adjacent underutilized spaces that lie in its shadow, from the Brooklyn Bridge up into the borough.
Fortunately, a comprehensive plan already exists to accomplish that: the Brooklyn Strand, a forward-thinking vision conceived by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and announced by Mayor de Blasio in 2014, which would knit together those forlorn spaces to create an inviting gateway to Brooklyn, from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to its fast-growing downtown. The roughly $120 million needed to complete the portion of the Strand closest to the BQE project should be included in the repair scope.
With the success of Brooklyn Bridge Park, we’ve seen the positive impact of public investment in the reclamation of underutilized space that connects neighborhoods, all in defiance of hulking roadways. The transformation of the park’s piers marked a turning point for New York City, helping it to reimagine its relationship to the waterfront. The Strand offers the perfect way to build on the investment.
There’s certainly a need. Pedestrians and bikers exiting the bridge today face a daunting maze of busy, confusing and often dangerous crossings and underpasses. Similarly, highly trafficked roads with limited crossings mar the walk from Downtown Brooklyn to the waterfront. Right now, we are actively putting down an “unwelcome” mat for visitors.
Exhibit A is Old Fulton St., the freeway-proportioned roadway that runs from Cadman Plaza down to historic Fulton Ferry, Dumbo, the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge and the park. As the park has become more popular, the need to overhaul this now heavily trafficked stretch has become increasingly glaring. The Strand plan would transform many of the empty lots that line it into green public spaces — and help turn this eyesore into a grand, welcoming boulevard.
Further, the Strand would allow the hodge-podge of overlooked spaces and existing rich architectural elements adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge along Old Fulton St. to finally reach their potential as publicly owned assets. It would create a multi-faceted greenway for programming such as markets, running and bike paths, and places to simply sit and enjoy views of the bridge and Manhattan skyline — all while honoring the bridge’s street-level archways by inviting the public, for the first time, right up to them.
The Strand also calls for a strong pedestrian link from Brooklyn Bridge to the under-used Cadman Park. While some of these spaces must initially be reserved for construction purposes, there’s no reason the ultimate build-out couldn’t restore all those areas for public use.
Although not technically part of the Brooklyn Strand, the similar potential remedies apply to the southern end of the BQE rehab project at Atlantic Ave. and in Brooklyn Heights. Atlantic is Brooklyn Bridge Park’s key connection to Cobble Hill and many Brooklyn neighborhoods to the south. Incorporation of green space and safer on and off ramps in that area should also be part of the BQE rebuild. And the Montague Street pedestrian bridge — an amenity that could connect the park directly to the street grid and to Brooklyn Heights’ major commercial stretch.
The BQE rebuild is a critical, once in a generation opportunity — not just to fix a roadway, but also to better integrate it into the borough and create the grand, green, safe gateway into Brooklyn that New Yorkers deserve. Let’s not let that opportunity pass us by.
President, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership
This article originally appeared in print and online in the New York Daily News on Saturday, March 17, 2018.