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DOT Sees More Highways As Brooklyn's Road to Clean Air

by Daniel Convissor
Auto-Free Press
January/February 1992

The City's Department of Transportation (DOT) is using clean air requirements as an excuse for two major downtown Brooklyn highway expansions -- reconstructing the Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and building a new offramp from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). (See descriptions elsewhere on this page.) These Plans, which cannot survive public scrutiny, should immediately be canceled and the funds diverted to the real solution -- mass transit.

The supposed need for making these traffic flow improvements was cooked up in the Downtown Brooklyn Master Planning Improvement Study, published by what is now the Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The computer studies were performed because federal and city clean air laws require solutions to air quality problems that new developments cause. But environmental concern is being turned on its head so that officials can justify more roadway capacity.

"We are not providing more road space," says Michael Weiss, the DOT's Chief of Staff, "we are just trying to pass through more cars." But this wont solve downtown Brooklyn's transportation problems. The majority of people entering downtown Brooklyn are only passing through on their way to or from Manhattan or points beyond, with relatively few car trips being generated from downtown Brooklyn. Vehicles from New jersey and Manhattan bound for downtown Brooklyn travel in reverse peak direction, not adding to peak-flow traffic jams.

During these peak hours, most people enter Manhattan from downtown Brooklyn by subway. On average, four out of five Brooklyn residents don't own cars. So who is to benefit from these city-funded cars-only facilities? The projects amount to a de facto subsidy just for rush hour car commuters, the last thing our city should be doing.

Through and From Downtown Brooklyn

Mode          Percent
------        -------
Subway          92.8%
Bus              0.1%
Bicycle          0.1%
Walk             0.2%
Motor Vehicles   6.8%

NYMTC Hub-Bound Travel, 1986
NYCDOT Bicycle Statistics, 1986

Our city should be charging East River bridge tolls. This would reduce traffic over the Manhattan and Brooklyn spans by an estimated 15 to 20 percent, eliminating the "need" for the highway expansion projects. Motorists now using these bridges would switch to mass transit, bicycles, walk or use the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, leaving commercial vehicles and delivery vans to benefit from less congestion and better maintained bridges.

The city is at a crossroads. It can spend a fortune accommodating more and more cars, or it can receive revenues through tolls which would cut car use, fix the bridges, improve our environment and provide better mobility to all New Yorkers by enhancing our auto-free transportation system.

DOT Wants to Tunnel into the Brooklyn Bridge

To bring the Adams and Tillary Sts. intersection at the Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge into compliance with Clean Air regulations, the DOT is considering either building a 550 foot long underground tunnel or completely altering car movement on the surface. Either option will spend lots of money, increase motor vehicle use and make the air worse.

The tunnel proposal was camouflaged in an apparent attempt to get by the City Council. In past capital budgets and the FY '92 Capital Commitment Plan, the project was described as "Recon[structing] and rehab[ilitation] of the Adam St. Tillary St. underpass." Since the underpass does not now exist, how can it be reconstructed or rehabilitated? The FY '92 Capital Budget does not itemize these costs or provide descriptions of this project, or the Navy St. offramp, either. Even worse, the tunnel will cost nearly $40 million in city funds, though only $18 million is budgeted.

The surface treatment option, more modestly priced at $15 million, appears to be the lesser of two evils. This new and untried concept would separate turning traffic long before it reached the intersection so as to avoid oncoming traffic. Project engineer Francisco Mier has made an effort to make the intersection safer and friendlier to walkers and cyclists.

New BQE Off-Ramp: Many Millions of $$ for a Few Seconds More

To save Manhattan-bound drivers a few seconds in downtown Brooklyn, the DOT is willing to degrade the Ft. Greene neighborhood and even pave a park. Motorists coming west from Queens on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) and headed for the Manhattan Bridge are now routed through a non-residential auto wasteland. The proposed off-ramp down to Navy St. would speed these bridge- bound, honking, careening motorists onto Nassau St. and through a neighborhood containing Commodore Barry Park, P.S. 287, the Farragut Houses, the Boys and Girls Club, the Dr. White Community Center, the Church of the Open Door and Trinity Park.

How do area residents feel about this? "I haven't heard of it. It really shakes me up," said John Khani, Principal of P.S. 287. "I don't want to think of my kids becoming a statistic." Sister Maria, director of the Dr. White Community Center, said safety would be a problem. "It will cut off the Vinegar Hill community from Ft. Greene."

Budgeted at $6 million, the ramp's actual costs could escalate, a highway contractor's wet (concrete) dream. As with the Brooklyn Bridge tunnel, the description in the Capital Budget was disguised as: "rehabilitation of new BQE, westbound off-ramp replacement of deck."

The original design would have cut into Commodore Barry Park, a bit of green in the neighborhood. Brooklyn already has the lowest percentage of park land in the city. The DOT is now considering an exit onto Park St., the street that the BQE runs elevated above, which could close Park St. This alternative is better than losing park space. Either way, the ramp will be disruptive and encourage car traffic.

Brooklyn's Nostrand Junction

Improving Nostrand Junction would be a big step toward better Downtown Brooklyn transit service. The MTA's plan for this location faces an uphill struggle in light of the city's ongoing money woes. The junction, located where the 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains come together near the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, currently forces trains to cross several tracks on their routes, making trains have to wait. As a result, less of the 2 and 3 trains are scheduled, priority being given to the more heavily patronized 4 and 5 lines.

Planners want to separate the grade of some tracks at the Junction to eliminate this condition, allowing an additional ten trains per hour along the 2 and 3 lines. This plan's only drawback is its price tag of $70 million. Cheaper but less productive alternatives like switch improvements or rerouting servie would only permit allowing one or maybe two more trains per hour.


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