News & Culture in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Points Nearby
January 17, 2021
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News + Views

Goodbye BQE, Hello Greenery

By Lisa M. Collins
Greenery and Solar Panels on the BQE People!
tarr Whitehouse and Kiss+Cathcart Architects

You may have seen stories this week poking fun at the city’s new plans to green and beautify the BQE trench, suggesting the proposals are “pie in the sky.” Don’t believe the hype. South Brooklyn Post talked to some of the players involved who say they are optimistic that major improvements to the BQE trench will get done.

On Monday, the NYC Economic Development Corporation revealed a thee-tiered plan to connect Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens to the Columbia Waterfront District. The plan offered several proposals, at different cost levels, to beautify and clean up the so-called “BQE trench,” the sunken section of highway slicing Hicks Street in half. Plans included planting 400 trees, connecting all the streets in Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill to the Columbia Waterfront District with pedestrian/bike ways lined with green sound and pollution barriers, and improving the stormwater system around the trench. The most exciting proposal, with a price tag of $85 million, would build a green canopy over the trench with steel beams, covered with plants. The greenery would gather solar power that could be sold to offset the cost of the construction.

Any of the plans would provide a major boost to the Columbia Waterfront District, which was ripped apart from prime Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill in the 1950s, when Robert Moses ordered construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway trench, slicing through Hicks Street.

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, the Democratic U.S. Representative for the Red Hook/Cobble Hill area, said that once completed, “this project will not only improve transportation options for pedestrians, but also mitigate local air and noise pollution.”

Velázquez raised the $300,000 to commission the NYC Economic Development Corp. to study fixing up the BQE trench. The Eco-Devo Corp. hired Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners to come up with the plans.

“While it will take time, it is expected that a combination of both federal and local funding would be contributed toward this undertaking,” Velázquez told us in an email.

Here’s what Starr Whitehouse came up with:

1. Plant 400 trees along the trench. The plants will collect pollution and reduce noise, and look lovely. Construct an acre of greenery. Options include an open-air market at Union Street and sound barriers. The price tag here starts at $10 million.

2. Build pedestrian and bike bridges over every road cut-off by the BQE: Warren, Baltic, Degraw, President and Carroll streets. Refurbish the Hamilton St. walkway. Line the walkways with plantings and sound barriers. Price tag, $39 million.

3. Build a “green” canopy. Kiss+Cathcart architectural designers partnered with Whitehouse on the design. Kiss+Cathcart is located on Court Street, near Borough Hall.

Maintenance of new bridges or the canopy is an issue. According to The Brooklyn Paper: “Maintaining the canopy option would cost about $477,000 a year, though planners said the structure would help pay for itself, producing about $300,000 in energy. The bridge plan would cost about $123,000 annually.”

Back in 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested covering the BQE trench with housing and parks. It’s not clear if that plan is still in consideration.

Architect Steve Whitehouse said he “couldn’t be happier” with the reception to his firm’s proposals.

“The communities involved really do show up and express their opinions and get involved, and in the end they were pleased with what was presented,” Whitehouse said. “The job now is to figure out which proposal we are going to do and where are we going to get the money.”

Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association, says he is optimistic some of the plans will be implemented. Sloane was involved in the earliest stages of planning and advocacy for the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“It will take time, but we’ve had so much support from so many of our public officials. I believe we will be successful, and I think it’ll take between five and 10 years.

“Every single thing I ever worked on in my life, people said was pie in the sky. But they are sitting in Brooklyn Bridge Park right now, aren’t they?”

If you want to weigh in on the BQE Enhancement project, you can take a survey on the NYC Eco-Devo Corp. site. The survey is available until Dec. 1.



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