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Bay Ridge Community Envisions a Better Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

THOMAS COPELAND, HOST: Driving the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a dismal experience. There’s the traffic, the tiny lanes, the HUGE trucks, and the looming fear that parts of it might collapse. But, as Isabelle Teare reports, plans to fix the crumbling infrastructure are underway. And this time, communities along the BQE corridor might actually have a say.

ISABELLE TEARE, BYLINE: The Brooklyn Queens Expressway was built in the 1930s and 40s. It goes all the way from Astoria, Queens to here. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

MOHAMED ZIN: This is where, sort of, Brooklyn ends or begins, depending on how you look at it.

TEARE: That’s Mohamed Zin, the Program Director at Bay Ridge Community Development Center.

ZIN: I grew up, I would say, a few blocks away from the BQE. Walking distance, really.

TEARE: Today, Mohamed is hosting a community forum to ask the residents here what they want from the new and improved BQE.

He pulls up a powerpoint with a grid of images, like a menu in a restaurant. Does the community want the new BQE to be underground? Or filled with green spaces? What about shopping areas? And the 25 people here sit and discuss it.

This is the first of many workshops that Mohamed will help facilitate throughout the year. And his findings will be submitted in quarterly reports to the city’s Department of Transportation - which, in theory, will guide their design process.

In other words, right now the BQE Corridor Vision has no official plans they’ve proposed. The Adams administration is referring to this period of community engagement as a “visioning process.”

And while this might seem naive to some New Yorkers, it is the very step that was ignored when Robert Moses first carved the BQE through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Forever altering the borough.

Bibi Esahack, the Executive Director of the Bay Ridge Community Development Center, is hopeful about the future of the project.

BIBI ESAHACK: It is the very first time, really, that the city is reaching out and saying, We want to hear your opinion, your voice, as to what you think, you know, this could look like and what it should look like. And I think that's important to finally be at the table.

TEARE: The workshop’s facilitator, Mohamed, is a bit more conflicted. In one way, he’s also hopeful.

ZIN: You see some of these projects, like we looked at these different cities that have these super beautiful highways in the super beautiful neighborhoods around the highway. And I'm just like wondering, why can't we have the same thing?

TEARE: But at the same time, he finds himself a bit skeptical about whether his community’s voice will actually be heard.

ZIN: What I feel is that they already sort of have an idea of what they want to do. And they know what it is they're going to execute on, but they but they're just taking this stuff to try to see what people are thinking. That’s my personal opinion, but I think that everything is already sort of finalized.

TEARE: The meeting ended with a promise that the community comments would be compiled, and submitted with their quarterly report.

The first item on the BQE rebuilding agenda is the Brooklyn Heights triple cantilever. That’s the multi-story part of the highway that looks kind of like a wedding cake. Construction is set to begin within five years. And while there isn’t an official design yet, if they listen to the people of Bay Ridge, there should be some green space.

Isabelle Teare, Columbia Radio News.


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