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Highway to health problems: Locals will breathe in toxic air for years if city sends traffic along Promenade to fix BQE, experts warn

Hold your breath: Brooklyn Heights residents will breathe in toxic chemicals that could lead to lung cancer and death for years if the city moves forward with its plan to turn the Promenade into a six-lane speedway to fix the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway's triple cantilever, some experts warn.
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Brooklyn Heights residents will breathe in toxic chemicals for years if the city moves forward with a plan to turn the neighborhood’s Promenade into a six-lane speedway for gas-guzzling cars and trucks during the looming reconstruction of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway’s triple cantilever, experts warn.

“A 7-year-old would spend their entire childhood exposed to pollution,” said journalist and public-health expert Laurie Garrett, who in 1995 won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa. “People have homes right there, we don’t have any scheme for how we would keep all the noise and pollution from going right into living rooms and bedrooms.”

The historic Promenade, which sits at the top of the 70-year-old highway’s crumbling three-tiered structure, currently acts as a barrier that blocks the toxic pollutant known as “fine particulate matter,” or pm 2.5, emitted by the 153,000 cars and trucks on the expressway daily from filling the lungs of kids, oldsters, and other vulnerable individuals living in the Heights, according to Garrett.

Bigwigs at the New York State Department of Health warn that pm 2.5 can irritate the eyes, noses, throats, and lungs of people who inhale it, and that prolonged exposure to the noxious particles can increase the risk of chronic bronchitis and death from lung cancer or heart disease.

And if city transportation officials move forward with their so-called “alternative approach” to turn the Promenade into a six-lane speedway for at least six years in order to shore up the 1.5-mile stretch of expressway — which Mayor DeBlasio prefers over the so-called “traditional approach” to rebuild the highway lane by lane, potentially causing traffic for up to 12 miles — then those chemicals would instead fly right into people’s homes, said Garrett, the author of a 2011 tome about the public-health crisis that plagued parts of the city following the 9-11 attacks.

“The alternative route will be literally inches from people’s bedroom windows, inches from playgrounds, and feet from schools and residents throughout, and we don’t have a precedent in the city for doing this to a community,” she said. “Eighteen-wheelers burning fuel, 153,000 vehicles a day rolling right at the level of people’s home windows — this community can be poisoned while we fix this.”

The mere possibility of such an increase in local pollution should be enough for Hizzoner — a self-professed fighter of climate change who still routinely hops into a sport-utility vehicle for the 12-mile drive from his Manhattan residence to his beloved Park Slope gym — to pump the brakes on his preferred repair plan and instead consider alternate solutions, according to Garrett.

“If we’re serious about climate change, and DeBlasio claims to be, why are we building a superhighway for 153,000 gas-guzzling vehicles everyday?” she said.

Officials — who said both the alternative and traditional approaches for fixing the triple cantilever would cost nearly $4 billion, with the former expected to end as soon as 2026, and latter lasting as long as into 2029 — should instead use that cash to conceive of an entirely new transit scheme for locals, rather than simply rebuild a decades-old roadway that the journalist called infrastructure of the past.

“With $4 billion we could build an amazing people-mover system,” Garrett said. “Why are we still looking at exactly the same technology that Robert Moses was looking at right after World War II?”

And one city pol — who is rumored to be eyeing a run to succeed DeBlasio in the 2021 mayoral election — doubled down on Garrett’s plea, demanding his colleagues explore every possible option for repairing the length of expressway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street in order to spare people’s lungs and the Promenade, which must close for a time regardless of the option chosen due to its position atop the highway.

“Have you looked at the long term environmental impact on the surrounding community from property damage, dust, and debris due to the innovative approach?” Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote in a Dec. 17 missive to Hizzoner. “How does maintaining a major highway running through residential neighborhoods help that?”

Leaders of the city’s Department of Transportation, who are overseeing the repairs that could kick off as soon as 2020, are still weighing all their choices, and are about to kick off the job’s environmental-review process, according to a spokeswoman, who said the bigwigs will hold several upcoming meetings with Brooklyn Heights locals and civic leaders worried about the possibility of their beloved walkway turning into a temporary highway.

“We are about to start the environmental-review process, which requires we offer a range of concepts. And contrary to one of [Stringer’s] letter’s major assertions, we have absolutely not ‘eliminated construction-method alternatives’ for BQE reconstruction from further considerat­ion,” said Alana Morales.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 7:07 pm, December 26, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Former Fulton Ferry Landing'er from Fulton Ferry Landing says:
But it's OK to re-route BQE traffic through Fulton Ferry Landing, like last time, right? Hypocrites.
Dec. 26, 2018, 10:44 am
Tunneler from Brooklyn says:
Not only is it irresponsible in the short-term (next 10+ years) to rebuild this roadway in this manner, it's irresponsible in the long-term (next 100+ years) to replace it in this spot period. Pollution, noise, quality of life, waste of premier waterfront real estate. We need to tunnel from the ditch south of Atlantic to the north side of Brooklyn Heights. If there are things in the way, we can move them - if Boston did it so can we. We'd even need to include direct tubes to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to improve functionality over what we have now. The result would leave us with with a "cantilever riverwalk" where shops and cafes could be added overlooking NYC's most astounding area of waterfront and the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Time to think big is now so we're not stuck with this mistake for our life times and the live times of those that will come after us.
Dec. 26, 2018, 10:45 am
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Ban all private transportation. Enough with these self entitled,freeloading, carpetbaggers!
Dec. 26, 2018, 11:16 am
David Weinkrantz from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Is there a third alternative near Brooklyn Bridge Park? What is wrong with that? Why didn't the City fix the BQE cantilever before it built Brooklyn Bridge Park? Did any City officials and/or politicians recommend at that time that the BQE cantilever be replaced before the park was created? What were their names? Titles? Do they still work for the City? Did any City officials and/or politicians oppose fixing the BQE cantilever before the park was created? What were their names? Titles? Do they still work for the City?
Dec. 26, 2018, 12:23 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Looks like I have Chairman Mao impersonating me above. Or at least someone that has no concept of freedom.
Dec. 26, 2018, 12:32 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
Freedom to me means I come first, screw everyone else.
Dec. 26, 2018, 1:11 pm
Chomsky from Greenwood says:
Now the privileged, politically-connected, Brooklyn Heights residents who are among the richest people in the borough could be subject to the same environmental hazards routinely faced by their maids, servants, landscapers, doormen and parking valets, and whose kids breathe unhealthy levels of ozone and diesel fumes in other parts of Brooklyn (in neighborhoods statistically scarcely covered by the "Brooklyn" Paper). There are scores of specific chronic air and toxic waste pollution hazards that denser swaths of population currently face in the borough that the "Brooklyn" Paper could address in a top story, rather than trumpet the whines of the the wealthy residents of about 25 to 35 buildings (and who most likely get around by Uber, taxis and their own private vehicles when they need to).
Dec. 26, 2018, 1:32 pm
Frank from Brooklyn says:
Hard to believe that the promenade is a barrier to the air pollution from the thousands of trucks and cars below. It's all open air what barrier is the so-called expert talking about ? The residents that live there are already poisoned.
Dec. 26, 2018, 1:57 pm
Somebody from Somewhere says:
Oh boo hoo, now these folks are worried about breathing in toxic air. The folks in east ny & brownsville have been doing it for years but do you hear them complaining about it?
Dec. 26, 2018, 2:24 pm
Tunneler from Brooklyn says:
Commenters: It's not about who gets the worst of it or who's turn is it now, it's about fixing a wrong and making it right, permanently. Covering the ditch south of Atlantic and going underground from there is the way to go. A tunnel can be bored over the next could of years without ever starting entrances and exits to it virtually elimination 75% of the disruption repairing the cantilever would cause. And then there's all the other benefits I state above. The BQE is Brooklyn's most important artery and we deserve that it be done right this time - tunnel it!
Dec. 27, 2018, 10:43 am
judi francis from Cobble Hill says:
These are the politicians who knew about the necessary repairs of the BQE and did nothing prior to the park being built: Bill deBlasio (then city councilman), David Yassky (then city councilman), Martin Connor (then State Senator and who now also sits on the BBP Board, approving unnecessary housing at pier 6 which further complicates the BQE repair today - something he could have helped mitigate even just 6 months ago when we begged for delays on pier 6 housing, too), Daniel Squadron (who won his seat over Connor over his commitment to stop housing in the park and then took money from real estate interests and gave up his veto over housing in order to get elected to Public Advocate seat - a seat he lost but he screwed the public, even in this), Joan Millman (then Assembly person replaced by another person who also wanted housing inside the park and did nothing to stop the most recent towers on Pier 6). Only ONE bureaucrat spoke out that the repair must be done prior to building the park - that was then Bklyn DOT Commissioner Palimieri who testified at the park's DEIS hearing, in September 2005, that the repair should happen before the park was built. These facts are a matter of public record. Also for the record, only my coalition of community associations in support of the park, organized under the BBP Defense Fund , went on record advocating for the BQE repair before the park got built. Why? Because we knew that there would be federal dollars flowing to the park later, helping to obviate housing as the means of "paying" for the park. But the politicians wanted housing (and the real estate dollars for their campaigns as many proved to secure, beyond just Squadron) and not a protected park, nor repairs for this then-known crumbling roadbed. THIS is what happens when knowledgeable, informed and good citizen engagement gets crushed by politicians and the johnny come-latelies who think they know better but do not...or worse, have self interests that take precedence.
Dec. 27, 2018, 2:15 pm
David Weinkrantz from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Where is Commissioner Palmieri now? What does he think should be done now?
Dec. 27, 2018, 7:41 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
the cost of the east side access tunnel which is shorter than any alternate tunnel here for this project and is being built under an already existing tunnel(no new right of way issues) is so far over 14 billion dollars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wi... any tunnel here would have innumerably problems including at least 4 subway tunnels crossing the route, problems with connecting to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges as well as water tunnels and other utilities issues. It wasn't merely shot down, it was studied and found not feasible for at least the above reasons. There would have also been land taking issues as well. You can't just start it at Atlantic Avenue and dig down. You will disrupt 100,000 of train passengers. also a lot of revisionist history. The rebuilding of the BQE triple cantilever planning was well underway until about 2009. There were scoping meetings held by the State DOT, when the state pulled all the funding for the replacement for the Tappan zee bridge..aka the Mario Cuomo Bridge. When the original section was built Federal money was unavailable and the City Paid for it. I don't know if the City was ever reimbursed. There has not been a new federal highway fund bill past in at least 10 years and the highway fuel tax trust fund is exhausted. There is no money in that Fund. The money when available goes to the State. As is the rule in NY for every project inside NY City, out side NY City must get one as well. Anyone got 10 billion plus lying around? It would be nice if a tunnel was feasible. It would be nice if it was done already. It would be nice if the state hadn't stolen the money. It would be nice if you didn't need trucks to deliver food. It would really be nice if you know who wasn't president but Santa, the Easter bunny and the money for a tunnel here is about as likely...
Dec. 27, 2018, 8:11 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
the big dig cost more and was most federal funds.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig plus a number of lives as well..
Dec. 27, 2018, 8:23 pm
sid from boerum hill says:
almost the entire BQE from the connection Grand central parkway to the V-N Bridge has in fact been rebuilt. The last section is the industry city rebuild and the Gowanus and the Triple Cantilever. The rebuilding was progressing south from the Long Island Expressway to the Cantilever and then south. The section between the Long Island Expressway and the Manhattan bridge has been rebuilt and the Triple Cantilever was next and then the state abandoned it.
Dec. 27, 2018, 8:52 pm
schaz from Greenpoint says:
The comment by Chomsky from Greenwood gets my vote. There are only a handful of houses that will be most directly affected which are facing the promenade. The City needs to install a transparent sound-proofing barrier between them and the proposed temporary roadway, and perhaps create a canopy above the roadway as well, with the same material. These people along the promenade have lived feet away from thousands of cars and trucks zipping near their homes every day for decades anyway. It's just a matter of degree, and it can be ameliorated. If the highway isn't soon repaired not only does it pose an immanent danger to drivers using the BQE, but could also affect & undermine the homes lining the promenade. It's to their ultimate benefit not to block a speedy as possible repair.
Dec. 27, 2018, 10:40 pm
Vision Zero from Zero Vision says:
Just tear down the BQE. Trucks can go over the Tappan Zee and on their way to New England and we can all ride our cargo bikes down to the waterfront to get what we need. We need to live more like we did in the 1890’s.
Dec. 27, 2018, 11:48 pm
Frank from Furter says:
LOL Vision - zero. There is no driver who doesn't try to avoid the BQE and the Cross Bronx expressway at all costs. The vast majority of the trucks that use the BQE are making deliveries within NYC.
Dec. 28, 2018, 8:52 am
dweller from Brooklyn says:
How is it that Brooklyn Bridge Park gets all this funding and DOT roads don't? Oh, Alicia Glenn doesn't live in this neighborhood so she really doesn't care, and Regina Meyer sold her soul to the local Partnership.
Dec. 28, 2018, 7:56 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
The total cost for Brooklyn Bridge park construction was approximately $350 million. The hotels and residential building are privately owned(leased) and paid for. http://brooklynbridgepark.s3.amazonaws.com/s/520/Financial%20Plan%20Presentation.pdf originally half paid by the City and half by the state-although the city paid more near the end of the construction. Its technically a state owned park although its operated by a corporation which the Mayor of the City of NY appoints upon recommendation by others including the Governor. So 350 million is almost chump change when speaking about 2.5 billion to reconstruct this section of the BQE.
Dec. 29, 2018, 9:55 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Unfortunately, whatever is going to be done to renovate the BQE, it will have impacts no matter what. This highway needs to be fixed whether any of you anti-car fanatics like it or not. Doing this is long overdue and a major necessity to everyone that is using it. Tearing it down is just not an option not to mention having to relocate all the traffic that it gets on a daily basis. As for making it a tunnel, that idea is both unrealistic and expensive as well as possibly being not being environmentally safe either. All I can say for those who don't want to have the BQE fixed is nothing more than tough love.
Dec. 29, 2018, 3:17 pm
Judi Francis from Cobble Hill says:
Brooklyn has a traffic problem. The region has a traffic problem. The world has a global warming problem in part due to carbon - like the emissions coming from trucks and cars. Solution? Create a tunnel that runs down 4th ave(begins on govt land around the Navy Yard, terminating where Gowanus meets 278) so that trucks can pass quickly through the borough. You pay for it through tolls and bonds for immediate cash. It is a no cost solution for god sakes! , too. Plus, as our ability to scrub carbon improves, a tunnel will aid in that, too. Then, downgrade the current roadbed to a parkway - cars only - and fix it incrementally and traffic improved for the region. Where are our politicians? Why aren't they front and center on these infrastructure needs and solutions that do not put heavy traffic next to childrens' windows?
Jan. 4, 5:12 pm

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