Under the BQE is a participatory community planning initiative by Architecture for Humanity New York (AFHny). The project resulted in the design of a neighborhood-scale pedestrian and traffic safety plan near downtown Brooklyn. In October 2012, it was announced that the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) would begin the process of formally researching and implementing many of the AFHny team’s proposals.
The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) was started by the Regional Plan Association in the 1930s and completed by Robert Moses in 1964. The mixed legacy of the BQE is well understood by New Yorkers who live, work, and commute through its bifurcated neighborhoods daily.
In the Wallabout, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the BQE cuts an elevated swathe along Park Avenue from Navy to Steuben Streets. The 2010 census shows that over 37,000 residents live in the areas north and south of this zone. The perception of a visual and physical barrier of the BQE overpass is emphasized by neglected traffic circumstances on Park Avenue that unwittingly promote a speed corridor bypass, severing the neighborhood and challenging pedestrians, mass-transit customers, cyclists, and motorists alike. At the same time, the BQE provides covered parking as a year-round, all-weather amenity to the neighborhood.
In April 2010, AFHny began working with Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project (MARP), a non-profit local development corporation associated with the nearby Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District. MARP had already engaged in substantial efforts to study the area, initially for potential parking revenue and programming. MARP also hosted visioning workshops, facilitated by partners SpaceBuster/raumlaborberlin (2009) and Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning (2010), to help the community conceptualize opportunities for the space under the BQE.
AFHny was invited to build upon the visioning workshops and help reconsider the BQE as a broader community asset in addition to covered parking. AFHny volunteers researched the neighborhood, conducted surveys and counts, collected case studies, and began a dialogue with like-minded organizations and experts. This process generated a volume of research and substantial expertise among the volunteers. From these studies, it was clear that before other improvements could be pursued, pedestrian and traffic safety were a priority.
In August of 2011, AFHny began the development of a safety plan for Park Avenue (a 17-block site), keeping in mind that interventions could be made in ways that achieved benefits across various needs (safety, social, economic, environmental). Incorporating feedback from multiple community charettes and other outreach efforts, the team identified areas of concern and generated conceptual proposals for streetscape design, parking and pedestrian zones, and green infrastructure to address these issues.
The proposals were eventually streamlined into a site-wide safety plan. This plan was presented to local stakeholders and the community board, and it was submitted to NYC DOT with a series of recommendations. On June 19, 2012, Community Board 2 Transportation and Public Safety Committee members voted unanimously to support the team’s conceptual safety plan for Park Avenue. Local elected officials soon followed suit. AFHny believes that these suggested improvements are crucial to restoring the north-south crossgrain of the district, strengthening communities along Park Avenue, and to making the BQE less of a liability and more of a true community asset.