Envisioning a Green Future for the BQE

East, East Coast
Thursday, November 18, 2010
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"Green Canopy" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Green Canopy" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

The proposals are in after Monday’s final public meeting to decide the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway trench which severs the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Residents spoke up and prioritized their wishes for a less disruptive BQE including reduced noise and pollution, increased neighborhood connectivity and bike / pedestrian safety, and an overall greener streetscape.

In short, the BQE is going green, or at least as green as a pollution-spewing six-lane highway can be.  Luckily the NYC EDC, NYC DOT, and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects have come up with three compelling design solutions to improve the area.

"Maximum Green" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Maximum Green" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

Three proposed designs offer increasing levels of complexity and ambition with an eye toward construction and financial feasibility. It remains to be seen what proposed intervention will actually be implemented, but nearly any change to this urban sore can be seen as an improvement.  Take a look at the three proposals below.

All three proposals build from one another, beginning with the quick fix, “Maximum Green.” This plan seeks to improve the streetscape with widened sidewalks and landscaped bumpouts and curvy chicanes.  At a cost of $10.7 to $18.7 million, this should be an easy sell for even the most frugal politician.  The scheme calls for shaving off unused and excessive street space on Hicks Street to calm traffic and create room for the landscaping and sidewalk.

The base model Maximum Green design keeps the existing chain-link fence surrounding the highway, but upgrades include an artsy vine-covered metal screen with built in acoustic panels (see comparison below).

"Maximum Green" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Maximum Green" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Maximum Green" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Maximum Green" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

Existing bridges also feature added landscaping in large planters and drastically wider sidewalks that could possibly accommodate newsstands or a proposed “BQE Flea.”  Even with plants, trees, and places to sit, though, will the next hip Brooklyn hang-out be above a noxious highway?

More ambitious, the “Connections” scheme retains the basic improvements of the “Maximum Green” design and adds five new pedestrian and bike bridges across the highway and replace one existing bridge to allow handicap accessibility and help restore the original street grid.

"Connections" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Connections" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

Depending on the budget, these spans could become illuminated icons topped with photovoltaic roof panels.  Options include flanking the bridges with vine-covered panels and adding LED lighting to create playful interest at night.  Extra features, of course, mean inflated cost, and the Connections scheme would run between $30.1 and $41.3 million.

"Connections" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Connections" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Connections" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Connections" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

Finally, the “dream scheme” pulls in the massively landscaped streetscape and pedestrian bridges of the previous two proposals but does its best to mask the BQE out of the neighborhood.  “Green Canopy” offers a massive $28 million steel angle-and-beam structure designed by Kiss+Cathcart Architects creating a pseudo-cap over the BQE trench.  Acoustic panels built into the span mitigate noise while a central mesh of steel precludes the need for an active ventilation system.

The iconic structure is then covered in vines and solar cells which could net an estimated $312,000 in electricity annually.  If all that weren’t enough, imagine dining while hovering above the highway at the “Trench Cafe.”  Retail space in the Green Canopy plan is situated on the existing bridge at Union Street.

Cost to cover the highway with a giant metal mesh? $78.8 to $82.7 million.  Cost to forget about the BQE forever? Priceless.  Sound off on your favorite scheme in the comments below.

"Green Canopy" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

"Green Canopy" proposal for the BQE (Courtesy Starr Whitehouse)

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10 Responses to “Envisioning a Green Future for the BQE”

  1. TCG says:

    The BQE was never as bad as it seemed – and actually better in this section of Brooklyn than many others, but some version of these plans will be wonderful for the people who live there — another step towards connecting the waterfront with the rest of inland Brooklyn.

    I lived in Carroll Gardens for years, and made countless trips walking all they way over to the BQE then across it with friends amazed at the roaring traffic beneath an otherwise typical Brooklyn neighborhood. We imagined how great it would be to cover it over, make it easier to get back and forth, lessen the noise, and make it less gritty. We were just twenty-somethings making our way to and from the bars and stores on the other side, but it seemed a natural idea to us even then. The canopy idea was a particular favorite, then and now.

    As with most simple ideas, people will say “anyone could’ve come up w/ those designs.” Maybe, but no one’s ever really done anything about it til now. I hope to see some version of this in Brooklyn’s future.

  2. Abhishek Singh says:

    Modern cities need such innovative concepts for urban transport planning of 21st century..

  3. Linda Campbell says:

    The canopy is just terrific, aesthetically responsive for both neighbors and one-time users, the integration of solar panels with it makes radical utility.

  4. Tim Troxler says:

    What is there to keep kids from climbing up onto the canopy? What will keep the vines from growing over the solar panels? Those panels will walk if they are accessible.
    The canopy reminds me of an old train shed. Some articulation of the surface would have made it more interesting, more like a piece of landscape than structure.

  5. Fiver_0 says:

    I grew up off of hicks on summit st. it’s nice to see the area infrastructure getting attention.

    however, i suggest to rename the “dream scheme” to “modest scheme” and put a proposal on the table to remove cars entirely. I give nod to the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project in South Korea:

    -completed in two years
    -cost around $281 million
    -restored ecological habitat/provided public space in the middle of an urban core

    we need to avoid selling ourselves a watered-down quality of life.

  6. Jeremy says:

    Nice designs, but the fact that removing the highway is off the table shows just how far we still have to come even in New York City.

  7. [...] Resisting a discussion the problem of using “green” as a verb, I’ll just re-blog the Architect’s Newspaper post on the future of the 6-lane Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE): [...]

  8. [...] a discussion of the problem of using “green” as a verb, I’ll just re-blog the Architect’s Newspaper post on the future of the 6-lane Brooklyn-Queens [...]

  9. [...] was recently featured on the FastCo Design blog; the Architect’s Newspaper recently looked at several innovative proposals for the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including a green [...]

  10. Zach says:

    Why not just sell air rights to the space over the trench? That would go a long way toward solving the cost issue, would pretty much remove the BQE’s presence from the neighborhood entirely, and would provide much-needed space for new mixed-use development.

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