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Planners urge city to envision a pared-down version of the BQE

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The Regional Plan Association issued recommendations that could reduce BQE traffic to four lanes

A stretch of the BQE running through Brooklyn Heights.
Alex Potemkin/Getty Images

The Regional Plan Association is urging the city to implement transportation policies that could chop two lanes of traffic from the crumbling, six-lane Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, according to a new report released by the civic group.

A 1.5-mile-long stretch of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street, known as the triple-cantilever section, is in dire need of repairs—the city will have to put weight restrictions on it by 2026, and shutter the road by 2036 if nothing changes. The city’s Department of Transportation is currently determining how best to reconstruct the highway and has put forward two controversial proposals, one of which would replace the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with an elevated highway for six years. In response, community groups, politicians, and concerned citizens have put forward their own ideas, which include visions to shrink the expressway’s footprint and replace it with community amenities.

In a similar vein, the RPA—which in the 1920s and ’30s recommended the BQE’s construction as an efficient way to move people and goods—evaluated five policy options that could eliminate the need for two of the roadway’s six traffic lanes, to help lead toward a BQE redesign that reduces the city’s dependency on cars.

“As the environmental and social impacts of highway construction have become increasingly clear over the last century, RPA has become a strong advocate for reducing car dependency, and providing reliable and affordable alternatives to private vehicle travel,” according to the report, which is tilted Reimagining the BQE: Policy Options to Reduce Traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. “In particular, RPA wanted to see if policy changes affecting the regional network could reduce demand on the BQE, providing better options for rebuilding the aging highway.”

The RPA was hired by Brooklyn Heights-based A Better Way, which formed out of opposition to the city’s plans, to help inform the reconstruction project. Through the use of public data, the report spells out five policy recommendations that would require city, state, and federal officials to collaborate on reducing traffic on the BQE:

  • Congestion pricing: Although the model’s details have yet to be hashed out, a version of congestion pricing endorsed by the Fix NYC Advisory Panel showed a 13 percent reduction in overall traffic destined for Manhattan. RPA says by equalizing the tolls across the Hugh Carey Tunnel and the East River crossings, a significant portion of Manhattan-bound traffic could be diverted from the BQE to the tunnel.
  • Two-way tolling on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge: Currently, vehicles crossing the bridge—which just became the most expensive tolled bridge in the country—pay tolls only in the westbound direction. By charging half the toll in each direction, some eastbound trips would be diverted away from the BQE. This measure, if implemented alone, would still require at least five traffic lanes, but could be part of a multi-pronged approach. It also would have the added bonus of reducing truck traffic along Canal Street in Manhattan, which has become clogged with drivers from Brooklyn bound for New Jersey who go out of their way to avoid tolls.
  • HOV 3+ on the free bridges: When the city opted for HOV 3+ (a high-occupancy vehicle lane with at least three passengers required per vehicle) after 9/11, it reduced peak period traffic on the East River crossings by 23 percent. If such a policy were implemented during the BQE’s reconstruction, up to a 25 percent traffic reduction could be achieved for drivers heading over the East River bridges, which would translate to less vehicles with Manhattan origins or destinations rolling on the BQE, according to the RPA.
  • HOV 3+ on the full length of the BQE: This restriction would affect all vehicles on the BQE, whether they are entering or leaving Manhattan, for an up to 25 percent reduction of traffic along the BQE. With this method, remaining traffic could be accommodated by a four-lane highway, says the RPA.
  • Lane reduction: Through a phenomenon known as induced demand—essentially, the more highway lanes you build, the more traffic you create—the act of shaving off lanes to create a smaller expressway would attract less vehicles and encourage traffic to disperse onto alternative routes. Other cities have adopted this method without “significant transportation repercussions,” RPA notes.

DOT officials are reviewing the RPA’s report along with other proposed alternatives to the city’s reconstruction plans.