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Black and Brown Neighborhoods to the North and South of the BQE’s Triple Cantilever Were Bisected by the Corridor and Continue to Face Poor Air Quality, High Rates of Asthma, and Fractured Communities

“If we miss this opportunity to address the harms of the past, make no mistake: New York State is to blame.” – Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso


BROOKLYN, NY (February 13, 2023) – Today, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso; Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez; Council Member Lincoln Restler; representatives from the offices of Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, Assemblymember Maritza Davila, State Senator Kristen Gonzalez; and community advocates from St. Nicks Alliance and the United Jewish of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn joined together at the Jaime Campiz Playground in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to condemn New York State for refusing to partner with NYC DOT to re-envision the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). For decades, the BQE has burdened low-income communities and communities of color with heavy traffic and toxic pollution, resulting in fractured communities and high rates of asthma.

Despite these clear dangers and the NYC DOT’s urgent efforts to repair the City-owned crumbling cantilever in Brooklyn Heights, the State DOT told Streetsblog last week they have “no plans” to “redesign the State-owned portion of the BQE” that runs through communities to the north and south of Brooklyn Heights. In response to the State’s neglect of Brooklyn’s environmental justice communities, last Wednesday, Borough President Reynoso and 17 fellow elected officials issued a joint statement calling the State’s refusal to commit to participating in NYC DOT’s visioning process for their portions of the BQE “completely unacceptable and irresponsible.”

“If we miss this opportunity to address the harms of the past, make no mistake: New York State is to blame,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “This is about environmental justice, this is about public health, and this is about equity for Black and Brown, Latino, and AAPI New Yorkers who have carried the burden of the BQE for generations. By refusing to work with the City on a corridorwide redesign, New York State is choosing to reenforce the inequities that were thrust upon our communities by Robert Moses. But no one organizes better than Brooklyn, and we will not be silent in the face of this neglect. We won’t be collateral damage any longer. From Greenpoint to Brooklyn Heights to Bay Ridge, we are unified. This is our chance to deliver justice.”

The BQE’s stain on Brooklyn began during the 1940s, when the infamous urban planner Robert Moses tore through working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn to build the BQE, cutting communities in two and sentencing largely Black and Brown, Latino, and AAPI New Yorkers to decades of toxic pollution. While New York State owns the majority of the BQE’s 20-mile Brooklyn stretch, New York City owns the 1.5-mile triple cantilever known as BQE Central.

Over the years, the City-owned cantilever has rapidly deteriorated, weakened by road salt, moisture, and overweight trucks. To prolong BQE Central’s imminent collapse, NYC DOT has limited traffic on the cantilever while they develop a permanent redesign. Brooklynites from all over have called on New York State to partner with NYC DOT, identifying this moment as an opportunity for the City and State to take advantage of once-in-a-generation federal infrastructure funds and work hand in hand to reimagine the BQE entirely, addressing the infrastructure’s legacy of harm to the environment and our health.

“For far too long, Black, Brown, and immigrant communities across my district have been dealing with the various negative impacts of the BQE cutting through their neighborhoods,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. “While there is an urgent effort to fix the crumbling cantilever in Brooklyn Heights by the NYC DOT, the NYS DOT has not committed to revisioning the highway’s State-owned portions to the north or south. That’s why I’m joining elected officials and groups in calling on NYS DOT to come to the table and help end the racist legacy of the BQE.”

“By refusing to engage with the corridorwide revisioning of the BQE, New York State is perpetuating the environmental injustice that has plagued the communities along this expressway for decades, revealing a disregard for the health and well-being of those who live here,” said Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez. “The State’s public refusal to engage and invest in the North and South portions of the BQE is a disturbing demonstration of their lack of commitment to sustainable and equitable urban planning.”

“We need every level of government engaged and willing to do the hard work of transforming the BQE into infrastructure that benefits our communities,” said Council Member Lincoln Restler. “This Robert Moses relic has divided neighborhoods for generations and caused massive environmental harm. It’s more critical than ever that the BQE visioning process takes an environmental justice approach that recognizes the disproportionate impact on communities of color by infrastructure like the BQE.”

“The destructive and racist impacts of the BQE have been clear for decades,” said Assemblymember Emily Gallagher. “Now, at a moment of urgency and opportunity, we can finally begin to fundamentally reimagine this harmful infrastructure – and New York State Department of Transportation is not at the table. My fellow North Brooklyn elected officials, community leaders, and neighbors refuse to kick the can down the road to the next generation. NYS DOT must engage our communities and seize this moment.”

“It’s extremely troubling and disheartening to hear about NYS DOT’s most recent comment that there are no plans to restructure the State-owned portion of the BQE,” said Assemblywoman Maritza Davila. “We are talking about an important corridor that affects tons of families and for a very long time has been a disruption to the overall quality of life. This is concerning, inequitable, and we really need to re-evaluate how resources are being used.”

“For decades, our communities living around the BQE have suffered the consequences of environmental racism – and the NYS DOT is preventing amends from being made by failing to fully collaborate with the revisioning process,” said State Senator Julia Salazar. “I hope to see the State join us in addressing the needs of those impacted by the BQE’s legacy.”

“Communities surrounding the BQE, primarily low-income communities of color, have had to deal with the adverse health and environmental impacts of the highway for decades,” said State Senator Kristen Gonzalez. “The fact that the NYS DOT has ‘no plans’ for the BQE, despite representing 19 of the 20 miles of the highway in Brooklyn, is an abdication of their responsibility. I stand with advocates and other elected leaders in demanding the NYS DOT join us at the table to reimagine the BQE in a way that centers health, environmental justice, and equity.”

“Hundreds of families in our community were uprooted by the BQE construction that ripped through Williamsburg,” said Rabbi David Niederman, President of the United Jewish of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn (UJO). “Our streets are congested and less safe due to traffic to and from the BQE. We suffer the degradation of air quality and noise in the adjacent streets, which are heavily populated with tens of thousands of children and families. Now, we have the opportunity to have this almost-century-old-problem addressed and mitigated, while ensuring the continuation of the appropriate flow of traffic that connects our communities. We join our federal, state, and city representatives in calling on NYS DOT to ensure that our neighborhoods’ concerns will also be addressed in this reconstruction project.”

“We ask the Governor to be brave, to have a vision, and look to the future to try and see how she can help the Mayor and us all to make this place a better place to live so we can continue to grow in a positive way,” said Frank Lang, Deputy Executive Director of St. Nicks Alliance. “We can’t grow in a positive way if our kids are playing with the exhaust of trucks and cars around them. We represent a lot of the residents here and they will be working with the elected officials to see how we can make change.”


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