The design transformation of Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) to Brooklyn Queens Park (BQP) is an integrated proposal made by the Bjarke Ingels Group as an opportunity to rethink the future of the Brooklyn waterfront for the next 100 years. The proposal is based on the concept that investment in our cities should go beyond 20th-century models for infrastructure, which are built to serve a single function. 

BQ Park, New York by BIG/ Bjarke Ingels: Landscaped Waterfront Park - Sheet1
BIG’s integrated proposal for the Brooklyn Queens Expressway_©Bjarke Ingels Group

Increasing urbanization with the impacts of aging infrastructure, climate change, densification, economic inequity, and other challenges demand a transformation in our approach to city-scale infrastructure projects. 

BIG proposes a multi-issue approach, which would accomplish multiple goals and accommodate multiple uses. By increasing benefits manifold times, investments in social infrastructure projects can diversify their funding pools and build stronger constituencies for their construction, to accomplish projects that are more constructible and beneficial while incurring lesser costs. 

BQ Park, New York by BIG/ Bjarke Ingels: Landscaped Waterfront Park - Sheet2
BQE Completion by Robert Moses in 1954_©http://www.archtalent.com/projects/bq-park

Historical Background

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) was built by Robert Moses, a mid-century NYC Planner, and designed by the landscape architects Rapuano and Clark in the early 1950s. Like other urban highways around the world, the construction of BQE was controversial because it cut through the city’s neighborhood and displaced many residents. It was built after intense negotiations with the community over a decade, which resulted in an unusual triple-cantilever structure with the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on the upper tier, one of the most iconic open spaces in New York City. 

The BQE has since become one of the most heavily used urban highways in the country and serves as a vital transportation corridor, which can accommodate about 153000 vehicles per day. However, after decades of neglect and no major rehabilitation, the structure’s steel reinforcement is rapidly corroding. Studies have concluded that if not repaired by 2026, trucks will be forced onto neighborhood streets, with all traffic becoming unviable in the early 2030s.

BQ Park, New York by BIG/ Bjarke Ingels: Landscaped Waterfront Park - Sheet3
BIG’s Approach to reconnect the City with its Waterfront_©Bjarke Ingels Group

BIG’s approach

A marvel of engineering, the BQE became a prominent national roadway but it cut off the coastal neighborhood from its waterfront. Like the BQE, many coastal infrastructures in the 20th century around the world prioritized those moving through the city over those living in them.

This has contributed to the poor access and health outcomes for adjacent residents. The necessity for building the BQE due to structural damage provides a unique opportunity to reconnect the neighborhood with its waterfront, by balancing out the needs of infrastructure with the needs of the city residents. 

BIG believes in constructing an integrated project in collaboration with relevant agencies, across transportation, open space management, planning, and economic development specializations to meet the needs of all the stakeholders. The project aims to not function as a luxury for one community, but to improve and add parkland for everyone, thus improving health outcomes for all those around it, and serves as a model for future aging infrastructure across New York City. 

By helping to link the neighborhood and waterfront, it will additionally strengthen the emerging live-work corridor, providing better access to residents, and help to support a growing Brooklyn economy. BIG describes the intention of the project as: “a condition more reminiscent of Brooklyn Heights historical conditions – where city and river interlaced seamlessly, prior to construction of the highway.”

BIG’s Proposal for BQP

BQ Park, New York by BIG/ Bjarke Ingels: Landscaped Waterfront Park - Sheet4
DOT’s Proposal to build a temporary highway along BK Heights Promenade_©Brooklyn Heights Association

The Department of Transportation (DOT) made several proposals to construct a temporary roadway about the existing BQE, and route the traffic through it during the construction of the BQE. This would not only lead to closing down the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for several years but also increase the construction cost and timeline. The public opposed this plan which allowed other initiatives, like BIG’s to materialize. BIG believes its plan will be both quicker and cheaper than the DOT’s

“The simple structural approach, and one-time construction of the new roadway, create a more feasible and less costly solution for reconstruction of the BQE while delivering far more benefits to the community,” BIG said.

BQ Park, New York by BIG/ Bjarke Ingels: Landscaped Waterfront Park - Sheet5
BIG’s Proposal Scenario 1 includes terrace gardens, light rail transit and an underground highway_©Bjarke Ingels Group

BIG has developed a 50,000-square-metre proposal to replace the portion of the elevated BQE that passes along the edge of the residential area. The BQP proposal comprises a six-lane highway located underground. Three lanes are intended for northbound traffic and three for southbound. 

A sloped park is designed to connect to the current level of the top tier of the existing BQE, and then gradually slant down to the waterfront. They have developed a variety of different options to make the most of the slanted site, including a rock-climbing wall and, retail and housing opportunities. Grassy areas and a pedestrian walkway are planned on top of the subterranean highway. 

BIG has offered two scenarios: the first scenario involves the repair of the existing cantilever structure and the second requires replacing it completely. However, in both scenarios vehicles that use the BQE are redirected towards the 6-lane underground roadway.

BQ Park, New York by BIG/ Bjarke Ingels: Landscaped Waterfront Park - Sheet6
BIG’s Proposal Scenario 2 involves replacing the existing BQE with a stepped park design and integrated parking_©Bjarke Ingels Group

The proposal ensures that the BQE traffic would not be disrupted while the at-grade highway and deck are being constructed. Once the construction is complete, BQE traffic would be re-routed to the underground roadway while the 3-tier cantilever would be repurposed as terrace gardens/amenities or the hillside would be completely reconstructed to integrate parking and other activities. 

The BQP proposal thus creates a better connected, and bigger Brooklyn Bridge Park. It transforms the gap existing between the city and the waterfront today into a showcase moment for New York City! 

References

BIG + Arcadis + Sherwood + Nelson Nygaard + Kamerer + MVVA (2020). BQP: How can aging infrastructure be turned into an urban opportunity? New York. Available at: https://bqpark.nyc/BQP_REPORT.pdf

BIG (2019).Now is the moment to rethink the Brooklyn Waterfront for the next 100 years. [online]. Available at: https://bqpark.nyc/ (Accessed at: 9 May 2021)

Cogley B. (2019, April 3). BIG unveils park-covered highway for Brooklyn’s waterfront. Retrieved from: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/04/03/bqp-big-news-bqe-brooklyn-highway-park/

Walsh N. (2019, April 5). BIG Covers Brooklyn Highway in Landscaped Waterfront Park. Retrieved from: https://www.archdaily.com/914488/big-covers-brooklyn-highway-in-landscaped-waterfront-park

Author

Shreya Bansal is an architect with a keen interest in urban studies. She is passionate about finding innovative solutions to urban issues. She believes design to be an interdisciplinary and collaborative process, which should thrive for a positive social and environmental impact.

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