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The Next Big Things


The Hudson plan is the most closely watched, but ideas are sprouting all over the city. Community boards in Brooklyn have presented detailed and intelligent plans for waterfront conversion in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and the area around the Navy Yard. Coney Island, where acres of land lie fallow, is the focus of various proposals -- notably Bruce Ratner's plan for a hockey-and-basketball arena -- and Charles Gargano envisions a twenty-first-century boardwalk with echoes of the old glory days. Furthest along of all, though, is a Brooklyn Heights waterfront plan put out by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition, which would create parkland on piers one through five, just below the Brooklyn Bridge. Today, the piers are either empty or being used by businesses that could as easily be inland -- a lumber company, storage. The new plans call for a hotel and a marina and a skating rink in addition to more passive uses. The idea's been ten years in the making, but the governor and the Port Authority, two of the three key players here, have given strong signs recently that they're supportive (the third is the mayor, who's sent mixed signals), and the project could move forward within a year or two. "By and large," says Councilman Ken Fisher, "the people who live in Brooklyn Heights don't have to live there. A project like this can make people want to stay."

Interesting ideas are afoot elsewhere -- the Bronx's Ferry Point Park is slated to become a Jack Nicklaus golf course that Barwick says could actually host a PGA tournament someday (in the Bronx!). Seeing waterfront projects through requires a higher-than-usual amount of patience and compromise. Parcels are owned by the city, the state, various private entities. Negotiating the thicket of interests -- Ortenzio says he deals with 36 different environmental groups -- will take time (and, of course, money). But the good news is that we're finally thinking the right way.


An elevated highway near a waterfront chiefly accomplishes two things: It cuts people off from the water, and it hinders local development. In these respects, the Gowanus Expressway -- the 55-year-old, four-mile stretch of the BQE roughly from 65th Street in Bay Ridge to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel's feeder lanes -- has run true to form. Residents of Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and Carroll Gardens can't get near the water, Red Hook is completely closed off from its neighbors, and Third Avenue (directly under the expressway) is a parade of low-rent tire shops and parts stores.

So perhaps it's a blessing that it's falling apart. "It's deteriorating at a more rapid rate than we can fix it," says the state Department of Transportation's Alexander Dudley, which operates the highway and has spent $60 million in "emergency renovations" over the past decade. Despite its drawbacks, the expressway is one of the city's most crucial commercial arteries, carrying about 64 million vehicles a year. Which brings New York to decision time: How to replace it?

The obvious idea, and the one the state seems to favor, is simply to rehabilitate it. It wouldn't cost that much, as these projects go -- around $1 billion. There's another thought, though, about what to do with the Gowanus: Bury it.

The plan, the brainchild of the RPA's Albert Appleton, is to turn the Gowanus into an eight-lane, three-tube tunnel from somewhere near 65th Street to a point not far south of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. "A tunnel is the best solution," Appleton says. "It would support the traffic, it would open up the waterfront, and there wouldn't be a construction problem, since you could just use the existing highway until the tunnel is finished, and then tear it down."

It's a visionary solution that other cities have employed, notably Boston and Oslo, where 25 million vehicles a year raced through City Hall Square until that roadway was put underground in 1997. It would cost nearly $3 billion, according to RPA estimates, and according to the state, twice that. NYSDOT has hired a private firm to study both options, Dudley says, and remains open to the tunnel plan. Admittedly the tunnel is expensive, but over the long term, it's clearly the better idea.


The basic proposal has been discussed at length in this magazine before (see "Port in a Storm," by Michael Tomasky, July 29, 1996), but in brief: The shipping channels to Newark and Elizabeth, where the port is now, are too shallow for the super-large ships coming into use. Brooklyn's channels are deeper and easier to reach, so those ships should dock in Brooklyn. The key to making this work is the proposed rail-freight tunnel that would run under New York harbor from Bay Ridge to either Staten Island or Bayonne, linking cargo delivered to Brooklyn to the nation's commercial rail lines.

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