BY CHARLES F. OTEY
He’ll save Brooklyn Heights Promenade and clean the air at the same time
Bay Ridge’s Carlo Scissura is definitely a man with a plan. More than one, actually.
With a sterling history of public and commercial service, he is the current president of the very influential New York Building Congress.
He has championed the long-sought plan to raze the rotting Gowanus Expressway and replace it with a tunnel, thereby creating thousands of new acres of valued real estate in Sunset Park and South Brooklyn and providing hundreds of millions of dollars in new city and state income.
Having served as head of the Building Congress, former chief adviser to the borough president and president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Scissura has advocated for the tunnel, which would permit thousands of vehicles to exit the Verrazzano Bridge and proceed — their pollution sucked up by tunnel air processors — to become virtually invisible at the entrance to the Gowanus Tunnel.
The tunnel has had the backing of the Regional Plan Association and scores of elected officials like Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon, who ran the Gowanus Tunnel Campaign for several years.
But, what can be done to save the treasured but collapsing Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which sits nervously astride the Gowanus as it becomes the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on its way to Manhattan?
Not to worry. The innovative Brooklynite has a plan to save the Promenade, which sits a mile or so north of the Gowanus, and to dramatically slash air pollution and reduce the number of often-fatal auto and truck accidents the expressway now provides.
In brief: Downsize it and they won’t come!
“The alternatives proposed by the city Department of Transportation present very serious issues with very little chance of being approved; other alternatives should be explored,” Scissura wrote in an update on his panel’s work. “The commission has serious concerns about the proposed highway and encroachment on the Promenade (other than to renovate and upgrade the Promenade) or major incursion into the Brooklyn Bridge Park with a temporary highway.”
A 65-year-old stretch of the highway between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street is literally falling apart with the daily pounding by thousands of tons of truck and auto travel. If nothing is done to rebuild the triple cantilever, the city says it will have to issue weight restrictions and reroute trucks — some 25,000 use the expressway each day — from the road by 2026, and shutter it by 2036.
The solution tentatively put forward by Scissura’s panel may be controversial because it would result in the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway losing one-third of its lanes. What most don’t know is that the BQE is quickly falling apart, handling more than three times the weight that it was built to handle — more than 150,000 vehicles every day.
The BQE is currently six lanes — three on each side. The plan would make it a four-lane highway, with two on each side.
We now know that bigger highways endanger human life
What some motorists — many of whom ride in 5,000-pound air-choking behemoths on their way from parts east to offices in Manhattan — do not yet realize is that we have come to the point where individual auto traffic will be dramatically reduced by congestion pricing and other tools.
Factors that have emerged during the past few decades leave no doubt that building more and more highways is corrosive to the atmosphere and human life.
What Scissura and his talented team, which includes Kathy Wylde — another prominent Bay Ridgeite who heads the Partnership for New York City — correctly anticipate is that the more difficult, costly and, yes, politically incorrect it becomes to reach Manhattan, the less likely motorists will want to enjoy the daily luxury of door-to-office auto travel.
Whether they’re coming from West Islip or Staten Island, auto commuters will finally have reason to support improved mass transit underground and along the city’s bounteous waterways.
By daring to put forth a proposal that recognizes that we must stop building more and bigger highways to accommodate more and more vehicles, which are ruining the air we breathe and the water we need to sustain life, Scissura and his panel are taking a bold and crucial step.
As our subways continue to disintegrate, the very idea of committing up to a billion dollars to rebuild the existing Gowanus/BQE while destroying the Heights Promenade in the process stands out as sheer folly.
Elected officials owe it to all of us — especially generations to come who will inherit an environment unable to sustain life as we know it — to support the Scissura Panel Plan and others like it.
Bay Ridge Toastmasters set April 22 Open House
(Columnist’s Note: We’re pleased to offer the following piece by Brad Manzo, who started out as part of the Home Reporter’s Bay Ridge Writer’s Workshop.)
The National Social Anxiety Center estimates that 75 percent of the population has a fear of public speaking. That’s where Bay Ridge Toastmasters comes in.
Through the Toastmasters International Educational program that’s been fine-tuned for more than 100 years, Bay Ridge Toastmasters helps one not only overcome the fear of public speaking, but become a confident speaker in any setting.
The club meets weekly to get members out of their comfort zone and in front of a friendly audience eager to help them improve. Additionally, Toastmasters has a leadership program that, coupled with public speaking, helps members gain the skills they need daily in the workplace.
Bay Ridge Toastmasters recently earned “Perfect 10” status, recognizing it as one of the best clubs in the New York Metropolitan area. As Club President Nancy Tester adds, “It has helped countless people overcome their fear of public speaking in a safe and nurturing environment.”
Bay Ridge Toastmasters is open to adults ages 18 and older and is holding an Open House on Wednesday, April 22, 6:45 p.m., at the Brooklyn VA Hospital, 800 Poly Place. For more details, contact George Soumakis at firstname.lastname@example.org.