Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brooklyn Bridge Park: the case against the berm

The Cobble Hill Association has been one of the strongest advocates for a Brooklyn Bridge Park for more than two decades. For the past five years, we have carefully critiqued the financial model and proposed design of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation. We have recently focussed attention on the park's housing-based financial model. Today, let's turn some attention back to the park's unfortunate design.

A key element of our critique is the proposed berm. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines a 'berm' as:

1: a narrow shelf, path, or ledge typically at the top or bottom of a slope; also: a mound or wall of earth or sand.

2: the shoulder of a road.
The berm proposed for the park would be a long, thirty-foot-high mound that would run along the upland portion of the park parallel to the BQE. It will take up a lot of land and be off-limits to park users. What is its purpose then? The park's designers claim that it will act as a sound attenuator for the noise from the BQE. We don't believe it.

We object to the berm for the following reasons:
1. No one has convincingly demonstrated that it will achieve the proposed level of sound attenuation or that that level, even if possible, would be worth the costs.

2. The land that it will occupy and render off-limits could be put to better use.

3. It will turn Furman Street into a dark cavern.

4. The coming renovation of the BQE could result in a covered roadway anyway, thus obviating the need for the berm.
The state Department of Transportation has begun a study to decide how to renovate the BQE's triple-cantilever structure. The triple-cantilever includes the Promenade and the two levels of highway beneath it. The study is scheduled to conclude in 2017. (Yes, that's a long time.) Covering the roadway is one of the options that the DOT study group will consider.

We can make a covered roadway a more likely outcome if we begin working now to generate Brooklyn-wide consensus on its desirability. The CHA is beginning that work now, eight years ahead of time. We believe that the park's success depends in part on the quiet that a covered BQE would make possible. And if we can create that consensus, convince our elected officials to join us, and get the roadways covered, then for sure we will not need a berm that wastes valuable parkland. Let's use that land for recreation instead.

And we are not the only ones with this idea. The Brooklyn Paper recently reported that Donald Rattner of the Studio for Civil Architecture has proposed
'a solar-panel-covered envelope to encase the highway. The proposal calls for wrapping the BQE’s triple cantilever in translucent acrylic shells to suppress roadways sounds, allowing the builders of the open space component of the ailing waterfront development to eliminate the planned sound-stifling hills.'
We look forward to seeing their proposal and any other ideas for eliminating the wasteful berm from the park, with or without a covered BQE. But if we start working now to convince the DOT to cover the BQE, we can potentially have the best of both options.


Judi Francis, President BBP Defense Fund said...

Thank you, Cobble Hill Association, for supporting efforts to secure a real park for Brooklyn with the features that have been so long desired but no longer part of the park plan - year round recreational center, pool, ice rink and cultural venue to celebrate the great bridge from which the park draws its name.

The technical data on noise reduction from the berm is a maximum of 15 decibels - from 85 to 70 decibels, at most (see FEIS on the ESDC website). Please know that an unbearably noisy bath fan is 5 decibels. The berm has a slope of approximately 30 degrees which will require scrubby-brush plantings and the like. It will also likely be fenced off ( as shown in the drawings from Van Valkenburg and Associates ) with (maybe) a path running through it. It is indeed a waste of space. Additionally, the new map from the Development Corporation shows that they have decreased the cost of the berm from $53 million estmated in their original Phase 1 Construction report (obtained via FOIA request last fall) to $32 million in the new Phase 1 report given to the community last week. We know that $32 million would buy us an indoor recreational facility or a floating pool - both more desirable park features than a fenced-off berm.

Finally, Peter King, the DOT's BQE re-build project director, told the CB6 transporation committee last fall that the BQE noise is primarily caused by the joints in the roadbed - something he assured community residents would be completely eliminated with the rebuild.

We are hopeful the community will continue to question the lack of recreational facilities in this park, and advocate for a financing model that does not give public park lands away to real estate developers. As demonstated in many different alternate plans presented over the years, including Senator Squadron's most recent initiative, there are many ways to fund this park without resorting to private housing inside the park's borders.

Mr. Mister Mustard said...

THANKS for the lovely design of the Cobble Hill web pages. The black background, the delicate colors, the careful grid positions all appropriately reflect the hip, discerning inhabitants of brooklyn's smallest neighborhood. WHO is responsible for the sensitive, hard work that went into this design? Three cheers for its creator!
In appreciation,
Mr. Mister Mustard