In Attendance: Roy Sloane, Jerry Armer, Rita and Woerner Cohn

Fix the Ditch Meeting
July 15, 2003
In Attendance: Roy Sloane, Jerry Armer, Rita and Woerner Cohn, Laurie and Stanley
Maurer, Ernest Migiliacci, David MacKenzie, Kenn Lowy, Sarah Trindade, Janet Barrett,
Margaret Ablon, Brian McCormick, Frank Kubicek, Greg O’Connell, Trudy Whitman
(Heights Press), Christy Goodman (Courier)
The group gathered promptly at 6 PM at the entrance to Lower Van Voorhees Park and
moved up Congress Street closer to the BQE, where the noise of the BQE was less than
that of the ice cream truck.
Roy Sloane welcomed everyone and mentioned that it was propitious we should be
meeting there because five years previously a similar gather had come together at that
same spot to begin a project to renovate the park. Now, as we met, the well-used park
was in the last stages of renovation. Then he introduced Jerry Armer, Chairman of
Community Board 6, who reviewed the history of the previous effort to repair the
damage the BQE trench had done to South Brooklyn, and described the process any
effort would follow.
Then Joe McCarthy thanks Roy and Jerry for their long-term efforts to improve the
neighborhood. After the applause died down, he also thanked them for supporting his
idea to do something about the problem. He listed four criteria that seemed to him to be
central to the effort: sound abatement, visual improvement, the reconnection of the
affected neighborhoods, and a solution to the pollution problem. He then described his
idea for the solution: A light weight cover running from Congress Street to Summit with
a two lane wide open grill running the full length down the center of the cover. On both
sides of the grill (each two lanes wide) the cover would be landscaped to be attractive but
not for use. At every street not now served by an automobile bridge, pedestrian bridges
would reconnect the streets. He then proposed that the group walk along Hicks Street
beside the highway and be reminded of what it truly is.
Everyone walked to the Sackett Street bridge and stopped for a while to look in each
direction from the center of the span. Traffic was backed up in both directions. The
group then walked to Joe McCarthy’s house where refreshments and hors d’oeuvres were
During a brief period of socializing Brian McCormick shared a beautiful 1908 map of the
neighborhood with everyone. Looking at it made in painfully clear what had been lost as
a result of the construction. Then the group settled down to business. Mr. McCarthy
acted as chairman and took notes. He proposed that there were four key elements to the
discussion: ideas, criteria, process and manpower. It was agreed that criteria should
precede ideas.
The resulting list of criteria necessary for a successful project was the following:
Sound/Noise Abatement. This meant simply reducing the din echoing out of the
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Pollution control. Given the experience of the previous effort, which died due to
an inability to equitably distribute the exhaust gasses, the exhaust must be dealt
Benefits to motorists. Roy Sloane suggested that if the solution offered benefits to
the motorists using the highway, it would be more likely to succeed.
Connectedness. This was felt by many to be the most important criteria. With the
planned development of piers seven through twelve, with the possible addition of
cruise-lines to the neighborhood, and with the dynamic growth of the Columbia
Street neighborhood, the potential benefits of reconnection were significant.
Safety. Safety issues were discussed relating both to motorists entering and
leaving the ditch as well as to pedestrians as a result of the use of Hicks Street as a
service road for the highway.
Greenway. That the design offer an attractive visual appearance, such as a
greenway like that now running up West Street in Manhattan, or up Park Avenue.
Design. Roy Sloane suggested that the design should reflect the strange Moderne
elements of the existing design.
Historical context. Many felt that anything done to cover the highway and
reconnect the neighborhoods should be done in a way that maintained and
enhanced the historical and current environment of the neighborhoods.
Open space. In regard to the visual appearance, all agreed that leaving it as open
space would be preferable to building on in.
In addition to the criteria, there were concerns that could be deemed unacceptable
alternatives. Among those mentioned were:
Parking: Using the covered highway as parking spaces for the Brooklyn Bridge
Tall buildings: While all felt that buildings that exceeded a 50 foot height limit
would be unacceptable, creative alternatives were felt by some to be a possibility,
especially if it meant that the funding for the project came from private
Then the discussion turned to ideas.
The first to weigh in was Stanley Maurer who pushed for reconnecting all the streets with
automobile bridges, on the principle that then Federal money would be available for the
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Then Brian McCormick, also building on the idea that Federal funding is available,
proposed that the light-rail line being developed in Red Hook be continued up to Atlantic
Avenue at grade-level above the ditch.
Several people asked, again in the context of Federal funding, if the traffic could be
mitigated by building a second level of highway in the ditch. Roy Sloane pointed out that
no additional highways could be built in New York until its emission problem had been
At this point Mr. McCarthy circulated a rendering produced by Ernest Migiliacci
suggesting a modest, tree-lined cantilever that would run the full length of the highway
on both sides:
Mr. McCarthy then, again, described his idea for a cover with a large open central strip
that would evenly distribute the exhaust, with the neighborhoods reconnected by
pedestrian bridges. He mentioned Roy Sloane’s interest in sod roofing, and Roy
described their pollution control and air conditioning benefits as well as their
Also discussed was what was described as “in-fill development” which further explored
the concerns about private developers building on the space. No one favored tall
buildings, and it was deemed unlikely that suitably sized buildings would be
economically feasible.
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There followed a discussion of the possibility of moving or eliminating the highway.
Roy Sloane and others pointed out that it was very unlikely, that it would be
tremendously costly, and that it might look “radical” rather than politic.
Next Roy Sloane reviewed the process. First he reiterated something he and Jerry had
emphasized before the walk: that initiating this process during a down economic cycle
was smart, because it meant that the project would be ready when the up cycle came
around. He said the near-term goal was to get funding for a feasibility study. That would
require the support of the Community Board and the City Council.
To achieve that support required first a consensus among the neighborhoods that the idea
was important, and a focus on a few alternative approaches to be explored. Then
community action needed to be built through meetings, development of presentation
materials and appearances before government hearings. Brian McCormick, Laurie
Maurer and others mentioned the possibility of staging a national design competition or
working through the Van Allan Institute to develop plans.
At the same time, it would be wise to develop allies among potentially interested
constituencies: Those mentioned included Continuum (LICH), the cruise lines, the
developers who expect to be involved in the piers, and the Economic Development
This process would likely lead to the funding of a study and then eventually to
completion of the project.
Discussion then turned to how to proceed. It was agreed that there should be another
meeting in mid-August to go back over the ideas and at the same time reach out to people
who had been unable to attend this session. After discussion, it was agreed that the
representatives of our elected officials show be made aware of the meeting, but that its
primary purpose was to continue developing and refining the ideas rather that making a
presentation of a not-yet-finished product.
Rather it was agreed to hone the idea in August, and then organize a broader,
neighborhood-wide event in September at which a presentation could be made to both the
citizenry and the elected representatives for review and general discussion. It was further
agreed that Roy Sloane would ask the Community Board to set up a “listserv” on which
information and ideas could be posted for all to see.
Respectfully submitted,
Joseph M. McCarthy
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