BQE gets a makeover

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If you've driven on it or under it, you know the Gowanus Expressway can be a bit of an eyesore.

"It's just really ugly and you just want to get through it as fast as possible," Bay Ridge resident Jim Wroten said.

But some of the space under the elevated highway is finally being put to good use. Thanks to a partnership between the Design Trust for Public Space and The Department of Transportation, the El-Space Pilot is unlocking the potential of the underbelly of the BQE.

Tricia Martin designed the Sunset Park installation at 36th Street and 3rd Avenue, which brings plant life to a green space where the only previous green came in the form of traffic lights and rusted steel.

"A lot of the work that I do with green infrastructure is how we integrated that into the urban design elements," Martin said.

The project also includes new lights that brighten one of the darkest areas of the neighborhood at night.

"This could be a good beacon for other people to see what can be done," Bay Ridge resident Anne Wroten said. "Just painting those things help."

In addition to the aesthetic value, the installation also has a huge impact for the environment: collecting stormwater runoff to feed the plants below. Previously the water had no place else to go when it rained.

"You have people who walk to work, who have to navigate, in the winter sometimes, frozen dirty sewage-y type water that's just coming off of the highway," Martin said. "That's really unacceptable so we saw an interesting opportunity to think of this as a project that's really solving a critical problem."

The new planters will eliminate runoff from storms leaving behind up to 1-inch of water, helping to reduce pollution from the cars above in the process. The pilot program is one of three around the city with the other two planned for Rockaway and Dutch Kills. The organizations plan to use what they learn to figure out how they can best use other 70-million square feet under elevated structures throughout the city.

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