NYC DOT Ends All Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tours! 

tunnel pic
pic by J. Blakeslee

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  • What you can do (email addresses for politicians and DOT administrators), & and online petition


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BHRA has been giving tours and holding events in the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel for 30 years.  In mid-December 2010,  NYC DOT  Canceled our contract for use of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel through 2018 without providing us any explanation of their motivation.  Relevant articles and details of the situation are in the sections below.

In the news: recent article pertaining to the tunnel closing

Jan 3rd   - NY Magazine: The Approval Matrix (The tunnel closing is listed in the "Despicable" Category).  

Dec 27th - Gothamist - Diamond Wants Tunnel Reopened, Plans Lawsuit Against DOT

Dec 27th - Brooklyn news: Diamond won’t crack! Railway explorer fights eviction from tunnel he discovered

Dec 18th - Brooklyn news: Bob Diamond gets the shaft — literally!

Dec 17th - NBC NY:  Brooklyn Underground Tunnel Tours Are Now Six Feet Under: City Revokes Longtime Rail Buff's Permission To Run Tours

Dec 17th - Gothamist - Bob Diamond Talks About Ban On Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tours

Dec 16th - NY Daily News - Atlantic Avenue subway tunnel tour shut down by FDNY;called unsafe

Dec 13th - Huffington Post - Cobble Hill Tunnel Tours May Soon Close

Dec 13th - Wall Street Journal:  Tunnel Films Go Dark

Feb 22 - New York Times: "Fighting to Return to a Subway Vault" (external link)

NYC Government also scuttled the one hour National Geographic TV special on the tunnel. . .  International embarrassment.

Time-line of events (including documentation and correspondence)

We have always done everything DOT has ever asked of us. DOT's Revocation of our tunnel consent is arbitrary, and without basis.

Our goal is to persuade NYC DOT to allow us to perform the work recently requested by FDNY. We are now pursing our  rights through the appropriate forums, in order to enforce BHRA's legal rights (and the rights of New Yorkers to have access to this important landmark -  the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel - the world's oldest subway tunnel)

Below you will all relevant DOT approvals for the tunnel tours. (They are attached as PDF files chronologically.)

March 23, 2009 Letter from Emma Berenblit, DOT's Director of Consents, informing us that DOT WOULD NOT ISSUE US ANY WORK PERMITS for reopening the 4 other existing tunnel entrances- or any thing else- that isn't merely "[structural] integrity repairs".  (if you have problems viewing this file, use zoom tool and view at 125%)

The reason DOT wrote us the attached letter, is because I mentioned on the tunnel tours, that we were planning to open a second entrance to the tunnel for improved egress, so the tours could move on a faster schedule- D.O.T. THEN STOPPED US FROM MAKING ANY SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS TO THE TUNNEL !The attached letter from DOT says "no permits will be issued". Note they also told us verbally, that when they used the word "integrity"- in the attached letter, they meant the "structural integrity" of the tunnel (not safety issues). This letter indicates that DOT had no safety concerns regarding the tunnel at that time, almost two years ago. (there has been no change in the condition since then)

March 25, 2009 Our Highly Positive Tunnel Inspection Report, performed by a licensed, professional civil engineer, at the request of City DOT. Cost our organization $3,000.

March 27, 2009 Email from DOT's Emma Berenblit, Director of Consents, Accepting and Approving our Tunnel Safety Inspection Report.

June 19, 2009 letter from DOT's lawyer, Franco Esposito, referring to BHRA President Bob Diamond as a "Criminal"- and banning all future tunnel tours.

July 22, 2009 letter from DOT's Emma Berenblit, Director of Revocable Consents, re-authorizing the tunnel tours (with the condition that we file "MPT Plans" with DOT, signed and stamped by a professional Traffic engineer. MPT Plans cost our organization $7,000 (Sam Schwartz & Co, P.E.'s).

August 19, 2009 Email from DOT's Emma Berenblit, approving our MPT Plans, States: "OCMC Has No Further Comments".

September 8, 2009: BHRA's DOT Consent Agreement was modified to reflect the MPT Plans we filed with DOT. Two pages.

Feb 20, 2010 Letter from DOT's Emma Berenblit, acknowledging our on going tunnel tours, and requesting a schedule for the next two months.

December 13, 2010 NYC Fire Department, stops film event from  going on due to safety concerns  (air quality,  one exit/ entrance).   Note: tunnel condition is the same as it always has been, air quality and structural safety had been established (link to engineering report), and 2nd entrance (existing manhole) could never be opened and utilized due to DOT decree issued on March 23, 2009

Note:  Air Quality has been continuously monitored by a box installed by the gas company since 1981 - click here for picture

December 17, 2010 NYC DOT prohibits BHRA from completing work to meet fire departments safety concerns (i.e., opening up existing second exit). 

NYC DOT revokes BHRA's consent to use tunnel without providing us any explanation of their motivation, or rationale for their decision.  This effectively ends public access to the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.

February 8, 2011

After numerous failed attempts to resolve the situation with NYC DOT, BHRA is taking action to resolve this impasse in two different fronts: civil and legal.   See info here

April 28, 2011

As you can see from the internal FDNY memo below (issued over 3 months ago by FDNY), and luckily discovered by a certain "temporarily un-named source", FDNY TOLD CITY DOT TO DEAL WITH US TO REOPEN THE ATLANTIC AVE. TUNNEL TOURS OVER 3 MONTHS AGO!

READ THIS:"INTERNAL FDNY MEMO" (over 3 months old):

"I spoke with FDNY Legal Counsel, who has been dealing with DOT on the matter of Mr. Diamond's access to the tunnel.  We are advising DOT about our concerns and suggesting next steps.  So, we believe DOT is the ultimate decision-maker on the access issue inasmuch as it controls the access.

We have suggested to DOT that they work out with Mr. Diamond the details for future access, e.g., under controlled circumstances and pursuant to a written agreement.  We also suggested that Mr. Diamond retain a design professional to assist with his future plans for the tunnel space".

EPILOGUE: BHRA has since answered all of FDNY's concerns with a written plan, sent to both FDNY and DOT, OVER 2 MONTHS AGO!!

Here is a statement from BHRA regarding what we infer may be some of NYC DOT's rationale

1. Increasing notoriety of the tunnel due to the regularly scheduled tours and BHRA's historical research and advocacy.
When the tunnel tours were not very well known, "the major players" of New York City government didn't take the tunnel tours seriously, and ignored them.  However, now that National Geographic TV is planning to do a one hour special show on the tunnel, and the Guinness Book of World Records says the tunnel is the world's first subway tunnel- now the tunnel is on the radar of the "the insiders" of city government
2. BHRA's advocacy of Streetcar and sensible rail transit.
Most of the government grants that City DOT receives, are used for bus related projects. Certain "interests" within City DOT do not want the streetcar project to advance, because they're afraid the streetcars will tend to chew up government grants now used only for their own bus projects. So, instead of the DOT's support and funding being meted out based upon "survival of the fittest transportation mode", which streetcar would no doubt win, some DOT people involved with their own bus projects want to strangle the nascent streetcar line, before its even born. Since we are the loudest advocate of streetcars in New York City, we've incurred their wrath.

Note: this is only speculation, NYC DOT has not provided us with their actual motivation for closing the tunnel to the public.

What you can do:

- Contact the mayors office, your elected representatives, and NYC DOT and ask that Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tours be allowed to resume.  

Email your letters of outrage to the addresses below: 

The Mayor's Office:                          

Upper-level staff people from NYC DOT:

Jon Orcut 
Lori Ardito 
Bruce Schaller
jorcutt@dot.nyc.gov ,
lardito@dot.nyc.gov ,
bschaller@dot.nyc.gov ,

Elected Officials:

City Councilman Levin slevin@council.nyc.gov ,

Congress Member Nydia Velázquez's Office -
(Dan Wiley) 
daniel.wiley@mail.house.gov ,

Brooklyn Boro President's Office (Luke DePalma) lukedepalma@brooklynbp.nyc.gov ,

Actions Taken By BHRA to insure continued public access to the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel:

We are taking action to resolve this impasse in two different fronts: civil and legal.  

The first aspect is the civil case.   After numerous failed attempts to resolve the situation with NYC DOT, having no other recourse we filed a Notice of Claim package against DOT,  with the NYC Comptroller last Friday (Jan 28, 2011). The amount of our claim against the City is $2.5 million.

Furthermore, as BHRA staff and legal experts have sorted through years of documents pertaining to the tunnel, it has come to our attention, that when DOT renewed our tunnel contract in 2008, they illegally changed the language in it, making it virtually worthless- language regarding granting any work permits was all removed.  They also illegally removed key language regarding Fire Dept approval as well.

DOT was specifically forbidden by the City- in writing- to make ANY substantive changes to the contract, when it renews. Now we're talking possible criminal activity on the part of DOT.   DOT acted in an illegal manner, when they ignored Corporation Counsel's orders to not change any substantive language when renewing these Consent contracts.

See attached documentation (PDF file)
Compare the attached 1998 "Schedule"  (page 1) Then read the attached Corporation Counsel ban on DOT making any substantive changes (page 2).  Lastly, see the illegally changed 2008 "Schedule" (page 3).

Other Things You Can Do:

- Vote For The Tunnel Tours On The Gothamist Blog Public Opinion Poll

- Sign the petition that was started to: Restore the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel Tours (external link)

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