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'Giant Inflatable Condom' Across East River Among L Train Replacement Ideas

By Gwynne Hogan | June 16, 2016 7:29am
 The Van Alen Institute hosted a competition for transportation solutions to brace for L train shutdown.
L train Charrette
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WILLIAMSBURG — Some engineers think Brooklynites can walk on water.

An inflatable pedestrian tunnel akin to a "giant, inflatable condom" spanning the width of the East River was among the proposals to emerge from a competition hosted to drum up transportation solutions during an L train shutdown slated to begin in 2019.

Design and architecture incubator the Van Alen Institute hosted the "L Train Charrette" on Sunday and evaluated proposals from 33 different teams of designers, architects and engineers, giving several of the proposals honorable mentions and choosing a winner to take home a $1,000 prize.

The architects and engineers at AECOM suggested building a 2,400-foot inflatable tunnel across the East River, which would serve pedestrians and bikers.

"Imagine a giant condom," said Gonzalo Cruz, one of the designers of the "L Transporter," which they said would be made with heavy-duty, fiber-glass fabric developed by a company that does work for NASA.

Parts of the tunnel would bob above the surface while other segments could be anchored to the river floor, allowing for boat traffic to pass above it, they said. They also envisioned projecting images onto the tunnel's interior walls in order, "to provide a cross between art and technology for New Yorkers," Cruz said.

“It could be amazing,” he said.

The tunnel could be built off-site. Designers proposed an additional "fast cart people-mover commuter system" on either end to shuttle commuters along 14th Street and North 7th Street in Brooklyn, in order to provide better connection to existing subways.

The prize-winning proposal, put forth by mechanical engineer Youngjin Yi from BuroHappold Engineering and architect Dillon Pranger from Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, relies on ferry service that would extend up Newtown Creek with several docking points along the way.

Those ferries would ultimately connect to two locations on the banks of the creek where Long Island Railroad Freight trains currently run.

The goal would be to enable those freight tracks for commuter use, so straphangers could take the existing railway, which parallels the L train line, through East Williamsburg into Bushwick and then Queens.

Beyond the cash prize, the Van Alen Institute will work with the designers to further develop the proposal so it can be presented to city and state officials as they plan to repair the Sandy-damaged L train line.

Several other ideas garnered honorable mentions including plans for allowing better communication between the MTA and commuters as well as apps that would help sync transportation alternatives.

“The outflow of creativity and infrastructure ingenuity this competition has generated illustrates the importance of inviting both designers and stakeholders alike to the planning process,” said Van Alen Institute director David Van der Leer.

The Canarsie Tunnel, which connects Manhattan and Brooklyn along the L train line, was damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy and needs extreme repairs that can't be addressed during night and weekend shutdowns, according to the MTA.

Repairs on the tunnel won't begin until 2019.

The competition aimed to come up with creative solutions for transportation alternatives during the L train shutdown, which will either shut down train traffic entirely between Bedford Avenue and 9th Avenue for 18 months, or severely limit it for three years.

To see more ideas that emerged during the Van Alen Institute's competition, here's the full summary.