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Proposals for L Train alternatives include giant inflatable tunnel across the East River

Written by
Howard Halle

Ever since the MTA announced plans to shut down or seriously restrict the L Train in 2019 in order to repair Hurricane Sandy–inflicted damage to the two Canarsie tunnels that carry the line over the East River, everyone in Billyburg—from realtors to retailers to residents—has been in an uproar. Plans will be finalized this month but the proposed alternatives to the L are pretty much what you’d expect, with calls to beef up schedules for the J, M and G while also instituting shuttle bus routes over the Williamsburg Bridge.

However, last Sunday, the Van Alen Institute hosted a presentation of proposals for their L Train Shutdown Charrette (an architectural school term for creating a plan to solve an assigned problem). Designs from 33 teams were entered with the winner receiving a $1,000 prize: It went to a project that would connect ferry service up Newton Creek to LIRR freight tracks converted for passenger travel.

But perhaps the title of most interesting, if ultimately unrealistic, proposal belonged to the "L Transporter," a 2,400-foot inflatable tunnel across the East River—which one of its designers likened to a giant condom. The brainchild of firm Aecom, the plastic tunnel would have partially floated in the water, with some segments sunk below the waves to accommodate boat traffic. A “fast cart people-mover commuter system” would have funneled travelers to its Manhattan and Brooklyn ends across 14th Street and North 7th Street, respectively. One rendering of the plan shows the interior lit with rainbow-colored lights. It’s understandable why the ferry idea won out (it’s plausible), but it certainly would have been more fun to use Aecom’s tunnel, especially if you were high.

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