The dreaded 15-month L train shutdown is a little more than a year away, and residents are scrambling to put together a plan to mitigate the impacts that it will have on hundreds of thousands of New York City straphangers. The MTA has already released a preliminary strategy, which includes increased service and capacity on a variety of subway lines that run through Brooklyn, expanded bus service in the impacted areas and a handful of infrastructure changes—but there is a general sense that they do not go far enough.
When the shutdown was first announced in 2016, the Van Alen Institute held an event in which 33 design teams pitched a series of outlandish transit alternatives for passage across the East River. And last week, another group floated another proposal that might just be crazy enough to work: a pontoon bridge.
Dubbed the “L-Ternative Bridge,” the project gained steam when Parker Shinn, a real estate investor, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a bidding process and further research. On the surface, the concept is simple: assemble a set of 30 floating deck barges across the East River between Williamsburg and the East Village, which will be anchored to support a fully functioning bridge span. The structure would have two lanes of bus traffic and two paths for walking or biking. The plan also includes a 240-foot-wide drawbridge that would allow larger ships to pass through, and a permanently elevated section that would allow for the passage of ferries and smaller boats.
In supporting the ambitious project, Shinn cites another similar bridge in China that was erected in just eight months and another that was built by a group of European companies for a relatively slim $38 million. It is unclear how feasible the proposal actually is, but he claims that by charging a $1 toll and establishing public-private partnerships, it could pay for itself.
At the time this article was written, the Kickstarter had garnered a little more than $3,000 of its $50,000 goal. Donors to the campaign would get varying degrees of gratis passage on the bridge and would get fully refunded if it does not get build (which it almost certainly will not).
A floating bridge might sounds like an unthinkable concept, but a few years ago, one could say the same about the prospect of shutting down one of the city’s most vital subway lines for more than a year.
In 2018, anything is possible in New York City.