It bears repeating that the vast majority of New Yorkers will be relatively unaffected by the forthcoming disruption of L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. But for the 225,000 people who take the train between the two boroughs every day it is a Very Big Deal—big enough, it seems, to warrant $1,000 prizes for the most innovative ideas for transit alternatives once the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Canarsie tube goes quiet. The Van Alen Institute in Manhattan did just that this weekend, fielding proposals that ranged from practical suggestions for new transit apps to pie-in-the-sky fantasies of floating an inflatable tunnel across the East River for the duration of the shutdown.
That latter idea comes from a team of architects and engineers from AECOM, an infrastructure design firm that's also working on realizing Elon Musk's Hyperloop pipe dream in Las Vegas. Dubbed the "L TRANSPORTER" the proposal envisions a "transporter tunnel" that'd be built "using technology developed by NASA." Pedestrians and cyclists could theoretically traverse the East River using this "immersed" tunnel (which wouldn't be complete without "digitally-enhanced environments" which, judging by the renderings, would offer the trippiest travel experience since the VW hippie bus).
That idea not-so-shockingly failed to win or receive honorable mention—perhaps because the MTA has already shot down the notion of building a new subway tunnel because it'd cost too much, and it's hard to imagine a NASA-patented floating tube would be much cheaper—but it's certainly the flashiest of the proposals. Other, comparably mundane ideas included shutting down 14th Street to car traffic (an idea that's been touted by politicians and safe streets advocates alike); creating an app that would "provide residents affected by the shutdown with realtime travel information to make smart choices when using different modes of transportation in Manhattan and Brooklyn"; and providing an all-access pass to buses, car share services, ferries, and bike shares.
The winning proposal came from Youngjin Yi and Dillon Pranger, a mechanical engineer and an architectural designer who suggested a two-pronged approach: first, implement a system of "vaporetto-style, low-capacity and high-frequency water shuttles" beginning at the terminus of the Newtown Creek and ferrying passengers to Manhattan; and second, run a commuter train on the LIRR's freight track between Fresh Pond Junction and the Bushwick Branch, connecting passengers coming from as far as Canarsie with the "vaporetto-style" ferry system.
Pranger explained that the envisioned waterway would be targeted toward Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents, while the freight commuter rail would target residents farther out on the L line who might enjoy a scenic vaporetto ride to work.
"We never saw this as a one-off solution," Pranger said. "We proposed it as being augmented with the existing commuter infrastructures such as the bus, bike lanes, the J line, the M line—so, providing another form of transportation, but not something that would completely solve the entirety of the L train rider's problems."
Yi and Pranger received $1,000 from the Van Alen Institute, and will theoretically go on to refine this proposal for presentation to transportation planning agencies. The MTA has said it's open to any and all suggestions, but didn't respond to a request for comment on this specific proposal.