Williamsburg

Could a pontoon bridge be the solution to the L-train shutdown?

Transit groups say focus should remain on Williamsburg Bridge

February 21, 2018 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An East River pontoon bridge connecting Williamsburg to Manhattan is the latest proposal on how to mitigate the L-train shutdown. Renderings courtesy of L-Ternative Bridge

It seems like any and all mitigation options are on the table for the L-train shutdown these days.

First, there was the East River Skyway, a proposed aerial gondola connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, which received the backing of U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Councilmember Stephen Levin and state Assemblymember Joseph Lentol.

Now, an East River pontoon bridge is being floated (no pun intended) as a possibility.

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The project, dubbed L-Ternative Bridge, would connect Brooklyn to Manhattan via North Eighth Street in Williamsburg and East 10th Street in the East Village.

The overpass would feature four lanes: two inner roads for buses and two outer paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

A temporary overpass would need to be erected over the FDR Drive for buses to complement a pedestrian crossing that already exists over the roadway.

The overpass would feature four lanes, two inner roads for buses and two outer paths for pedestrians and cyclists.


The bridge is the brainchild of real estate investor Parker Shinn, 31.  

“I was always familiar with pontoon bridges on how they were used historically,” Shinn told the Brooklyn Eagle. “They had been used very heavily in wars to transport tanks and troops across bodies of water.

“And when I heard what the MTA was planning to do, I thought it was a really insufficient solution for the number of people who take the L train across the river each day.”

Shinn said the number one hurdle is assessing how the pontoon bridge will affect maritime traffic on the East River and then getting approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, a process that could take months.

L-Ternative Bridge’s pedestrian and bike lanes

To address the concern of boat passage, Shinn said a 240-foot-wide drawbridge would need to be built for larger ship traffic, and a permanently elevated section would have to be constructed for ferries and smaller boats.

A pontoon bridge traditionally uses anchored floats to create a continuous passageway for pedestrians and vehicles.

L-Ternative Bridge would use 3,500-pound anchors moored to the bottom of the East River.

The project would cost roughly $100 million, according to Shinn, although he admits that that figure is “a very conservative estimate.”

Construction of the overpass would take 6 to 8 months, and there would be a $1 toll to cross the bridge.

A temporary pontoon bridge in Allahabad, India. AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

A vehicle traveling at 30 mph could travel from the Bedford Avenue station to Manhattan’s shoreline in approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds, according to the project’s website.

Shinn started a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $50,000 to pay for consulting and design fees and to create a comprehensive plan to present to MTA, the New York City Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard.

At press time, the campaign had raised $3,223. Shinn said all unused money would be returned to contributors if the project does not come to fruition. The deadline to reach its goal is March 16.

With the 15-month closure slated to begin in April 2019, several transit advocacy groups believe the public should devote its attention to more viable options.

“We are excited to see how engaged the public is with this issue, but our focus is getting the MTA and DOT to do more with the existing Williamsburg Bridge to prioritize people who are crossing via bus, bike or foot during the shutdown,” Regional Plan Association spokeswoman Dani Simons told the Eagle.

“That also has real potential to leave a lasting positive legacy,” she said.

A pontoon bridge traditionally uses anchored floats to create a continuous passageway for pedestrians and vehicles. AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

Riders Alliance Policy and Communications Director Danny Pearlstein expressed a similar opinion, saying the focus should be on creating dedicated lanes for high-capacity buses on the Williamsburg Bridge.  

“The centerpiece of the L-train mitigation plan is a bridge, but it’s the Williamsburg Bridge,” Pearlstein told the Eagle. “With the shutdown being a year out, it’s important that we focus on existing, realistic tools in our tool chest.

“And one of them is bus rapid transit. If the principle of bus rapid transit is applied to the [Williamsburg Bridge], that will make a successful mitigation plan. The pontoon bridge is intriguing, but there are all sorts of potential regulatory challenges associated with it.”  

Parker Shinn. Photo by Peter Hurley

Although MTA and DOT have not released the full mitigation plan for the closure, the two organizations did announce that a direct ferry route would be added to connect North Williamsburg to Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Cove.

The new ferry route would supplement NYC Ferry’s existing East River service.

While the L-Ternative Bridge will have to overcome numerous obstacles in a short amount of time if it is to become a reality, Shinn is still hopeful.

“I think it’s absolutely a long shot, but if there are enough people who are very motivated, it could be a possibility,” Shinn said of his uncertain project.

He added, “If this is at all remotely possible, then I should put it out there for people to look at and evaluate. My hope is that even though it’s a long shot, if it can be done, it would help a lot of people.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.


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