Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Bridge Is Over (Bounce Remix)

View of Squibb Park Bridge from the Fruit Street Sitting Area

Seven weeks ago, Squibb Park Bridge opened, connecting pedestrians from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to Pier 1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. While referring to the bridge as a shortcut would be disingenuous (the walk down Columbia Heights takes about the same amount of time), the path to the water is now indisputably more beautiful. Designed by Ted Zoli of HNTB, the $5 million multi-span bridge utilizes a trail bridge-inspired steel cable and timber truss beneath the deck, lending the bridge a certain bounce. If you're prone to motion sickness, take your Dramamine... you can really feel it on a busy day:

Just to reiterate: the bridge was designed to sway, so any fear of a pedestrian-scale echo of the "Galloping Gertie" disaster would be completely unfounded... I hope.

Beginning at the Squibb Park playground, the zig-zagging Sigma-shaped bridge is supported by a series of concrete piers at each turn, before eventually coming to rest on an embankment in the park. Black Locust, which is naturally rot resistant, was used for both the planks and the timber comprising the bridge sections. Each of these sections was prefabricated, and left to wait on site well past the bridge's targeted opening last Fall. This was a look at the newly-assembled sections in October:

While all of this was under construction, there was a momentary call to pay tribute to the late Adam Yauch (MCA of the Beastie Boys) by renaming the park in his honor. A more suitable spot was dedicated to Yauch (more on this soon), and the park remains dedicated to the legacy of Edward Squibb, the pharmaceutical pioneer whose lab once occupied this area.

From the Promenade, visitors may now access Squibb Park via a newly-repaved and fully accessible ramp. The park sits at approximately the same elevation as the northbound lanes of the BQE.

Standing in the park (largely a hard-court playground), the visitor encounters a sweeping view of the harbor, Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Upon leaving the playground, pavement gives way underfoot to the warmth and richness of the Black Locust planks. Spanning the 8-foot width of the bridge, the deck is lined with 2" x 4" guard rails.

In a gesture to the timber and steel cable railings strung throughout Brooklyn Bridge Park, the bridge railings are formed by tension cable and steel mesh spanning between Black Locust rail posts.

The rugged and utilitarian details work well, I think, especially in the context of the park. And it is a trail bridge, after all. Even so, there a few moments where the craftsmanship lands on the wrong side of the line between ad hoc and shoddy, such as in the guard rail detail below. Several of the planks have already begun to split, as well.

And then you look up, and all of that recedes when you're greeted with this:

With an assist from the afternoon sun, a glance backwards reveals more of the bridge than you could otherwise see while crossing.

From below, the structure seems a supine spine. Robust galvanized steel nodes connect the timber members of the truss. The little yellow pads extending from the lower nodes are grooved to guide the steel tension cables tracing the frame's bottom chords.

Tree-like three-pronged concrete piers extend skyward to capture the sections and bring them together. Electrical conduits run beneath the platform and follow the bridge, providing power for linear path lights integrated into the handrails.

As the bridge nears the park, it dives into the earth. The visitor then encounters the choice to exit by way of a concrete staircase to the north or a meandering ramp to the south, both of which spill onto the bicycle and pedestrian path.

The bridge's western terminus, looking north towards the Brooklyn Bridge

Detail of a smaller concrete pier, with timber supports anchored with galvanized plates
Stepping outside the park, one quickly apprehends the treacherous terrain the bridge bypasses. Furman Street runs north-south from Fulton Street to Atlantic Avenue, witnessing a decent number of impatient motorists skipping the double-yellow to outpace a plodding City Sights bus.

View from Furman Street looking north

It must be said that the bridge will eventually feel much less lonely than it looks below. Once the vegetation begins to fully sprout, it is my sincere hope that we'll get something approximating Ewok Village, as the bridge threads through the treetops. Most likely it will seem more like a dash of Endor with a little High Line splashed in. The two vacant sites flanking the bridge will soon be home to 100,000 of hotel, residential and retail use, as part of the city's public-private partnership plan to make the park financially self-sustaining. For a look at Rogers Marvel's competition-winning renderings of the Starwood/Toll Brothers project, click here.

View across Furman Street to the northwest

One final note--over Memorial Day weekend, New Yorkers will be greeted with the launch of the city's first (and long-awaited) bike-sharing program, brought to you by Citi (pricing and maps can be found here). Docking stations have already been installed near the beginning and end of the bridge, as well as as in more than 300 locations throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan (Queens, Bronx and SI residents are out of luck till the full roll-out). Of course, it wouldn't be New York without a little complaining, but the new program has already drawn fire from residents, businesses... and cyclists?! Regardless, I'm optimistic that once the wrinkles are ironed out, this will be a net good for the city.

Expectant CitiBike racks at the Fruit Street Sitting Area

That's all for now, but stay tuned for updates... with more vegetation!

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