Volume 22, Number 06 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 26 - July 2, 2009.
Renderings by SHoP Architects
The Battery Park City Authority is hoping to get approval for a pedestrian bridge at W. Thames St. to replace the temporary bridge over the West Side highway at Rector St.
The street W. Thames may get a bridge to cross
By Julie Shapiro
The second bridge SHoP Architects is designing for southern Battery Park City could not be more different from the first.
Shortly after 9/11, SHoP rapidly designed a pair of utilitarian metal tubes to span West St. at Rector St., a bridge intended to last two years at most.
Now, as that bridge continues to outlive its lifespan, SHoP unveiled designs last week of a fanciful replacement. The new bridge, one block south at W. Thames St., would be a curving terra cotta helix that looks frozen in motion. Pedestrians traveling from Battery Park City would enter the bridge at the W. Thames dog run and would touch down on the other side near the Brooklyn Battery Garage.
“It’s a great idea,” said Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance. “The connections river to river in Lower Manhattan need to be strengthened…. It’s a beautiful rendering.”
The Battery Park City Authority, which is spearheading the project, hopes to open the bridge by the end of 2010. But first the authority needs a bevy of government and community approvals, including the city’s signoff on the price tag, which is in the tens of millions of dollars, said Jim Cavanaugh, president of the authority. The authority would issue bonds to finance the project if it got city approval.
Once P.S./I.S. 276, the new K-8 school in southern B.P.C., opens next year, the new bridge could see more than 1,000 people crossing during rush hour, SHoP estimated. Fewer than 300 people now use the Rector bridge during peak times.
In designing the new bridge, SHoP sought to marry form and function, creating a wood and metal span of green materials that draws color from its surroundings, said Chris Sharples, principal at SHoP. Sharples wanted to create a non-intrusive design that would almost disappear from view as pedestrians walk up and down West St.
The lenticular truss structure allows the 200-foot bridge to be both light and strong, and it can also be fabricated off-site, so erecting the pieces over West St. could take only a week, Sharples said.
A new south bridge has been under discussion for years at several locations including in or near 50 West St., a 63-story residential tower that is now on hold because of the economy.
The current design for the bridge has it landing along a plaza that 50 West developer Time Equities promised to build just south of the tower as a community giveback. Pedestrians would descend from the bridge via a gradually sloping “stramp” (stair-ramp combination) that would take them most of the way to Washington St., opening up a new connection into the Greenwich South neighborhood.
The indefinite delays at 50 West St. will not hurt the bridge project and could actually save SHoP time and money.
“Now we’re not working around anything,” Sharples said, because the 50 West plaza has not been built.
Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee got a first look at the design last week, and they approved the concept, if not the details.
The committee’s chief concern was that the bridge’s wooden walkway has no roof, leaving it open to snow, wind and rain. SHoP initially considered covering the bridge but wanted to keep the bridge as light as possible, Sharples said.
“You’re going from park to park,” added Stephanie Gelb, vice president of planning and design for the authority, “so it didn’t make any sense to have the connection between those two covered.”
“I would much rather see it enclosed,” replied Barry Skolnick, a board member. “It’s nice to talk about the green experience, but remember we have winter here as well…. What happens when it’s icy out? Is the bridge going to become unusable? Is it going to be closed three months of the year?”
“Maybe we’re spoiled and we should be out in the elements day and night, but we’re just not,” added Tom Goodkind, another board member. “We like ceilings. We like protection.”
Sharples said a covered bridge would cost more, but he would look into it.
Linda Belfer, chairperson of the B.P.C. committee, was concerned that the design included only one elevator on the east side. Belfer, who uses a wheelchair, said the elevators at the Vesey St. bridge to the north frequently break, so having a backup elevator would be helpful.
Bill Sharples, Chris’ brother and another SHoP partner, said it would be hard to find room for a second elevator.
“It’s not going to be a rinky-dink elevator,” he promised Belfer. The west side of the bridge will have a ramp instead of an elevator.
Jeff Mihok, another board member, was concerned that the ramp on the bridge’s west side would be too close to the dog run. To build it, SHoP would have to remove a row of trees that currently provide shade. SHoP will build a shading arbor to replace the trees.
“I appreciate the design, and I think it looks nice,” Mihok said, “but we already have trees there.”
Leticia Remauro, spokesperson for the B.P.C.A., assured the board members that they had plenty of time to give input on the design.
“What we’re showing you tonight is a concept,” Remauro said. “This bridge is certainly not going to be built tomorrow.”
The B.P.C. Committee passed a resolution approving the overall plan with some reservations about the specifics. The community board, which is advisory, will review the design again when it goes through the city’s land-use review process, perhaps later this year.
The design will also need approval from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the Brooklyn Battery garage; both the state and city Dept. of Transportation; the Dept. of City Planning; the city Office of Management and Budget; the City Council; the Hudson River Park Trust; and the borough president.
City and state D.O.T. said they support the concept of the bridge. Aaron Donovan, spokesperson for the M.T.A., agreed, and said M.T.A. is reviewing the technical details.
While the main purpose of the bridge is to give pedestrians a safe way to cross West St., one Financial District resident said there are easier and less expensive ways to do that.
“They need to time the lights for pedestrians to have enough time to get across, because [now] they don’t,” Gene Kraig said as she tossed a ball to her dog in the W. Thames dog run Tuesday. “If they did that, we certainly do not need any $10 million footbridge. It’s pork, that’s what it is, and I think we need other things.”
by Jared T. Miller