Tuesday, September 30, 2008


So...I decided to enter a competition this summer.

The official name of the competition is "Red Hook Bicycle Master Plan". The brief was split into two major parts. First, it asked for the design of a network of bike paths and amenities in Red Hook (Brooklyn, New York) in order to make the neighborhood "bicycle friendly" (buzz word du jour...yumyum). Second, it asked for the design of a storage facility for a minimum of 100 bikes at the Smith and 9th Street train station, just outside of Red Hook. Oh, Red Hook....

My Red Hook Rant:

One of the major problems with Red Hook is its forced separation from the rest of New York because one, it has no train station to call its own, and two, the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) literally cuts it off in one clean straight line from the rest of the city. This means the access points into Red Hook for pedestrians and cyclists are limited, and the web of one way streets doesn't exactly help.

Recently, Red Hook has undergone some major changes, including the arrival of a big blue and yellow box otherwise known as Ikea. Red Hook residents were afraid of the traffic and mayhem Ikea might bring to their usually more slow paced (comparatively, guys!) neighborhood. So far, the consensus has been that it's not too bad and there is a glimer of hope that outsiders might begin to warm up to Red Hook as a desirable place to visit or even live in. The problem is that this has happened before. Red Hook has been rumored to be undergoing gentrification for about 10 years now and well, frankly, it's not happening. If anything, it's doing the opposite. Several of its hot spot restaurants closed down in the past few years and new local businesses just aren't coming to town.

Red Hook is sort of stranded at this strange crossroads with the choice between falling back into a deserted urban nightmare and moving forward as an up and coming urban destination. But this isn't an easy choice. Red Hook residents are a prideful bunch and most of them rather keep on keepin on. But, inevitably, things change. It's just a matter of when, how fast, and in what direction. There is no reason for Red Hook to go on limping along when it has amazing potential as a thriving recreational destination. Now, some of you might take issue with that statement because why should I assume that becoming a "recreational destination" is a good thing? Won't it most likely push out the people who have been calling Red Hook home for generations? The thing is... I'm not proposing a solution to this particularly massive conundrum. I wish I could, but for now, let's just assume that attracting people and local businesses to Red Hook is a good thing.

So back to The Hook...

On the one hand, you have the single biggest housing project in the city of New York, and on the other hand, you have a public pool, a huge complex of baseball fields and the best food stands around (even Manhattanites make the trek for those tacos). You also have a waterfront! A waterfront with amazing views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Let me say it again...a waterfront! Waterfronts like this one don't come around every day. So why not use it to its fullest potential? Why not make Red Hook an enjoyable place to visit, live, and work?

Bicycles can do that.

[End Rant]

Anyway, Antonio asked me to post the fruits of my labor....So, enjoy! (I split it into three parts: this intro, the images, and the video)

As part of the competition submission, I was required to write a project statement in about 500 words. Here is what came out in my various states of delirium the day before it was due.

Making RED HOOK Bicycle Friendly:

The number one reason people give for not riding bikes is safety. If people don’t feel safe on the road, they won’t bike. So how do you change that? You give them the same respect and consideration we have so painstakingly given to cars. Bike lanes are typically arranged as skinny lanes pushed right up against parked cars. This is a situation extremely uncomfortable for all involved, the cars driving, the cars parking, and especially the cyclists who are risking life and limb. So, what if the parked cars and the cyclists switched places? What if there was a buffer in between the parked cars and the bike lane that could clearly indicate who goes where? Now the cars have no need to worry about the cyclists, and the cyclists no longer need a third eye.

Red Hook has every potential to become a prime recreational destination. With its breathtaking views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, Red Hook’s waterfront is in desperate need of exploiting. I propose the creation of series of bridges and the extension of existing piers to make a scenic loop around the waterfront. A visitor’s trip would begin at the Smith and 9th street station, traveling down the existing bike path on Columbia Street. However, instead of the current dead end, the bike path would continue through the massive parking lot and then across a series of bridges to connect back with the dock between Richards Street and Van Brunt Street. From there the path would go through the alleyway that connects to the area behind Fairway Market and then on to another bridge to complete the loop on Valentino pier. Or, at various points along this route, the visitor could cross back into Red Hook proper through the existing piers that would extend out to meet the route.

When considering how best to store bicycles in the rather unusual space surrounding the Smith and 9th Street Station, it became clear that the only way would be to go up. The design that I conceived consists of a series of vertical conveyors with rods and hooks onto which the bikes can be mounted. The conveyors take the bikes on a variety of paths that strategically maneuver through the existing structure of beams. The length of each conveyor varies and thus so does the capacity of bikes on each one. This variance could allow for a hierarchy of needs among users; those who need their bike back relatively quickly could use the shorter conveyors, and those who have the spare time and wish to see their bike really fly can use the longer, more circuitous ones. In order to address the issue of exposure to the elements, I propose the introduction of protective pods to encase the bikes. The pods also present an interesting opportunity for funding. Advertisements could be printed on the pods as a sort of billboard for whoever might want to contribute to the cost of constructing and maintaining the bike station and conveyors.

The building component of the bike station is wrapped under and around the existing train station, mimicking the conveyors. The program of the station consists of a bike repair area, a small café and convenience store (mainly food and bicycling related items), and a changing room/shower area. The facades are kept as open as possible in order to allow for the best views of the bike conveyors. I also propose punching out some strategic apertures in the existing structure to allow for light and views of the bike conveyors, particularly as you move up through the stairs.

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