It’s widely acknowledged that Red Hook is one of the worst neighborhoods for public transportation. But could it be the best neighborhood for biking? The Forum for Urban Design would like to think so.
Inspired by the bike friendly urban designs in Chicago, Berkeley, and Tokyo, The Forum for Urban Design, a coalition of professional designers, is seeking submissions to its own $10,000-competition to transform Red Hook into ‘the most bike friendly part of the city.’
“I’m glad to see the changing mindset here,” said Bill DiPaola, director of Time’s Up. “In other cities they always create ways to connect from outer boroughs. It’s good to see that things are really starting to change here.”
The competition hopes to entirely remodel Red Hook, a neighborhood that’s on the rebound despite being cut off from the rest of the borough by the BQE. Applicants must design plans to retrofit the garage of the Smith-9 street subway station to include safe bike parking, create better lane designs to increase Red Hook’s accessibility, increase biking safety, and offer feasible funding options. The competition closes July 18th and ideas will be showcased at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition for five weeks.
The competition is also a new model for economic development in a community, Chamberlain said. They chose Red Hook because a lot of the time the bike alternatives happen in wealthier communities, she said. “It’s both assisting the local people to be able to commute and also bringing people into the neighborhood. It’s a different model of economic development than putting condos on the water, that’s for sure. “
So far they’ve received ideas mostly from students because the feasibility of implementing the designs remains a major unknown.
“I see the Red Hook plan as a large demonstration for what could happen for the city,” said Chamberlain. “It’ll be hard to implement the plan, but there has been no time that the city has been more willing to work with this, even the MTA is on board.”
She seemed hopeful as the plans for the competition weaved through the community board and Department of Transportation with surprising ease. Chamberlain said that the board both heard the plan and approved it on the same day because the community was already set to tear up the lower part of Columbia and Van Brunt streets. “They would love to have street designs they could take to the Department of Transportation and say we want the street to get put back together like this,” Chamberlain said.
Other cities are far ahead of New York in their ability to make bike lanes attractive and safe for their inhabitants. Chicago has a bike station where people can sunbath, get repairs done while sipping a latte, and shower in-between dropping their bike off and commuting to work. In Tokyo they have an entirely automated bike garage, check out this video (its in Japanese, but fascinating).
“I think in places like Copenhagen and Paris they’re figuring out that you can’t have a sustainable city unless biking carries a big portion of the transportation picture.” Wiley Norvel, of Transportation Alternatives said. “In New York we’re .5 percent, unless 5 or 10 percent of trips are being made by bikes you won’t solve your congestion or sustainability problem. So it’s really about investing and growing bicycling so that it is a significant part of the transportation picture.”