This Trippy Inflatable Tunnel Could Carry NYC Pedestrians Over The East River

The “L” train tunnel is shutting down and this amazing design should clearly be built.

New York City’s “L train” between Brooklyn and Manhattan is one of the most overcrowded subways, and local residents have been horrified by the prospect that the transit authority could shut it down for several years of necessary repair work.


A designer has an answer: an inflatable tunnel. The tube, which would bob in the East River, partially submerged, would get pedestrians and cyclists across the river while the train is out of operation.

One of the very best features of New York’s subway system is that its lines are mostly doubled up, avoiding complete shut downs when repairs are needed and allowing it to operate 24 hours a day. But even the New York subway’s built-in flexibility won’t help if the L Train’s Canarsie Tube is shut down for three years’ worth of repairs. The tunnel connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, and they’ll be cut off from each other as repair crews undo Hurricane Sandy’s damage.

Called the L(ight) Transporter, the tunnel was a finalist in a the Van Alan Institute’s L Train Shutdown Charrette. The charrette was a neat event which looked for possible solutions to the shutdown. Here’s a snippet from the L Transporter’s proposal, from its design team at AECOM.

Using technology developed by NASA, the project would create an alternative route via a covered translucent tunnel immersed within the East River with digitally-enhanced environments for commuters as they make their journey across the river. The 2,400-foot tunnel will allow pedestrians and bikers to navigate a fantastical throughway all year round.

Yes, digitally-enhanced tunnels. The images accompanying the proposal show just how relaxing that will be for the sleepy morning commuter. The system would also use a kind of cross between Japan’s Bullet Train and the runaway mine-carts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These carts would carry travelers from existing public transport to the river’s edge, ready to begin their psychedelic odyssey.

On the ground, commuters will travel in a fast cart people-mover commuter system along the shutdown path along 14th Street (Manhattan) and North 7th Street (Brooklyn) to provide a connection to THE L TRANSPORTER entrances located on the river edges.

The L Transporter didn’t win the charrette. The winning proposal was a water-shuttle proposal that takes commuters across the Newtown Creek in small ferries. The most surprising thing about the whole contest, though, is that the most sensible proposal, called “No One Thing,” only got an honorable mention. But then, maybe its multiple ideas were just too radical: Introducing flat-fare tickets that are valid across all kinds of public transport for a single journey; shutting down automobile traffic on 14th street in Manhattan to allow better bike access to the Williamsburg Bridge; more Citi Bikes and ferries; and limits on delivery trucks at rush hours.

Clearly, a trippy, rainbow-hued inflatable snake is a more practical solution.


Correction: At one point in this article, we said the L transporter would float in the Hudson River. It’s in the East River.

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Previously found writing at, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.