Few urban pleasures are more satisfying than a practical shortcut.
Measuring just 450 feet, the Squibb Park Bridge, which re-opened on Wednesday, April 19, not only deftly links Brooklyn Bridge Park to the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, it also boasts some of the most stunning views in all of New York City.
But that relatively small and gentle thoroughfare has caused a heaping dose of engineering headaches, community consternation, and a surprisingly bloated budget to fix the flawed original design.
The first opening took place on Thursday, March 21, 2013, and was initially met with great enthusiasm. The $4.1 million price tag came primarily from the city council and then-Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
Structural engineer and MacArthur “genius award” winner Ted Zoli designed the W-shaped bridge, which was constructed out of almost 100,000 pounds of black locust timber. “It’s a species that was originally used for ships’ masts hundreds of years ago,” he said during its original opening in 2013. “It’s a naturally rot-resistant hardwood and unusually strong.”
The structure was built with a natural bounce, a design element based on the catwalks prevalent in state parks. However, that bounce became exaggerated, causing instead pedestrian safety concerns and instability of the bridge.
In August 2014, a statement from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation noted “unusual movement of the bridge.” BBPC President Regina Myer said that it “bounced more and moved from side to side.” The bridge closed temporarily after appearing visually distorted from the pedestrian movement.
That temporary closure stretched from months to years, as a variety of engineers were asked to study the bridge’s flaws. The price tag for repairs ballooned to $2.5 million with a 32-month delay.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation brought a $3 million lawsuit to HNTB Corporation, the design firm where Ted Zoli serves as the chief bridge designer, suing for breach of contract and professional misconduct. Park officials called the bridge design “inherently flawed” and would bring in Arup, an international design firm, to work with New York City Transportation Department’s Division of Bridges on a design and stability solution.
According to the New York Times, the BBPC also contributed to the problems because they were “strangely reticent about the exact nature of the trouble and what was being done to address it.”
After the retrofit, the bridge yields less bounce due to the large mass dampers on the underside of the bridge, which a spokesperson for Arup likened to “shock absorbers on a car.”
“As people walk across the bridge, their motion causes the tuned mass dampers to vibrate, and that vibration causes energy to be dissipated,” said Tom Wilcock, who is an associate principal at Arup. “The bridge is bouncing less than half of what it was before.”
In many ways, the Brooklyn Bridge Park landscape varies significantly from the bridge’s 2013 opening. The 1 Hotel and Pierhouse at Brooklyn Bridge Park have opened, and the meadowed area and Brooklyn Bridge Park greenway have taken shape.
As you make the short — and less bouncy — climb up to the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, the traffic-choked Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a mere 50 feet below, and Squibb Park still remains a relatively modest and muted recreation area.
Ascend a few more sets of stairs, and you’ve made it to Columbia Heights and Middagh Street. For a mere 450 feet of travel, the pedestrian wends their way through both natural and unnatural topography.
Two joggers, who introduced themselves as Maura and Talia, paused before leaping down the Squibb Park steps to test out the newly re-opened bridge. “I’ve been waiting for this to happen. But it’s New York,” said Maura. “For a fast city, some things don’t happen very fast.”
Seconds later, the two disappeared, their running shoes gently tapping the timber.
The Squibb Park Bridge is open every day from 6am-11pm.