The City’s Shuttle Bus Plan for the L Train Shutdown Is a Recipe for Gridlock

On any given weekday, the Williamsburg Bridge is clogged with traffic. As one of just two toll-free East River crossings — along with the Manhattan Bridge — that provide commercial vehicles with direct access to Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn and Long Island, the Williamsburg Bridge is a crucial route for trucks and large vans. During rush hours, bridge traffic not only makes the span itself a mess, but packs streets on either end for dozens of blocks.

It is into this gridlock that the MTA and DOT plan on sending up to 80 buses per hour during the L train shutdown to shuttle displaced L train riders across the river. Four Select Bus Service routes created just for the shutdown will take commuters from Williamsburg to subway stops in lower Manhattan and vice versa.

“Buses will be an important piece of the puzzle,” DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the City Council during a hearing on the shutdown plans last month. The MTA predicts approximately 17 percent of displaced L riders, or up to 4,200 riders per hour and more than 30,000 per day, will use these shuttle buses, while the rest will take to other subway lines, and to a lesser extent bicycles or ferries.

Yet DOT has opted not to put a dedicated bus lane on the bridge itself — meaning buses will have to compete with existing commercial traffic. Further, the city plans to institute only limited bus lanes on the approaches, which transit experts warn could doom the entire shuttle bus system.

J.P. Patafio, vice president of the surface transit division of Transit Workers Union Local 100, which represents the city’s bus drivers, says forcing buses to compete with commercial vehicles for space on a narrow bridge is a recipe for disaster. “The Williamsburg Bridge is a particularly tricky bridge because it isn’t a modern bridge with wide lanes,” he says. “If you don’t give a bus a dedicated lane, I don’t care what they say, you’re gonna have traffic backing up in Manhattan because it’s going to be backing up on the bridge” in the afternoon rush; during the morning rush, meanwhile, Brooklyn “is going to be a mess.”

Walter Hook, a New York City–based urban planner for BRTPlan, which specializes in implementing Bus Rapid Transit routes, tells the Voice that the risk is “very high” that the Williamsburg Bridge will be “totally clogged” during the shutdown.

“We met with DOT and we walked them through it,” Hook recalls. “And we said that these buses are gonna go two miles per hour.”


When the L train stops running under the East River next year, the only vehicle restriction Mayor de Blasio’s DOT plans to place on the Williamsburg Bridge is an HOV-3 rule: All cars must have at least three people in them. Commercial vehicles and ride shares — which are expected to soar in popularity during the shutdown — will still be permitted at all times, even during peak commuting hours. (Ride shares will have to abide by the HOV-3 restriction.) These restrictions are far less stringent than the ones being put in place on 14th Street between Third and Eighth avenues, where DOT is making the entire road bus-only from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Every aspect of the mitigation plan — from the extra subway service to the shuttle buses to the ferries — has to run smoothly because even the slightest hitch could throw the whole plan into disarray. To wit: DOT found that if only three percent of projected 14th Street bus riders opted for For-Hire Vehicles instead, the entire benefit of the busway would be negated by increased congestion on the surrounding streets.

“DOT’s traffic studies show that the HOV 3+ lane will provide an adequate flow of buses over the bridge,” a DOT spokesperson told the Voice in an email. “If any adjustments are needed during the shutdown, we will make them accordingly.”

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Transit activists have been sounding the alarm about the traffic on the bridge since before DOT’s plan was even announced in December. While the MTA and DOT have held dozens of public meetings about the shutdown over the last several years, including two highly-publicized town hall meetings in May that largely focused on the Manhattan bike lanes and 14th Street busway hours, some experts have continued to warn that the biggest flaw is the lack of a bus-only lane on the bridge and its approaches. Yet transit authorities have never publicly discussed a bus lane on the bridge in any detail.

“We don’t believe [DOT has] done a sufficiently rigorous study that that road won’t be totally congested,” Hook tells the Voice. In January, Hook co-authored a study on the mitigation plan, which was released in partnership with Transportation Alternatives. The analysis concluded there are significant gaps: Although DOT will put in some form of bus lanes on key bridge approaches, the bus lanes owill not have turning restrictions for other vehicles, which will clog the lane as they wait for pedestrians to cross. Also, the two bus routes from the Bedford Avenue L train stop will have to connect to the bridge via Roebling Street and Bedford Avenue, which will have no bus-only lanes.

“In my view, they’re trying to come up with a proposal with middle ground,” Hook surmises regarding DOT’s mitigation plan. He adds that DOT’s analysis did not formally model more aggressive plans, such as a longer busway in Manhattan extending along most of the 14th Street bus route instead of just from Third to Eighth avenues. “They should approach it from a technical perspective. How are they going to do this?”

Painfully slow bus speeds would be a worst-case scenario for everybody involved. Frustrated commuters would abandon the buses for other modes of transit, such as nearby subways or ferries — which are already projected to be at or above capacity during the shutdown. Even more catastrophically, others may resort to app-based services such as UberPool, Lyft Line, and Chariot to meet the HOV-3 restriction, which will only exacerbate the traffic problems on the bridge.

The traffic mess is further complicated the Williamsburg Bridge’s peculiar layout. The bridge has eight lanes of traffic, four in each direction. Above the river, those four lanes split into inner and outer two-lane segments. The lanes on the bridge are narrow, so buses will need to straddle multiple lanes (as some commercial vehicles already do). Further, because of height and weight restrictions on the inner segments, buses and trucks (along with vehicles making right turns after the bridge) will be directed to the outer lanes during the shutdown. If the lanes are too narrow for commercial vehicles and buses to coexist side by side, the outer segments could essentially become one-lane roads, while ride-share vehicles and small commercial vans would have the inner lanes all to themselves.

DOT officials indicate that the narrow bridge lanes are one reason dedicated bus lanes were rejected: If buses take up double lanes, that would mean removing cars from half of the bridge. But Hook says the only places the lanes are too narrow are at a pair of “choke points” by the towers, and the lanes could safely merge there to allow buses priority without completely stopping car traffic in the adjacent lane.

Patafio emphasized the need not only for dedicated bus lanes on the bridge, but for turn-restricted lanes leading up to the bridge itself. This would keep buses moving in otherwise congested areas while also making enforcement easier, as police could pull any vehicles that aren’t buses out of those lanes before they get on the bridge. (It remains an open question exactly how enforcement of the HOV-3 restriction will work under the DOT plan.)

This would also be an inexpensive solution. Patafio, a former Brooklyn bus operator, cited a recent successful trial in Boston that converted a parking lane into a 1.2-mile bus lane using only traffic cones and a few signs. A run time that could previously take up to a half-hour for buses to traverse was shaved down to ten minutes or fewer. (The city has since made the lane permanent.) He sees a similar model working well during the shutdown, especially since it can be deployed quickly if and when all parties involved agree that it’s necessary.


As with when the city released its traffic analysis for 14th Street, the HOV-3 solution appears to be an attempt at a middle ground between Doing Everything and Doing Nothing — when the L train shutdown is such a nightmare scenario that we need to do everything, or close to it, to make it remotely manageable.

Patafio knows that more bus-only lanes would result in uproar from drivers, as well as from businesses that might not be able to get deliveries as conveniently. But he views this as a necessary evil during the biggest transit challenge the city has faced in years.

When many subways were shut down following Hurricane Sandy, he notes, the MTA implemented free shuttle bus service from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The lines for the buses stretched for blocks, but DOT established dedicated bus lanes on the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges to keep them moving.

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Patafio believes a similar all-in effort is necessary for the L shutdown: “If they don’t give us what they got in Manhattan on 14th Street and they don’t put it in Brooklyn and make some hard decisions, then I think you’re gonna have a whole shitload of traffic.”

Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg and Bushwick, recalls that a bus-only lane across the bridge was “one of the first things we asked” DOT about the shutdown plan. He says DOT assured him the HOV-3 restriction would reduce traffic enough that a busway won’t be necessary. He’s trusting DOT on that, at least until the shutdown begins and he can see for himself. But, he adds, DOT told him there are contingencies in place in case things don’t go according to plan, and one such contingency may be a bus lane.

Nevertheless, Reynoso is reminding himself to be calm and work with the powers that be to create the best plan for his community and the city as a whole. “The first week, maybe a month, are going to be a disaster,” Reynoso cautions, as everybody adjusts to their L train–less reality. “I don’t think any of us are prepared for how significant this is going to be.”


How Screwed Will Your Subway Line Be by the L Train Shutdown? Everybody Else Edition

During the upcoming L train shutdown set to begin in early 2019, the MTA expects 70 to 80 percent of displaced L riders to take other subway lines. This will affect not only those displaced riders, but all the commuters who currently take the lines that will become filled with L refugees. This week, the Village Voice examines the impact on all the remaining lines not yet covered. Click here for previous editions and other L train shutdown coverage.

If you do not take the J, M, Z, A, C, 7, F, G, E, M, or R lines, then I have some good news: You’re probably, probably not screwed during the L train shutdown. You will likely be able to get to work without severe disruptions, even more packed trains, or overcrowded platforms. In most ways, your New York City experience will be much like it is today.

Except — you had to know there would be exceptions — for those of you who take the 3 and the N/W.

First, let’s talk about the 3. There will be a free transfer between the remaining Brooklyn-only L train service at Livonia Avenue and the 3 at Junius Street. This will be the first available transfer for the 27,000-plus people who swipe into the Canarsie–Rockaway Parkway, East 105th Street, New Lots Avenue, and Livonia Avenue L stations every weekday, according to 2016 ridership figures, the latest year for which data is available.

While that’s a lot of people, those riders have a few options for how to approach the shutdown. They can take the L to Broadway Junction and transfer to the A/C or J/Z, or Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues to the M, or the Junius Street transfer to the 3. (Most, I would imagine, would opt for either the A or the 3, since those lines will get you to Manhattan the quickest.) Those who go with the 3 can then make the easy transfer to the 4 or 5 express trains at Crown Heights–Utica Avenue or Franklin Avenue. Overall, it will be an inconvenience, but I don’t believe it will cause severe crowding (beyond what I’ve already written regarding Broadway Junction).

The other potential trouble spot I’ll flag is in Queens. This is much more speculative, but it’s possible the Queensboro Plaza station could see a lot of 7 riders in the morning rush making a cross-platform transfer to the N/W so as to avoid the hordes of G train riders who will be getting on at the subsequent Court Square and Hunters Point Avenue stations for Manhattan-bound transfers. Whether or not this becomes a thing largely depends on just how bad the 7 crowding is. After all, the people already on the 7 may not really care if G transferees are stuck on the platform. But if the crowding is as bad as I think it will be, some clever folks may realize early on that it’s just not worth putting up with and instead make the 7-to-N/W a regular part of their commute.

“Great,” you may be saying to yourself, out loud, like a weirdo. “So if I don’t take the **deep breath** J, M, Z, A, C, 7, F, G, E, M, R, N, W, 3, 4, or 5 trains then I’m totally fine?”

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

For you see — and this is the grand finale I have been building to over the past several weeks, so please, bask in the dramatic climax — each and every New Yorker is screwed, in their own little way, during the L shutdown. Consider:

  • Do you know anyone who takes any of the above lines with any degree of regularity? They’re going to be miserable.
  • Do you know anyone who currently takes an NYC Ferry along the East River? Their ferries are going to be overrun with L refugees and their pleasant, taxpayer-subsidized yacht rides will suddenly become a lot less pleasant.
  • Do you ever go within a five-block radius of 14th Street? Do you know anyone who lives or works in that area? It will be clogged with buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists attempting to traverse the city without the L. They, too, will be much less pleasant.
  • Do you or does anyone you know bike over the Williamsburg Bridge every day as part of their commute? The Department of Transportation is expecting cycling traffic over the bridge to increase “at least 300 percent” during the shutdown, which is fantastic for a lot of reasons, but will make for a very congested bridge.
  • Do you take the bus in north Brooklyn or on any route that runs along or near 14th Street? Your buses will be slower and your journeys longer. There will be more traffic thanks to increased Uber, Lyft, and taxi usage — plus, thanks to the lack of all-door boarding, even a nominal increase in bus ridership will lead to much longer boarding times.
  • Do you occasionally go to Williamsburg or Bushwick? That will become much more difficult, inconvenient, and expensive.
  • Do you know anyone who owns or works at a business in Williamsburg or Bushwick? If you do, they’re probably going to go through some very tough times during the shutdown.

Even if somehow none of the above applies to you, it’s likely you know someone for whom it does. The shutdown’s ripple effect will be profound. We — each and every one of us — are very, very screwed.

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When Sonny Rollins Rose in the West

The image is indelible. Sonny Rollins — not yet 30 years old and at the top of the jazz world in 1959 — walks away from the music industry to think, to be alone, and to hone his already fine craft. Not that he walks far. He takes his tenor saxophone a few blocks east from his Grand Street tenement to the Williamsburg Bridge, where he wails and honks, purrs and hoots, alongside the aural flotsam that traverses the span, the horns and sirens from the cars, the rhythmic clanging of the subway, the toots of the tugboats below, the singing of birds above. Since 2016, Lower East Side resident and jazz enthusiast Jeff Caltabiano has led an initiative to rename the Williamsburg Bridge after Rollins, whose hiatus lasted through 1961.

It makes sense, this proposed renaming. Rollins, now 87 and living near Woodstock, is a quintessential New Yorker, born and raised in the five boroughs (Harlem, in his case, before he eventually moved downtown), to parents who emigrated from the Caribbean. On the bridge, betwixt and between, he found an urban cloister.

As he told the writer Hilton Als in 2015, “It was beautiful. There was hardly any traffic up there. It’s perfect. And the sky. There was a place on the bridge where the trains were — traffic, cars, the boats coming down below, and nobody could really see where I was standing. The part of the bridge where nobody could see me but they could hear the horn. That was a great revelation to me.”

The year of 1959 may have given us Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Charles Mingus’s Ah Um, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, and most tectonic-shifting, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, but Rollins was already ahead of the game.

Not only did he have memorable stints with Miles, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach, but as a leader, he’d recorded what are still recognized as two of his best offerings, Tenor Madness and Saxophone Colossus, both from 1956. Even a less-celebrated album, like 1957’s Way Out West, just re-issued in a beautiful double-vinyl box set and via streaming with never-before heard outtakes (from Craft Recordings), shows off that gorgeous tone of his, the clever improvisational flourishes, rhythmic invention, and his sly wit. He may not have topped any charts with Way Out West, but his playing, and thinking, was off-the-charts.

As a leader in the mid- and late-1950s, Rollins rarely used the same bandmates. So when he went to Los Angeles for the first time in 1957 as part of Max Roach’s Quintet and landed a contract with Lester Koenig at Contemporary Records (which signed newcomer and L.A.-transplant Ornette Coleman to his debut album the following year), he was used to working with all kinds of sidemen. In this case, he would team with drummer Shelly Manne — like Rollins, a native New Yorker who had moved to L.A. earlier in the decade and was integral in the West Coast scene — and bassist Ray Brown, in town with the Oscar Peterson Trio.

Much has been made of this album’s cover art — by the noted photographer William Claxton — of city guy Rollins in the Mojave Desert with cowboy hat and holster, armed with his tenor horn, but the backstory to the recording session, detailed in Koenig’s original liner notes included here, is still more revealing. (For fans of Claxton, who did several books of jazz photography, a more conventional portrait of the urbane Rollins, in dark suit and dress shirt, is also included in the new box.) Since all three musicians were performing at night, and Manne and Brown — both of whom, as Koenig noted, were just voted number one in the popularity polls of Down Beat, Metronome, and Playboy — had gigs during the day, the recording session took place between 3 and 7 in the morning.

According to Koenig, the three had never played or recorded together before. Clearly, though, they had an intuitive simpatico. Manne — who also raised horses in his ranch outside L.A. — sets the tone immediately by perfectly mimicking the clippety-clop of a Standardbred’s slow gait in “I’m an Old Cowhand.” Throughout, he and Brown are like two middle-infielders so sound they can turn a double-play blind-folded and still afford to showboat now and again. (A few years ago, when I reported on the bassist Linda May Han Oh and observed her teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, she consistently brought up Brown to her young students. “In terms of fundamentals,” she would tell me later, “if you want to be a solid working bassist and Ray Brown is all you checked out, that would be great.”)

Way Out West is traditional, at least superficially. It has a standard (“There Is No Greater Love” — Rollins wows on both takes) and a piece of Ellingtonia (“Solitude”); two originals by the leader (“Come, Gone” and the title track); and, extending the cover concept, two cow-poke ditties from the old westerns Sonny so enjoyed as a child (“Wagon Wheels” and that opener “I’m an Old Cowhand”), albeit with a modernist, hard-bop spin. But then look at the trio again, and how emphatically untraditional it is: tenor saxophone, bass, drums. It’s a configuration that had hardly been used at that point. As critic Neil Tesser writes in his informative new essay for this re-issue, “Only Lucky Thompson had recorded in this format, and he did so in only one song, in early 1956.”

It was Rollins who established and popularized this combo: He would play with just a drummer and bassist often after Way Out West and again post-hiatus — as would Albert Ayler and Dewey Redman later in the 1960s, David Murray in the ’70s, Joe Henderson in the ’80s, to Mark Turner into this century, Ingrid Laubrock, and now the 26-year-old Kevin Sun, who has absorbed Turner and so much of the jazz canon, and advances the concept in his excellent debut album Trio, just out, in which he’s joined by bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor. A sixty-year line, however undulating, from Sonny Rollins to Kevin Sun.

Without the chordal structure of the piano, Way Out West anticipated free jazz. As Rollins told Tesser last year in preparation for this re-issue, “[In the trio] I could have the rhythmic support of a drummer, and then I could have the harmonic support of a bassist. But that’s the thing about it: It wouldn’t be more intrusive on what I might be playing. It’s still very freeing to just have the bass providing harmonic content.”

On that 1957 trip to L.A., according to Tesser, Rollins met Ornette Coleman, and the two practiced together outside on the beach. Ornette’s 1958 debut, Something Else!!!!, on Koenig’s Contemporary label, had a pianist, but it was the last time he would employ one for decades. Coleman’s next album, Tomorrow Is the Question! from early 1959 (also with Contemporary), included Shelly Manne on drums. Later that year, he released The Shape of Jazz to Come (cover photo by William Claxton) and stormed into New York with Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Charlie Haden. The rest is jazz history.  

Rollins’s vision, and gumption, didn’t go unnoticed at the time. Whitney Balliett, who in April of 1957 had just started his long-running jazz column in The New Yorker, wrote: “Rollins performs with a consistent resourcefulness and vigor that leave most of his contemporaries far behind,” and added that his playing was “a clear indication of a striving toward an improvisational approach that is revolutionary….”

Revolutionary indeed, if quietly so. In recent years, Sonny Rollins has had to give up playing his saxophone because of health issues. Without playing a note, though, he still demands that we listen.


Don’t Stop Smoking at BrisketTown

It was a cold autumn evening, around 5:45 p.m., and the stretch of Bedford Avenue just north of the Williamsburg Bridge was calm and nearly pitch black, save for the occasional J or M train whizzing by overhead, ablaze with light. A ragged line of people extended from the door of a place with minimum signage—it seemed anonymous in the darkness. As the minutes wore on, the line grew. At precisely 6 p.m., ghostly arms could be seen flailing out the door, and an excited murmur rose from the crowd, who pocketed their cell phones and became animated as they began inching toward the entrance.

Once inside, the line wound past a liquor-less bar, through what looked like a cattle sluice, and up to a counter, where a guy with horn-rim specs wore a red visor with a volcano of unkempt hair shooting out the top. Using a giant fork, he pulled smoke-blackened briskets out of a warming cabinet, set them down on the cutting board, and sliced fatty and lean brisket with surgical precision. Between carvings, he leaned over to consult with the customers to find out exactly what their meat expectations were, more priest than deli man. Behind him blazed a red neon cow, while the rest of the high-ceilinged room was plunged in deep shadow.

That was the scene early on at BrisketTown, yet another of New York’s Texas-style barbecues, where the amount of hardwood smoke absorbed by the meat is everything, and sauce is an afterthought. It joins Hill Country, Fette Sau, and, to a lesser extent, Mable’s and John Brown Smokehouse in trying to reproduce the precise taste and texture of Lone Star ‘cue, with brisket as its centerpiece. The man slicing the meat is Daniel Delaney, who as recently as a year ago worked in video production. He went to Texas, brought back a smoker capable of doing 200 pounds of meat at once, and fetched back a supply of post oak, too, the wood used in great barbecue towns like Lockhart and Elgin.

At first, Delaney started serving brisket to friends in his apartment, but soon he hatched the idea for Brisketlab, a pop-up feast that occurred 31 times from late spring to late summer at a variety of odd venues. I caught up with him in June at the cemetery behind the historic Dutch Reformed Church in Flatbush, where he doled out meat, coleslaw, and white bread as a band played old-timey music and customers wandered among the graves like gleeful mourners. The long-smoked brisket was splendid, crusted with a blackened spice rub that sealed in moisture, which wept as the meat was sliced. It was every bit as good as you get in Texas.

Inevitably, the successful pop-up yearns for brick and mortar, and Delaney recently moved into his Williamsburg storefront. He has preserved one of his earlier concepts: Brisket can be pre-ordered online, picked up at 6 p.m., and eaten in the overcrowded restaurant or taken away. But it turns out if you wait till 8 p.m. or so, you can just stroll right in and cop some ($25 per pound), along with a shifting roster of sides that can include coleslaw, cabbage stewed with apples, and German potato salad. Sliced onions and sweet pickles accompany the meat, plus a good stack of white bread for wrapping the brisket up with the condiments, Texas-style.

I talked to Delaney, an affable guy whose excitement is infectious, about the challenges of abandoning his nomad status. My first question: Where did he keep the smoker? “We put it in a 40-foot commercial shipping container and parked it on Flushing Avenue,” he said, whipping out his iPhone and showing me pictures of a metal cylinder fitted into a rectangular space. “It’s been really different smoking the briskets in autumn rather than summer. Briskets behave differently at various outdoor temperatures and humidities. A few days ago, we ruined some because they got too dry.”

While most Texas barbecues smoke their brisket eight to 10 hours, Delaney leaves his in for 12 to 16 hours, starting at 7 p.m. the night before, and selling them out the following day—no leftovers. He’s experimenting with pork ribs now, and on the occasions I visited, these were featured as a supplement with the brisket. The ribs ($22 per pound) are meatier than usual and coated with a rudimentary black pepper rub. But they have a touch of sweetness. “Honey and maple syrup,” said Delaney with a wink. “Come back next week, and we’ll be experimenting with pies.”


Dan Delaney Talks Brisket

Dan Delaney carves the meat at BrisketTown.

Now fully opened on the stretch of Bedford Avenue just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, and dishing out luscious, long-smoked brisket, BrisketTown evolved out of a series of 31 pop-up barbecue events called BrisketLab that happened over the summer. The man behind the meat is Daniel Delaney, and watching him at work, there’s no doubt of his passion for Texas-style BBQ. But how did it arise? As recently as a year ago, Delaney was a video producer who created a web-TV show called VendrTV. On one of the episodes posted last summer, he enthusiastically discusses beef brisket in a harbinger of great things to come.


Best Bridge to Run

The minuses generally outweigh the pluses for running on the city’s East River bridges. The Brooklyn Bridge is beautiful, but so unbearably crowded that you’ll either mow down a tourist trying to run or slow down to a crawl. Running in the exhaust of the Queensboro Bridge (except on Marathon Day) will make you feel like you’ve smoked a pack of cigarettes. Coming off the Manhattan Bridge, on either side of the river, feels like you’re running into the middle of a freeway. But the Williamsburg Bridge is a nice compromise: It’s not too crowded, and the blend of hipsters on bikes, Hasidic families out for a stroll, and runners is manageable. The view of the lower two bridges can’t be beat, especially in the early morning. Coming from Brooklyn, it’s fun to realize that you have climbed a couple hundred feet into the sky and are parallel to the 17th floor of apartment buildings. And once you’re off the bridge, it’s not a terrible run to connect to either the East Side paths in Manhattan or the trails of McCarren Park in Brooklyn.


Shutterbug’s Sinister New York

Part ontological inquiry, part ode to urban drifting, Shutterbug takes a man’s late-night descent into a post-industrial hell (i.e., South Williamsburg) as an opportunity to reflect on the age-old question of perception vs. reality. Referencing both Blowup and After Hours, Minos Papas’s film follows professional photographer Alex Santiago (Nando Del Castillo) on his nocturnal bridge crossing, after which he hopes to answer the question of whether the woman that keeps popping up in his line of vision is real or simply a mirage brought on by his failing eyesight. Along the way, he meets a gallery of alternatively menacing and helpful denizens of the night, nearly all of whom—somewhat tiresomely—wax philosophical on the difference between experience and truth. Papas leans too heavily on expected street types (a black pimp, multi-ethnic skate punks) to populate his underworld, but he compensates with expressionistic HD photography and eerie electronic doodling to sustain an impossible mood of productive unease. Bleeding the color from a Chinatown street scene so that only the neon signs and shop interiors register or flaring the overhead lights on the Williamsburg Bridge to create a pulsing green alien landscape, Papas makes our familiar city seem just as invitingly sinister as you once imagined it to be.


‘Brooklyn Psych Fest’

Take Roky Erickson in pill form and a dram of diluted acid rock, throw in some stoned boogie woogie, and log a doctor’s name or a cab company in your phone for the morning, because there’s a psychedelic cataplasm draped over the side of the Williamsburg Bridge, and it’s dripping all over your face. Representing the borough’s percolating psych scene this time around are headliners Madam Robot and the Lust Brigade (freakin’ out!), Traveling Circle (where is my mind?), the Runaway Suns (like woah), Heavy Hands (Uluru as limb), and Asteroid #4 (you got your acid in my pop), among others. Also, the free bouncy ride guy will be there, perhaps in a dolphin suit. Don’t fall down.

Sun., Feb. 28, 7 p.m., 2010


Best Bridge to Bike Over

There’s almost no contest here—the Williamsburg Bridge is the clear winner. The Brooklyn Bridge is way too crowded; all attempts to bike across it are certain to be thwarted by foreign tourists, who stop anyone in their path and demand that you take their picture against the Manhattan skyline. The Manhattan Bridge is more efficient, but it’s lonely and also noisy, thanks to the constant blasting sound of the Q train that chugs along nearby. The George Washington Bridge, also efficient, is terrifying—that guardrail was built for pedestrians, not cyclists with a higher center of gravity! The Queensboro, meanwhile, is a haul, and the Triborough is even further away. So the Williamsburg span beats the rest for so many reasons: The wide bikeways are above the car traffic for much of the way, the slope is a good workout without being unreasonable, and, most important, the view is great—and we don’t mean the cityscape. We’re talking about the pedestrians, a fascinating mix of Hasidim and hipsters making their way between Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. Enjoying that culture clash is a great way to keep your mind off how much you’re working to pedal uphill.



Brooklyn happy-rock power-couple Matt and Kim have lately been all about bad-ass gestures: streaking through Times Square, pretending to fall off the Williamsburg Bridge for press photos, engaging in onstage banter about vaginas. But at heart, they’re still two immensely likable punk-rock kids in love with each other and life and, most especially, you. And every one of their phenomenal live shows is a crowd-surfing, stage-diving, party-faced reminder of this—and if you think you have a better, cheaper way to spend this Thursday night, you are a yellow-bellied fool.

Thu., July 9, 6 p.m., 2009