Thursday, November 26, 2009

Good Bye Brooklyn Banks

End of the Brooklyn Banks?
Famed spot could be closing for up to five years.


Dean Dickinson
The Brooklyn Banks on a calmer day in June of 2008.
The skateboard and BMX communities of the world owe a lot to the iconic bridge that connects lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Sadly, those days may be numbered.
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S., was completed in May of 1883. Connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn over the East River, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of completion. Almost overnight, the bridge became an iconic addition to the New York City skyline. Stretching 1,596 feet 6 inches, the Brooklyn Bridge has carried people to and from Manhattan, Brooklyn and other destinations for over 125 years now. Culturally, it has entered into the American lexicon of expressions ("I've got a bridge I can sell you"), been featured as a backdrop in tons of films, and underneath, has played home to a thriving skate and BMX scene in New York City for over 25 years now.
Located at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side, the Brooklyn Banks is a dilapidated municipal park consisting of empty basketball and handball courts, unused chess tables and the sloping, natural terrain of the surrounding bridge's support work. Constructed of brick, the banks span an approximate football field's length, running parallel and on a slight incline to the bridge overhead. Closer to the bridge's exit ramp, the slope of the banks rise up a gradual, smooth bank to about 15-feet in height. Littered across the park are assorted skate ramps, rails and random pieces of discarded furniture which have since been repurposed into obstacles for bikes and skateboards.
Throughout the years, the Brooklyn Banks has become one of the most noteworthy and legendary skate and BMX spots in the world. The Banks have been featured in countless skate and BMX videos, played host to a virtual who's who of skate and BMX pros, and more recently, has even appeared on the HBO series 'Bored To Death' as a backdrop for a scene featuring skateboarders. In other words, it is THE spot of spots throughout the world. Skateboarders and BMXers from the world over do not visit New York City to take in a show at Times Square or to see the Empire State Building in person. They come to skate and ride the Brooklyn Banks; and were the Brooklyn Banks to have a guest book located somewhere near either of its two entrances, it would be safe to say that the infamous spot has seen many a homage from far-off lands. (And that goes without even mentioning the Banks' many other fun seekers.)
Over the years, the Banks have acquired a wealth of obstacles, from straight-up quarters to grind boxes to a tight-trannied Jersey style spine contraption.
Around the year 2001, the role of the Brooklyn Banks changed drastically. The smaller, less intimidating banks closer to the exit ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge were cordoned off and re-layered with grass, while the larger, more populated area of the banks became makeshift parking for Police Plaza and the many other municipalities in the area during the week. Almost overnight, the infamous spot had been shut down. But that changed when 5boro Skateboard's Steve Rodriguez stepped in. Rodriguez worked closely with the NYC Department of Transportation and the NYC Parks Department to ensure that the Banks be returned to its former incarnation as the de-facto skate and BMX spot for Manhattan. Rodriguez organized clean-up days, encouraged skateboarders and BMXers to attend, and worked diligently to clean up the area after it began to fall into disrepair. Slowly, Rodriguez's efforts paid off. The area was cordoned off from automobile traffic in 2003. But then, in 2004, both sides of the banks were fenced off from any traffic. The plan had been to construct garden planters throughout the park, but once again, Rodriguez worked with the DOT and the Parks Department to ensure that the park be kept as it was for skateboards, bikes and any other would-be fun seekers in the area. Finally, in 2005, the Banks became a legal skate space for all to enjoy.
Over the past four years, the Brooklyn Banks has enjoyed a wealth of success as a public, free, relatively safe and constantly progressive skate and BMX spot. That all changed on Friday, October 16, 2009. According to Julie Shapiro, a reporter for the Downtown Express, she had overheard talk about reconstruction on the Brooklyn Bridge at a community board meeting. Furthermore, the city was planning on closing down the banks for an undetermined period of time, utilizing the space as a staging area for trucks and construction equipment. Construction would begin in December of 2009 and could last until 2014.
According to the NYC Department of Transportation, the massive reconstruction project has been in the planning stages since 2007, when the New York State Department of Transportation deemed portions of the Brooklyn Bridge to be either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The reconstruction includes the rehabilitation and widening of the approaches and exit ramps, and painting the entire bridge to prevent steel corrosion (steel corrosion can be seen at the area that now encompasses the Brooklyn Bridge.) According to Rodriguez, "I did know about this, BUT when they explained it to me, they said it would be for a 'a year or so.'" "Hopefully, we can work something out where they do the work in stages, allowing the banks to open in the nice times of the year," he added.

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