The Omnibus Roundup – Buses, Scarano, earthquake innovations, Yards revisited and Landscapes of Quarantine

DOT's proposed bus lane on 34th St

New York city is following in the footsteps of Bogotá, Colombia and Curitiba, where some of the busiest city streets now have dedicated bus lanes. DOT announced a new plan this week to make 34th Street the home of New York City’s first dedicated bus lanes. The proposal would create two lanes for buses only, reducing traffic flow on 34th Street to two lanes for general traffic. The cross-town route is expected to move 35% faster than current averages. DOT’s press release has stated that the project hopes to receive funding from the Feds. We sure hope so.

The blog Brooklyn Speaks has created a report outlining changes in the Atlantic Yards proposal since the initial ESDC approved version from 2006 to the recently approved version released last December. It’s a pretty stark reminder of what’s happened since the project started, particularly since the recession began— affordable residential units are down to 300 from 2,250, open space down from eight acres to one while direct subsidies from the city from increased from 100 million to 250 million.

A Scarano building at 406 Lorimer Street in Williamsburg.

In other construction news, Brooklyn native Robert Scarano Jr. has been banned from submitting construction documents to the DOB for any projects in his home borough. Scarano, who has been one of been one of the most prolific architects of the Brooklyn “Renaissance” of the last decade, has long been accused by local residents and community groups of ignoring and even intentionally breaking local zoning laws. In the New York Times feature on the case, presiding Judge Joan R. Salzman was quoted as saying that Scarano’s drawings were “so deceptive that they call to mind out-and-out fraud.”

On a happier note, dolphins have been spotted in around the Newtown Creek, the border between Brooklyn and Queens, as well as in the East River. To check out pictures of the world’s friendliest mammals breezing by the Manhattan bridge, check out Gothamist’s photo gallery.

Photo by Jorge Ortiz Quezada

A collapsed bridge in Santiago.

Though the 8.8 magnitude earthquake  that struck Chile was about 500 times more powerful than the one that struck Haiti earlier this year, Haiti’s death rate was about 400 times greater, with approximately 200,000 Haitian casualties to Chile’s 500. This, as many experts have noted, is due to Chile’s stringently enforced building codes that require buildings to construct for the high seismic activity typical in Chile. As this week’s Wall Street Journal noted, many of the buildings that suffered the most damage were older adobe structures in historic parts of Santiago and in the less modern cities of Talca and Chillán. Chile’s reliance on reinforced shear concrete walls in construction is much safer and sturdier than many of Port-au-Prince’s cheaper, rebar-less buildings. Meanwhile, Popular Mechanics reports that in Japan, Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center has successfully created a seven story wood-frame apartment building that can resist earthquakes rated up to 7.5 on the Richter scale. The innovation stands to especially benefit poorer countries as wood-frame buildings are more cheaply produced than many of the current options. Perhaps the structure’s design could be implemented in Southern Chile, where wood-frame construction is the norm and forests are plentiful.

Even though New York is far from earthquake risk, the northeast along with the rest of the nation has been hitting some of their own concrete troubles; as a result of shifting weather patterns, many American homes are facing failing foundations. The New York Times reports that the contracting and expanding soil that results from droughts and excess rainfall has caused movement in the foundations beyond what they are designed to withstand, leaving homes with cracking throughout. The construction boom has contributed to the problem.  Many new homes were built on sub-par lots and conditions such as steep slopes or sandy soil can help accelerate the process. If weather conditions continue to shift towards extremes as they have, experts warn that we could be in for large-scale problems worldwide.

Though cracking foundations may not yet be on the federal government’s radar, weatherproofing homes to reduce global warming has been. Maybe some economic recovery funds could go towards fixing foundations, if only the cash would be released. The 2009 Recovery Act alloted $5 billion for homeowner’s to better weatherproof their homes, intending to simultaneously create jobs and lower energy use nationwide. However, The New York Times observes that as of February less than 8% of the funds were spent.

Next Tuesday Storefront for Architecture will open “Landscapes of Quarantine,” an exhibition co-curated by Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG and Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography, known to Omnibus readers as half of the force behind The Foodprint Project.  The opening is free and open to the public and begins next Tuesday, March 9th at 7 pm, with all the Brooklyn Brewery beer you can drink (aka open bar). For more information see Storefront’s announcement. See you there!

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.