Shared Space on the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn_Bridge.jpgI’d bet that people walking outnumber people bicycling across the Brooklyn Bridge by at least 100 to one. I cycle across the wooden-slatted walkway that soars over the top of the bridge regularly now, and every time I do so I think about this. My rolling bicycle negates the space for scores of people every second, forcing them into a relatively skinny strip that is half as wide as the whole walkway.

One day it hit me: Why not erase the white line? Why not end the separation of cycles and pedestrians from each other, and allow them to mix freely on the curved arc across the East River. After all, under the "Shared Street" philosophy, pioneered in Holland and spreading around the world under the proselytizing of folks like my colleague Ben Hamilton-Baillie of Bristol, England, a number of good things might happen.

First of all, walkers would have more space. That’s an obvious benefit. As the bottom and most important base of the pyramid of uses that occupy a public space, it’s right that walkers should have as much space as possible in a public right of way. They are using the most efficient form of transportation ever devised in terms of moving people from point A to B.

Secondly, bikers would slow down. Just as the "Shared Street" studies show with drivers when faced with a street devoid of traffic signs and lines and full of kids playing and people walking, bikers would slow down when faced with the task of slowly navigating through the crowds of locals and tourists making their way from one shore to another. The bikers would not have some line on the sidewalk essentially giving them a thumbs up to speed along, shouting at pedestrians to get out of their way.

It’s a problem now that quite a few cyclists feel no restraint in zooming down one side or another of the walkway. They risk collisions should a person on foot take a step the wrong way, and at the very least it’s scary to have a cyclist hurtle past you while you’re on a scenic stroll.

I can practically hear cyclists screaming "No" at my suggestion. It might turn what is an efficient morning commute for cyclists including myself into something much slower and less practical. That is a possibility. But I suspect if the lines were erased on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, and pedestrians, cyclists and other forms of non-motorized traffic were allowed to mix, the people on wheels would still move at a reasonable pace.

It’s a leftover legacy of modernist urban planning and design that separating things somehow makes them more efficient or more productive. It’s being increasingly discovered that’s not the case. New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has been very astute in trying things. How about erasing that line for a while on the bridge, and seeing what happens?

Photo: twharris 

  • gecko

    give the space to pedestrians and walk across. just takes a little more time. or, if there are very few pedestrians cycling may be possible, but cyclists will have to demonstrate responsibilty.

    for the future, an elevated section could be built just for bikes. seems it would not take much.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Bottom line — take a lane from the cars for a two-way cycle lane, and reserve the promenade for peds. You have more people walking over that bridge than I’ve every seen, despite the fact that the Manny B is now open as well. This is a very good thing, and ought to be accomodated. The more tourists taking the walk, the better.

    One less lane might slow the bridge for motor vehicles, but how much given the bottlenecks on either side? Traffic heading for bridge ramps backs up on the FDR and the BQE. Moreover, the removal of one or even two lanes from the Brooklyn is more than offset by the addition of the three lanes now open on the Manhattan, although the Manhattan’s FDR access is less direct on the Manhattan side.

    The bridge is no longer thought strong enough for trucks, buses and trains, so removing a little more weight might be a good thing.

    Have bikers walk across the bridge? Not if they are commuting to work each day. But if they want to play tourist and enjoy the elevated view every now and then, they can walk up on top.

  • Wow, any cyclist who “takes a dive” under “crowded conditions” is no different than a driver who goes off the road because of traffic. Get a clue…pedestrians are more vulnerable than cyclists and should have the right of way.

    I don’t advocate walking your bike over the bridge, but I have *no* trouble negotiating most crowded conditions at a slow pace.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    I’ll offer this – as a cyclist you are battling on the sometimes dangerous city streets, then you get to the bridge where you are like (whew!) finally I can ride in peace I have a bike ammenity here, and then you cannot because of the dozens of peds (mostly tourists) who wander into the bike lane, and that get’s you angry on the inside. So on a psych level cyclists see the bridge path as a breather, something that is theirs in a city that is getting better but lacks adaquete safe spots to ride.

    All that said, it doesn’t give any of us a green light to go as fast as possible on that bridge. And I hate seeing people not riding courteously. Bike commuters are a mixed bag (some courteous, some not, but I have seen varying degrees on all sides) but I’ve noticed people dressed head to toe in spandex and in racing mode are much more likely to fly thru very dangerous situations.
    Please don’t, it’s a mixed use place with families and tourists. Or do what I do when I am in a hurry and can – I use the Manhattan Bridge!

    On another note, yesterday I walked over the bridge from Red Hook (4 miles!) to pick up my bike which was locked in lower Manhattan. There were alot of people on that bridge and it is tough to stay on the ped side (esp. I could see as a runner or a walker trying to get a workout!) I saw at least a dozen cyclists behaving responsibly and one very badly who came close to a few people without warning, everyone on the bridge will probably only remember that one. Once again showing: the bad ones of us out there are the ones that influence opinion about us most.

  • Jonathan

    Larry, why would you want to cycle across the Brooklyn Bridge on a converted lane next to the cars? It would be noisy, smelly, and grim.

    The reason why so many people cross the Brooklyn Bridge on the pathway is because it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful in the rain, in the sun, in the winter, and in the summer. Why should cyclists support a plan to consigning themselves to a second-class pathway? As Clarence points out, the pathway is a bike amenity.

    Bottom line: If I wanted to cross the river on the automobile roadway I’d drive my car to work.

  • i for one am looking forward to the day when we have 40% of new yorkers riding bikes every day, but for those cyclists among us who favor speed over every other positive aspect of biking: wake up. when there are more bikes on the road you are going to HAVE to slow down, so you may as well start now and win some good will with pedestrians. as many others here have said, if speed is the goal, take the manhattan bridge.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (why would you want to cycle across the Brooklyn Bridge on a converted lane next to the cars? It would be noisy, smelly, and grim.)

    I didn’t say I would. But if cycling and walking on the bridge were to increase, what would you prefer? A congestion toll on pedestrians to ration the space on their side of the line?

    The bottom line is, the peds deserve more space. Got to be fair.

    And besides, I’ve walked over the bridge many, many more times times than I’ve ridden over it on a bike. I’ve also gone over it many more times in an automobile.

  • anon

    Bicycling right next to heavy traffic is not pleasant. It could be made safer by at least enforcing a no-trucks rule and weight limit.

  • Sustainable Anne and Spud Spudly – walking your bike across the brooklyn bridge at rush hour won’t win you friends on either side of the white line. Just sayin’.

    I think this whole BB conversation is really interesting, though – it’s one of the primary spaces in the city where both kinds of us softer-than-cars folks regularly interact on what’s basically an over-capacity sidewalk, and there’s no lack of bad or stupid behavior to report on either side. While we’ve all seen plenty of examples of nincompoop cycling, how about tiny dogs on invisible leashes? Or the jogger who pushed his humongous jog-stroller (kid inside) across the white line directly into downhill-zooming cyclist’s path? Yipes!

    I’m certainly not saying that the bridge path counts as “broken”, but the obvious thing is that pedestrians act like pedestrians and cyclists like cyclists, and at 5:30 on a beautiful autumn afternoon there’s nowhere near enough room for either of us.

  • gecko

    Maybe the Bloomberg way would be to solicit a company like CEMUSA to build a dedicated Brookly Bridge bikeway with Independence Day advertising privileges?

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Build bike lanes on either side of the pedestrian promenade over the car lanes. Expensive yes but it does seem feasible.

    But if the city were to spend money on a project like that, it would be better spent on finally get ting bike and pedestrian paths over the Verrazano .

  • epc

    Close the direct ramp from the BQE to the BB and use that lane as a dedicated bike lane (diverting the bike traffic to the now-closed offramp that leads to park row)

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Close the direct ramp from the BQE to the BB and use that lane as a dedicated bike lane (diverting the bike traffic to the now-closed offramp that leads to park row))

    Now there is a subversive suggestion!

    The desire to avoid the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel backs up the BQE, which happens to be the most important freight route in the borough. Of course the alternative is to have even more people try to jam through Downtown Brooklyn on the way to Manhattan.

  • epc

    Given the BBT and the direct ramp from the BQE to the Manhattan bridge, there’s no real reason to have a direct ramp from the BQE to the BB except to bypass tolls.

    Plus, you don’t want to restrict outbound traffic , but constricting the inbound traffic is done all the time by NYPD.

    The ramp could be removed, the land returned to park or development. Bikes could access via Sands steet.

  • dave

    I have biked over the busy B Bridge at times. I think the bike lane is good, many walkers ignore it. People that bike too fast are not smart, but biking at walking speed is called walking. Keep the lanes. Use the manhattan bridge for biking too!

  • lee

    has anyone ever done a count of how many peds/bicyclists cross the brooklyn bridge every day?

  • As a cyclist who rides 3000+ miles per year in the 5 boroughs (no fibbin’), the solution is simple — TAKE THE MANHATTAN BRIDGE BETWEEN 10 AM AND 8 PM.
    There is a difference between a pedestrian and a tourist. I ride the Bridge every morning at 8 am and the pedestrians are extremely obedient and accommodating. But after about 10 am, that is not the case. I have been poked in the face enough times by gesturing tourists to realize that I am outnumbered. The Brooklyn Bridge is a major tourist attraction. Let them have it. The approach to the Manhattan Bridge is no more than 5 minutes away (and much less on the Brooklyn side) Discretion is the better part of valor, or something like that.

  • I read through most of this interchange last night, and thought about it some more as I biked on this beautiful morning on my regular commuter route from Brooklyn to Midtown, over that famous walkway/bike path. Monday through Friday, morning and evening, there is rarely an issue of lane congestion from either bikers or walkers. Few tourist photo-op clots, and fewer Lance wannabes; mostly folks on their way to work, self-contained and civil, with wheels and without. The Brooklyn Bridge route is for me almost two miles longer than the Manhattan Bridge alternative, which is admirably efficient now with that new Brooklyn-side bike ramp. So why the Brooklyn? Because it’s like riding through the Arch d’Triomphe, or the straddled legs of the Colossus of Rhodes. It’s all about aesthetics. It’s a wonder of the world, different every day and night. This morning, cottony clouds of fog were hanging over the East River right below the bridge’s cables, shrouding the stone pylons and the first ten or so stories of lower Manhattan, with cobalt skies framing everything above. I hadn’t seen that before.

    That raised wooden central platform offers one of the great urban vistas of the planet. Aesthetic pleasure is a great motivator: Biking to work is the preferred option for many because it is visually and psychically and physically stimulating, not because it is virtuous or cheaper or environmentally correct. If we want to lure more people onto bikes – which do, because it would make the city a better place, and give the early adopters more safety in numbers – we need to think about lifting the spirit along with our heart rates. The weekend leg-person congestion problem – not one of our great municipal challenges, really – could be resolved with a little common courtesy and (perhaps) some pointed signage. So please, let’s preserve this extraordinary gateway to the city, for walkers and bikers alike, above the cars and under those wonderful gothic archways.

    (For an actual problem with Bridge bike commuting, can we stop those City Hall factotums from parking all day on the entire length of the City Hall Park/Centre St. bike path? Someone is going to get killed one day from being forced out into traffic. See photos taken on random work days over the past year: http://picasaweb.google.com/Bill.Orme)

  • paulb

    I’ve seen cyclists on the BB riding so recklessly they not only endanger walkers, they endanger other cyclists. Don’t police have the authority to issue summonses, even if there isn’t a bicycle specific traffic rule?

  • galvo

    i’m with bill post #68. i really enjoy the views from the raised path on the BB. Bicyclist that ride at speeds too fast for pedestrian conditions are as guilty as motorist who drive too aggressively and pass to close to bicyclist on roadways. Speed limits for bicyclist may become necessary, I can live with that, i have no need to travel at speeds that are irresponsible with the pedestrian traffic. this mind set by some aggressive bicyclist that if i ring my bell or yell and you better get out of my way, you may get hit, is no different than the Sam Hindy tragedy on the Manhattan Bridge roadway.
    If the cars behind the wayward bicyclist had simple slowed down, relaxed, and put on their flashers to give them a safety zone, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.

  • paulb

    >

    That is so true. I’ve already been feeling terrible about this accident–I use the MB every day–and this makes me feel even worse. For awhile I’m going to have dark thoughts every time I cross it.

    I hope if I had been driving one of those cars, I would have been able to distinguish an in-trouble cyclist from one of the idiot cycling enemies-of-the-people I’ve encountered on the BB.

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