Eyes on the Street: Gravelly Bike-Ped Path Through Brooklyn Bridge Park

Construction.JPGConstruction is still underway, but the bike-ped path through Brooklyn Bridge Park is open. Photo: Noah Kazis

A vital link in the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is open, as a path through Brooklyn Bridge Park for pedestrians and cyclists nears completion. Though the park is still far from complete, the path cuts straight through the construction, connecting Pier 1, just below the Brooklyn Bridge itself, and Pier 6, at Atlantic Avenue. 

One thing you should know about the path: It’s covered with a thin layer of gravel. It isn’t deep or loose, but it will definitely add a new element to your ride. "I don’t know if it’s the ideal surface for every biker, but we’ve been open for a week now and haven’t had any complaints," said Ellen Ryan of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, noting that plenty of cyclists have already ridden the path. This type of surface, known as "chip seal," is planned for the entire park and was chosen for its durability, cost-effectiveness, and aesthetic qualities, she explained. 

Toward the south end of the park, the path turns into a short, two-way on-street bikeway on Furman Street, separated from traffic by jersey barriers. For cyclists heading to the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge, the gravelly path through the park probably won’t be as attractive as continuing straight on Furman, with its smoother surface and shorter route. As things stand, however, that would take them into the path of oncoming traffic:

Furman_bike_lane5.jpgThe end of the bikeway on Furman Street, where the path takes a turn into Brooklyn Bridge Park. Straight ahead is the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Dave "Paco" Abraham

More pictures after the jump: 

Path_Close_Up.JPGThe surface of the path is covered with gravel, thin enough that the asphalt below shows through in places. Brick strips add another set of bumps. Photo: Noah Kazis
North_End_of_Path.JPGAt the northern end of the park, the bike path exits onto a shared lane leading toward the bridge approaches. Photo: Noah Kazis
  • Crushed gravel is a brilliant solution for shared spaces. Of course the problem is that this isn’t necessarily a shared space, with pedestrian and bicycle space demarcated with a line of bricks. I think the fatal flaw of this arrangement is the (presumably) traffic-calming three-lines of lateral bricks that are only on the cycling side. This will likely cause many cyclists to opt for what is intended to be the pedestrian space, causing the whole system to collapse on itself. If anything, they should have gone for a smooth, asphalt, well-striped bike path next to a crushed-gravel pedestrian path, which would be self-enforcing infrastructure without any compromise for either class of users. Of course if this arrangement interferes with their aesthetic goals, then I respect this as well.

  • This is a really unfortunate choice. Someone is going to spin out and fall. It’s also impossible to mark this surface to indicate directionality and which part is the bike path, and very unpleasant to ride on. There must be safer ways to accomplish the goal of slowing bike riders down. As Jeff points out, bike riders will probably ride on the pedestrian side to avoid the extra “calming” cobblestones on a surface that’s already impossible to ride on at a normal speed.

  • Another issue is that there are no indications whatsoever on the gravel part of the path that bike riding is even allowed on this path. Ms. Ryan might not have had any complaints because no one knows they can even ride their bikes on this path. I was there last night, and saw dozens of bikes locked up at the north (Fulton Ferry) end of the park — presumably most of those people were attending the outdoor movie at the south end of the park, but had no idea they could actually ride their bikes almost all the way there instead of walking for 5-10 minutes. Asphalt wouldn’t have this problem — just paint bike symbols!

  • chuck

    I look forward to trying out the gravel. As a polite cyclist, I’m glad to see DOT trying out different ways to peacefully mix pedestrians and bikes.

  • The fact that they’ve been open for a week and nobody’s complained about the gravel path really doesn’t mean much. How long did it take them to figure out that hot metal domes in the playground wasn’t the best design either?

  • Jeffrey J. Early

    Can you clarify exactly what the surface is? Chipseal doesn’t normally have any loose gravel left on top. It only sucks for road bikes due to the increased vibrations, but there definitely shouldn’t be any “spin out” on a chip seal road — if anything there’s more traction.

    So, did they create a chipseal road and then add loose gravel to the surface? That’s a really strange choice if so.

  • DW

    I think that the chipseal surface is a great one for this mixed-use pathway since it makes cyclists SLOW DOWN. And that’s helpful. Aesthetically it is very nice and compliments the park’s design.

  • Looks like the goal is to slow people down, which is a good thing in a mixed path.

    Go too fast, and you might spin out.

    The path looks very euopean to me. They love the gravel paths over there.

  • Shemp

    I don’t understand this discussion of “spinning out.” Maybe if you are trying to accelerate through corners or sprinting out of the saddle, but c’mon ????

  • kaja

    The gravel is loose. Any attempt to turn sharply or brake hard and you’ll fall.

    Responsible people will, thus, slow the hell down. Not everyone will slow down; those people will be unable to stop, and will do slides into pedestrians.

    This is a pretty cool treatment, but I suspect no treatment will ever account for antisocial idiots.

    I am avoiding using this for my commute because of the lack of proper Manhattan Bridge connection, and the gravel. I’d rather deal with Clinton St and Tillary and the hill and all.

  • epc

    There’s been plenty of complaints about the gravel (which they’ve used throughout the park over asphalt) on the Brooklyn Heights Blog.

    The gravel is placed on top of a tar substance which in turn is on top of asphalt.

    While biking is allowed & encouraged on the new path, it isn’t allowed on the piers in the park, which leads to some interesting cyclist / pedestrian interactions on the narrower park paths.

  • Shemp, go ahead and try doing a fast turn at a high speed on this type of surface and report back.

  • Kaja, the Manhattan Bridge connection isn’t bad at all.

    From the bridge, take the secret bike path under the bridge to Jay St to York St; then Front to Old Fulton. Or Sands to Adams to York, etc.

    To the bridge, take Old Fulton to Front to Pearl to Prospect to the secret path under the bridge. Or take Front to Gold to Sands median path to the bridge.

  • kaja

    Mike: Pearl is cobblestones and broken pavement. Are you on a mountain bike or something? My poor Jamis road bike is all ‘aw hell no’.

    I’d link a StreetView but it’s been broken for me. Here’s a recent-ish pic, see bottom-right, ignore the white sign in the foreground: http://dumbonyc.com/category/pearl-street/

    (The ‘From’ route is great, agreed, I just take Sands to York to Fulton at like 30mph, and burn down Furman — or use the park if I’m feelin’ chill.)

  • I’d link a StreetView but it’s been broken for me.

    Try deleting your cookies for maps.google.com; that worked for me!

  • I don’t find one block of cobblestones uphill too bad on my 28 tires. If you do, you can try the Gold St detour, or go Front->Jay->York->Pearl->Prospect->secret path, or Front->Jay->secret path, going the wrong way on Jay for a block. Really not that bad at all.

  • Peter Drew’s proposal for new bike lane markings: http://pre.cloudfront.goodinc.com/posts/post_full_1282868099bikelane_dd97.jpg

  • I rode through the park today (on my first full day in NYC). I suspect that someone knows the gravel will motivate many park people riding their bikes to rider SLOWER. Like riding on sand, dirt, or gravel, this “chip seal” is still somewhat slippery.

    I would prefer crushed and compacted limestone to crushed gravel like in this park.

  • I also rode the path on Saturday. The gravel doesn’t seem to be as treacherous as it appears though I’m sure it could cause some nasty scrapes for anyone who takes a spill. Another problem is that it really doesn’t look like a bike path, and the brick that runs along the center didn’t seem to indicate to anyone that there might be a division of space – certainly not to the woman who was hauling a 12 foot ocean kayak perpendicular to the path.

    There’s another gravel covered section near Atlantic Avenue and the ferry terminals. Since this section involves going up a curb I presumed it’s wasn’t intended to be part of the cycling section, but who knows? Either way, getting scolded by Parks Police over a loud speaker for being in the wrong place, whether it’s riding on the wrong side of the path or simply standing on the rocks, really puts a damper on the park experience.

  • Ace

    Having fast moving machines passing within inches of someone out for a stroll is not peaceful. Having to constantly be aware of bicyclists before I move to my left really distracts from my enjoyment of any view and destroys any sense of serenity.

  • I rode through there a couple times in each direction today. It’s another bike path to nowhere, just what the city needs.

  • FredEx

    I really like the path in general but there’s a high concentration of gravel just by the entrance at pier 5. My bike slid out from under me a couple of weeks ago and, putting my hand out to break the fall, I broke my wrist.. I wasn’t cycling fast or being ‘anti-social’ it was at night and there wasn’t enough traction.

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