It’s Time for More Space for Bike Riders and Walkers on the Pulaski Bridge

The Pulaski Bridge, which connects Greenpoint and Long Island City across Newtown Creek, provides a narrow path for pedestrians and cyclists to share, next to six lanes of fast-moving motor vehicle traffic. As volumes have picked up on the path, minor tweaks made years ago may not be sufficient to provide space for interborough walkers and bike riders. It’s a concern that’s getting attention from elected officials.

The Pulaski Bridge, between Greenpoint and Long Island City, offers a narrow eight-foot path for pedestrians and cyclists to share. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bitchcakes/4040024113/##*Bitch Cakes*/Flickr##

Last Thursday, Assembly Member Joseph Lentol met with neighborhood residents, DOT and Transportation Alternatives to discuss the path’s crowded conditions. Reports are mixed, Lentol’s office said, as to whether conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians have become a problem on the bridge, where the eight-foot wide path falls two feet short of the minimum suggested by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

A Lentol spokesperson said the meeting was called in an “attempt to generate ideas and hear points of view” on how the crossing could be improved.

This isn’t the first time the bridge’s narrow path has become an issue. In 2009, a group of residents and bridge users formed the Pulaski Bridge Coalition to address crowding on the path. That same year, DOT installed new signage and striping but did not increase the eight feet allotted to walkers and bike riders.

Converting one southbound motor vehicle lane to a two-way protected bike path is one possibility suggested by riders and walkers. While the bridge presently has three lanes in each direction for motor vehicle traffic, roads on both sides leading to the span do not: 11th Street and Jackson Avenue in Queens and McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn all have two lanes in each direction.

“Separating out a bike lane would make a lot of sense,” said Lacey Tauber, secretary of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. “It would make the pedestrians feel a lot safer. It would probably slow traffic,” she said. “There are so many drivers who speed over the Pulaski and keep speeding on McGuinness.”

Two-thirds of motorists on McGuinness Boulevard are speeding, including one in three truck drivers, according to a report released in March by a coalition that includes TA and NAG. The report led to a speeding crackdown by the 94th Precinct but the roadway is still lacking long-term design and enforcement fixes.

“There is a growing number of New Yorkers who are choosing bike and foot to travel between Queens and Brooklyn and they simply need more dedicated space,” TA said in a statement. “Widening the existing pathway or giving space on the street to bicyclists will keep everyone out of each others’ way and out of harm’s way.”

The bridge, which opened in 1954, had its last opportunity for major changes when it received a $40 million reconstruction in 1994. A similar project is not likely to happen for decades. DOT has not yet responded to repeated requests for comment on the possibility of installing a two-way bike lane on the bridge.

In the meantime, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative is advocating for a new bridge west of the Pulaski, open only to cyclists and pedestrians, to connect Vernon Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue. The new crossing came up in discussions about the Pulaski Bridge path three years ago, said Milton Puryear, the group’s director of planning. While an engineering study for the new bridge did not receive funding from the city’s $10 million Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant fine, there may be another opportunity with funds from a $25 million settlement with ExxonMobil for a massive oil spill beneath Greenpoint.

Before an engineering study is funded, however, path usage will continue to grow, especially as more bike lanes are installed in Queens connecting to the bridge.

“We’d support anyone’s efforts to come up with something more immediate,” said Puryear. “Trying to do something in the short run is always good.”

  • Guest

    It doesn’t take “major changes” or a lot of money to give cyclists dedicated space on the bridge.  Plop down some jersey barriers, paint some bike symbols on the street and — boom — problem solved.  Let’s do it.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. Take away the east lane on the southbound side of the bridge using Jersey barriers. It would feed directly into and out of the bike lanes on either side. Neither expensive nor terrible complicated. The only consequence would be you couldn’t get onto the bridge directly from 49th Ave in Queens, but certainly that is a solvable issue

  • Anonymous

    Correction –  the only consequence would be you couldn’t get onto the bridge IN A VEHICLE directly
    from 49th Ave in Queens, but certainly that is a solvable issue

  • Danny G

    @8d878c8e9c28692c9beba72d1400540a:disqus You could put the jersey barriers along the entire stretch, except for the 200 feet or so in the middle where the bridges is operable and goes up and down. For that you can use something more lightweight.

  • Guest

    @36056f95783f8cfb512e9d49d4187ce6:disqus Right. Plastic delineators affixed with adhesive would do the trick for next to nothing.

  • Are there counts by mode for this bridge?  Whenever I use it (which is usually the weekend, but…) it seems like 90% of all the people on the bridge are crammed onto the sidewalk while the 6 motor lanes are empty.

  • Guest

    Agree that one of the southbound traffic lanes should be converted for pedestrian/bicycle use.  Seems relatively simple to me, except for the aforementioned vehicle access off of 49th Ave..

    If you think it’s crowded now, wait until the citi bike share program finally kicks in.  People will be using the shared bikes to cross the bridge to get to the Vernon-Jackson 7 train stop (I’ll probably be one of them).  Bike volume will increase tremendously…

  • Anonymous

    Oh yes, I remember that bridge. I’ve only used twice, but I distinctly remember the claustrophobic feeling in the ped/bike path. And it did seem to have excess capacity for cars, so I think adding more space for cyclists and pedestrians is a great idea.

  • J

    This is a great idea, and I agree with the many commenters here that using jersey barriers to convert one southbound lane to a 2-way bicycle path is an easy way to do it.
    I’m also glad that Stephen mentioned that the current bike/ped path is below minimum standards. I would like to add a few things to that notion. First, the path gets as narrow as 6 feet is many locations where utility poles and boxes protrude into the path. Also, the width of the path should be considered as even narrower, since it is bounded on both sides by a concrete wall, and people will always walk or bike a certain distance from the wall. In engineering-speak, this is known as a “shy distance”. Given a shy distance of one foot on each side, the effective width of the path is only 6 feet, dropping to 4 feet in many locations. The accepted national standards that Stephen cites recommend the following:

    “The tread of a shared-use path should be at least 3.05 m (10 ft) wide. A minimum of 2.44 m (8 ft) may be used on shared-use paths that will have limited use. Shareduse paths should also have graded areas at least 610 mm (2 ft) on either side of the path. On shared-use paths with heavy volumes of users, tread width should be increased to a range from 3.66 m to 4.27 m (12 ft to 14 ft).”

    In other words, this heavily-used path should really be at least 16′ wide (12′ path & a 2′ buffer on each side). Instead, we have a path that’s effectively 6′ wide. All this is to say that we desperately need to reallocate space back to pedestrians and bicyclists.

  • Anonymous

    Seems like the current motor vehicle access from 49th Ave. could be largely given over to the suggested protected bike lanes with vehicle access shifted slightly into the area that is currently a traffic island (with a resulting reduction in the the size of island).

  • I wish I hadn’t missed this meet up! A headline for heads-up next time, Streetsblog? I’ve been running across the bridge a lot on my way to the Queensboro, I walk across to catch the 7 sometimes, and other times I ride across, and I can’t tell you how often I look at the ridiculously constricted space (and how freaking rude and negligent my fellow cyclists are to the peds) and all six of those freaking car lanes for a four lane road and wondered what kind of disaster would be required to get DOT to the logical thing: Take away one of the south bound car lanes that 1) isn’t needed for the traffic and 2) encourages speeding, and allocate it for bikes or for peds. Big cement barriers to keep the cars out.

    It’s not that hard, wouldn’t cost that much at all. What the Hell are we waiting for? It’s an obvious solution, and I don’t understand why Assemblyman Lentol is still in checking-the-weather mode on this.

  • fj

    Very important part of Sunset Strip the unofficial name of the major bike route that passes NYC’s major film stages.

  • guest

    I bike this bridge twice (to/from work) every day. And while everyone hates AASHTO for their car regs, its hilarious that people are pointing to them to defend how inadequate this path is.

    FROM EXPERIENCE – most of the bikers on this bridge ride like dicks, and have no idea (or have any desire) to regulate their speeds. If the bikers rode with courtesy, this path would be completely functional with the existing volumes.

    And I guarantee that more cars use the bridge then bikes/peds.

  • Andrew

    @bb16b55db282d6132fe25ef44ff4ed06:disqus I’m sorry to hear that some bicyclists go too fast on this bridge. I take your comment to imply that all motorists strictly obey the speed limit. Is that correct?

    Yes, I’m sure there are more cars than bicycles or pedestrians. But cars have six lanes – two more than the streets that feed the bridge – and bicycles and pedestrians share one.

  • @bb16b55db282d6132fe25ef44ff4ed06:disqus The fact that “more” cars use the bridge than bikes and peds is irrelevant.  If, say, 300 cars use the bridge per hour but it can handle 1200, then there’s too much space for cars. Some of it should be handed over to cyclists and pedestrians.

    Traffic is one of the few areas in life where “more” is not the same as “better.”

  • handsomeman

    Turn this stupid bridge into a pure pedestrian / cycle bridge.  It’s full of a-hole motorcyclists who REV up like the insecure small-dicked guys they are because it’s the one place in the city where they can go about 100 feet in a straight line without getting brain damaged from a pothole.  

  • Anonymous

    Jersey barriers are also made in aluminum or steel plate that are much lighter than concrete.  These get bolted to the roadway to stay in place.  The aluminum barrier may even be light enough for the lift spans.  Barrier weight is not an issue.

    The AASHTO Bike Guide was created in the 1960s by highway engineers to justify cheap solutions to placate pedestrians and cyclists complaining that roads were being built for cars and driving bikes and peds off.  So the engineers decided to kill two birds (pun intended) with one path – and created the “Shared Use Path” to get both bikes and peds off their roads.  These guys – and they were all guys – figured that anything going slower than a car should share the same small space. 

    So the correct definition of a Share Use Path: it is really a sidewalk with signs saying “Bicycles Will Be Tolerated.”  Shared use paths are unsafe at any speed, unless there is very little mixed mode traffic sharing.

    There are exemptions to the AASHTO guidelines, but these are focused on locations where there is no feasible alternative to a narrow width or sharp turn. One example is the FDR Drive path at East 14th St, passing the Con Ed pier.  Unless Con Ed’s wall can be moved, that path section will be about 5 feet wide – but it makes the rest of the East River Drive path continuous.  Up on the Pulaski, all 3 roadway lanes each way are not needed, two will do.  There is no justification for exemptions from minimums.  In fact, given the high and growing volume mixing cyclists and walkers, even the AASHTO “Minimums” are not adequate.

    The sad part is that back in 1895, the City Of Brooklyn knew enough to build a separate bike path on Ocean Parkway, with pedestrians on a separate sidewalk.  Not till the 1930s was the Ocean Parkway Bikepath split with a pedestrian section.

    Even Robert Moses understood the purpose of separating bike paths from walking/running paths. The Belt Parkway Bike Path between 69th St and 4th Ave Bay Ridge/Narrows is a separate 12 foot wide path, separate from the 8+ foot wide foot path closer to the water.  The Belt was opened in 1941 – before most of us were born!

    Cyclists are not “speeding” on the Pulaski path.  Not when the city insists that all cyclists and pedestrians must use the “Shared Use Path” and when they know the path is utterly under capacity for volume of bike and ped traffic.  There is no safe speed, yet cyclists cannot be faulted for riding there.  If they walked their bikes, then they take up more width, and will certainly be banging their bikes into other path users.  We are blaming the victims – both the cyclists and pedestrians – because they are being forced to use a grossly undersize facility.

    Create a separate barrier bike lane on the southbound roadway.  Consider repainting the northbound roadway into two motor lanes and a buffered bike lane as well, for northbound cyclists who want to use it.  Plastic delineaters rather than a Jersey barrier would probably be adequate.  The Pulaski Bridge needs a road diet with bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    I agree with Brownstone2 here that a shared use path is basically a sidewalk where bicycle riding is tolerated. Sure, such paths can be relatively safe if cyclists proceed at little more than a fast walking pace, but then what’s the point of being on a bicycle if you’re not going to make use of its primary function-namely to allow a human being to move much farther/faster under their own power than they can with their own legs? Also, once there is a significant volume of pedestrians and cyclists, a shared used path becomes problematic regardless of speed. Even if it didn’t, the idea of shared used paths basically forces cyclists to use a fraction of the potential of their machines. Do we want cycling to succeed as a viable means of transportation or don’t we? If we don’t, then let’s keep building shared use paths which are virtually useless for anything but a very short trip. If we do, then we need purpose-built cycling paths, free of pedestrians, and preferably also free of motor vehicles, stop signs, and traffic lights. The Belt Parkway Bike Path (which I’ve sadly never been on yet) is a great example of what we should be building. The abomination over the Pulaski Bridge isn’t.

  • There’s 6 lanes for cars, and half a lane for bikes.  It wouldn’t surprise me if bikes were more than 1/12 of the wheeled traffic volume on this bridge.

  • Guest

    Taking the western-most lane of the southbound side of the bridge as a two-way bike lane would be perfect.  As for the entrance from 49th street on the Queens side, removing it would be saving truck drivers some trouble.  Seems like once a month I get out of the 7 at Vernon-Jackson and see a rig stuck on that ramp–it’s a tight curve and trucks can’t make it if they don’t have a good angle.  When they get stuck, it takes hours to get them out.

  • Anonymous

    Looking at the map it seems that, depending on the traffic volumes, if you closed the 49th Ave entrance ramp you could probably set up the signals to allow for a dog leg turn – left onto Jackson and then right onto the Pulaski – without too much trouble. Or if that didn’t work, just make 49th Ave a forced right onto Jackson, meaning you would access the bridge from Jackson Ave or 11th Street only. That’s probably the safest and fastest option because it removes turning conflicts

  • guest

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus  No, you can’t imply that  – I didn’t say anything about motorists. But I am not going to make cyclists some battered minority like this website likes to do. No one has a “right” to ride at a certain speed. 
    @Brownstone2:disqus there is no “safe” speed? Cyclists are to be perceived as children with no idea of the perception of what is too fast? I know when my speed is too fast around a pedestrian – but I guess I am an “enlightened minority” like everyone else on this site.

  • t

    This bridge does seems to be infested with the A-hole type of cyclists, I have no idea why. That includes you dog-in-your-backpack lady! However, there is NO reason for there not to be a dedicated bike lane, separate from the ped lane. That roadway is undersued.

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