Pulaski Bridge: Six Lanes for Cars, One Cramped Path for Peds and Bikes

The Pulaski Bridge is a vital link between Queens and Brooklyn. Since it was built 60 years ago, pedestrians and cyclists have been relegated to a narrow path. The shared path was good enough for some time, but when Greenpoint and Long Island City started growing rapidly a few years ago, that ceased to be the case. With more people walking and bicycling between boroughs, the path has become cramped, uncomfortable, and now — at times — even dangerous.

Currently, NYC DOT is studying the possibility of putting a two-way bike path on the south-bound side of the roadway, which would open up the current path for people walking. It presents a few tricky design obstacles, but a plan to make it happen is reportedly nearing completion and will soon be presented to the local community boards.

Rush hour is when you see the worst crowding. On a recent commute home, I took 15 minutes of footage for this Streetfilms Shortie. As you can see, the path is full of people going both directions — runners, bicyclists, walkers, subway commuters and even quite a few rollerbladers. This isn’t the worst of it — I’ve seen the path much more congested.

While observing the ped/bike interaction (and in most cases it is extremely gentle and cordial — in all my years I’ve never seen more than a few words exchanged between users), make sure to also take note: there is no traffic congestion on the roadway. I’d say the numbers of cars that pass over the Pulaski barely justify two lanes in each direction. Three lanes is overkill. Repurposing one car lane for bicycling will not hinder car traffic and should even help calm drivers as they transition to McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint, which has a terrible safety record.

Just in case the community boards need a reminder of why this project should move forward, I thought it was prudent to grab this footage.

  • J

    This is such a no-brainer. In the biking portion of the video, the cameraman passes 14 cars going Southbound, and 9 pedestrians going southbound, 5 going northbound, and 8 southbound bikes. Assuming each car has 1.5 people in it, the 30′ of southbound car lanes moved 21 people in the video, while the bike/ped path moved 23 people in about 1/3 the amount of space. Clearly there is an extreme imbalance of space here. Excess road space for car leads to speeding which is the #1 cause of crashes. This should have been done a decade ago.

  • Here is Transportation Alternatives’ petition: http://transalt.org/getinvolved/neighborhood/queens/pulaski
    And of course Councilmember Jimmy Van Bremer is on board.

  • The city is full of situations exactly like this: congested bike/ped path and free-flowing and under-utilized car lanes. Here’s just a few I encounter on a regular basis: Brooklyn Bridge (OK, crowded for cars, too, but so much more crowded on the bike/ped path), Hudson River Greenway, Central Park Loop (another no brainer, IMHO). I understand this takes time, but if BdB is serious about vision zero, re-purposing car lanes ASAP is what needs to happen.

  • Steve Scofield

    This is great – thank you, Clarence. This encapsulates in 2 minutes of video what all our documents are trying to demonstrate. As co-chair of the TA Queens Committee and the leader of our Pulaski bridge project, I can’t thank you enough.

  • Michael T Sweeney

    If additional bike/ped space is added, DOT should also investigate trying to redesign the roadway to slow traffic coming off the bridge. McGuinness Ave is the worst street in North Brooklyn for speeding and wreckless driving and runs straight through an increasingly pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. Slowing cars coming off the bridge would do a lot to ameliorate that.

  • Chris

    Thank you for making this video. To be honest, at first when this was proposed, there wasnt this much traffic, and I said that at a public meeting – it was possible to ride your bike and get around the pedestrians without that much congestion.

    But the ped and bike traffic here is much greater than it was before. This needs to be done now.

  • I actually have even more congested footage from – I think – 2 years ago. I just would need to find it. Make sure to have this ready to play at Community meetings when people claim there is no congestion. And that all three lanes of the roadway are needed. I think I have some photos I took from last year where they had actually closed down the right lane for roadwork and there are barely any cars to be seen.

  • Chris, I would add that I have seen it far worse than this. I just happened to be lugging my camera yesterday and stopped for 15 minutes to grab a sample of average conditions.

  • Drew

    I just hope there’s a barrier included. Huge trucks haul ass right there, I wouldn’t want to ride next to them.

    Not sure of any statistics, but the nearby straight-away section of Bedford Ave, between McCarren Park and the tennis courts, is one of the top places that makes my blood boil. Every single car guns it and I see so many near accidents, one after the other. You can watch it all day long. Fun! Actually, that whole park area is a web of astonishingly careless hazards, but I won’t get into it XD

  • Anonymous

    I use the bridge a lot, and I have never seen the motor vehicle lanes at capacity, not even at the peak of rush hour. I can’t imagine why anyone would oppose re-allocating a lane from cars to bike/ped.

    Seems like it would be easy to re-position the concrete barrier that currently separates the bike/ped lane from car traffic so that there are 2 car lanes southbound instead of 3. This should leave room for a 2 way bike lane plus a pedestrian lane. The northbound side could retain 3 car lanes, although it doesn’t need them.

    Then again, this is NYC, so I’m sure there would have to be years of environmental review, etc.

  • alexblac

    The three lanes encourages reckless driving. I went over the bridge last week in a taxi (*runs for cover*) and it must have been going over 60. I’m not surprised McGuinness has such a poor safety record.

  • Simon Barsinister

    Full disclosure: I have no idea what has been proposed and what is being studied, but as far as solving the problematic approaches, I can’t see why a 2-way bike lane on the roadway couldn’t be protected with regular concrete barriers – except for the portions that open for bridge traffic. At that point, just a lot of flexible bollards seem like they would suffice. And maybe some paint.

  • Is this possible? Electronic counters with real-time display at point of counting, on the web (and via smart phone…) and on display at prominent local locations e.g. where CB meets, etc. – also bike shops could display it in their storefront windows – showing numbers of everyone who crosses on the multi-use path and all motor vehicle traffic, displayed side by side, of course recorded, etc.

    This set up would be portable and would be at a location under investigation for a specific time period, then moved as needed, with multiple packages as budget allows.

  • mrsman

    Northbound McGuinnerss approaches the bridge as two lanes. There is no need for the northbound bridge to be 3 lane, except possibly approaching the signal at the north end.

    Southbound, the bridge can very easily narrow from 3 lanes to 2 somewhere just north of where the bridge goes over the Midtown Tunnel approach.

  • Very nicely done!

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