Safer, Saner Brooklyn Bridge Entrance on Track for Next Year

The Downtown Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is set for some major upgrades. Image: DDC [PDF]
After years of planning and advocacy, an effort to improve the dangerous, ugly asphalt expanse on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge is set to take a big step forward tonight. Community Board 2 is meeting to vote on a resolution in support of a plan to expand space for walking and biking, realign car lanes, and add trees [PDF] that cleared its transportation committee with a unanimous 7-0 vote last month. Construction on the first phase is on track to begin as soon as the end of this year.

The Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge walking and biking path consists of a long, narrow concrete chute, sandwiched between the exhaust-choked car lanes of the Adams Street bridge approach. At the intersection of Adams and Tillary Street — both very wide streets dominated by motor vehicle traffic heading to and from free bridges — pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate a chaotic mess of traffic lanes, poorly coordinated signals, and narrow curb cuts to get to or from the bridge path.

The current design isn’t just unappealing, it’s dangerous for bike riders, walkers, and drivers alike: From 2008 to 2010, according to DOT, 339 people — including 24 cyclists and 32 pedestrians — were injured at nine intersections along the stretches of Tillary and Adams near the bridge.

The heart of the redesign is the intersection of these two streets, where the widened, tree-lined Brooklyn Bridge path entrance will have much more generous proportions for pedestrians and cyclists. South of Tillary Street, a center-running two-way bike lane would continue along Adams briefly before directing cyclists to striped bike lanes next to the parking lane on the next block, as Adams approaches Fulton Street. To make room for this wider median between Tillary and Johnson Streets, the service lanes on either side of this block of Adams will be eliminated.

Image: DDC
The plan for the western blocks of Tillary Street. Click to enlarge. Image: DDC

To make the whole area feel less like a highway, the city proposes reducing the amount of overhead signage and the presence of concrete barriers. Instead of the cattle chute, for example, pedestrians and cyclists on the bridge approach north of Tillary will be separated from car traffic by vegetation and a low chain barrier.

The existing two-way protected bike lane on Tillary Street will be upgraded and extended one block east to Jay Street. Tillary will also have a wider, tree-lined median from Cadman Plaza West to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway ramps past Flatbush Avenue. A two-way protected bike lane is also proposed for Cadman Plaza East from Tillary Street to Red Cross Place, an area that is currently a security-restricted zone.

While supporting the plan unanimously, CB 2’s transportation committee — whose meeting last month was primarily attended by residents of Concord Village, a 1,023-unit co-op on the northeast corner of Adams and Tillary, according to district manager Robert Perris — suggested some car-oriented tweaks that would make the plan feel less welcoming for people walking and biking.

The Brooklyn Bridge path entrance will be widened and a center-running bike lane will be extended down Adams Street. Image: DDC
The Brooklyn Bridge path entrance will be widened and a center-running bike lane will be extended down Adams Street. Image: DDC

The resolution includes a request that the city install a concrete barrier between the service road and bridge-bound car lanes on Adams north of Tillary Street, since many meeting attendees were worried about pedestrians taking diagonal routes across bridge entrance lanes to access the path.

The committee’s resolution also asks the city to prioritize car parking over one of the proposal’s central components. To widen the cattle chute, the plan would remove about 40 parking spaces north of Tillary Street. About half that amount will be added on Tillary Street west of Adams in the form of new spaces. The resolution asks planners to reduce the length of the widened bridge path in order to preserve parking spaces closest to Concord Village.

A wider entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge path would help relieve some of its notorious crowding, at least at the base of the bridge. The rest of the span still needs more space for walking and biking. A group of council members proposed widening the path in 2012, but although the bridge is undergoing a massive renovation project, there are no plans to expand the cramped pedestrian and cyclist route. 

It’s been a long road to get to this point. The city passed up a chance to design a safer bridge approach back in 1998. Public workshops for the current proposal led to a conceptual design in 2009, followed by tweaks in 2011. Multiple applications to the federal TIGER grant program (spearheaded by NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg when she was at US DOT) were unsuccessful in securing funding. Without it, final design and construction remained on hold — until now.

Construction on the first phase, which focuses on Adams Street, is being funded with a mix of federal bike-ped and road safety funds, plus a contribution from the city. The project has now entered final design, with construction expected to begin late this year or early next year, lasting approximately 18 months. Funding for the next phase, which includes Tillary Street and other streets in the area, has not yet been identified. This second phase is also expected to take about 18 months to complete.

Community Board 2 meets tonight to vote on the resolution at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street. The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m.

  • Jeff

    Great idea, CB2 transpo committee. Automobile storage should absolutely take precedence over creating a grand entryway to one of the most famous bridges in the world, and one of the biggest tourist attractions in New York City. While we’re at it, let’s designate half of the bridge path itself for people to throw their old mattresses and other various crap that people own but can’t find a place to store.

  • jooltman

    Any talk of separating pedestrian lane from bike lane? Can’t tell from the rendering. There are so many conflicts between non-motorized users…

  • J

    I’m not one for excessive swearing, but fuck. their. parking. They are sitting on one of the best served subway and bus nodes in the city. Unbelievable.

  • Alex

    This will be great…when it’s finished. When I bike to work, this is my crossing and I’m a bit concerned about the 3 years of construction. Hopefully they take great care to preserve safe bike/ped rights of way while they’re working on it all. I’m fine dealing with a little bit of pain, but unpredictable closures and unsafe conditions would be a real problem.

  • Bolwerk

    Holistic streets: demand a truly multimodal bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge was more useful in 1907 than it could possibly be in 2014. See page 4 (PDF).

    For that matter, how about making the car traffic one way on the Brooklyn Bridge and the other way on the Manhattan Bridge? :-

  • svente

    The whole of Tillary needs to be addressed for sure though this is a nice start. And a ped walkway over the chute connecting Adams to Adams (near High) would be welcome and would take pressure off of Tillary.

  • I’m curious about something: why don’t you take the Manhattan Bridge instead? Wouldn’t that save you some headaches?

    Between the bad entry on Brooklyn Bridge’s Brooklyn side, the frequent incursions of pedestrians into the bike lane on the bridge, and then the steep descent into Manhattan which cannot be ridden at full speed because of the crowds, I just can’t deal with that bridge. Unless it’s late night or very early morning, I don’t even think about the Brooklyn Bridge.

    I use the Manhattan Bridge from Downtown Brooklyn even if I am going somewhere in Manhattan that’s close to the Brooklyn Bridge. I prefer the few extra blocks of riding in Manhattan over the considerable hassle of the Brooklyn Bridge. Anyway, when going by bike, the distance between the landings of the two bridges in Manhattan is extremely small.

  • David Shoots Film

    I’m a bit dumbstruck–I never even considered the approach to be the problem–the bridge itself was not designed for joint pedestrian/bicyclist use. It’s a horrible experience. The only times I cross using the BB when I’m in that area is if the Manhattan Bridge is closed (2x in last year due to police activity).

  • Reader

    Vision Zero loss of parking spaces.

  • Vernon6

    ‘their’ parking…as it if belongs to ‘someone’. LOLZ.

  • Note that Concord Village already has plenty of parking on its own grounds.

  • Alex

    I would love to take the Manhattan Bridge instead. The problem for me is that I need to get over to the Hudson Greenway and, personally, I’d rather deal with peds on the Brooklyn Bridge than the very bike-unfriendly streets of Chinatown and Soho. They’re annoying, but unlikely to kill me. The cut across Manhattan down there is much shorter, more straight forward, and has a bike lane the entire way. The route across from the Manhattan Bridge is about 50% longer, is more difficult to navigate, and tends to be more chaotic. And for me to get to either bridge means coming across Tillary, so I’m just as happy to get out of Downtown Brooklyn a bit sooner on the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • Alex

    Even if they did, it would only be for the short section along Adams leading to the bridge. Doing that on the bridge itself would be great, but would be a pretty big undertaking.

  • Pookasan

    This is great news! I take the Brooklyn Bridge every day in both directions, and the most dangerous part of my commute is getting on the bridge in Brooklyn. Most cyclists traveling west on Tillary employ the same tricky maneuver–pulling into the center of the road while waiting for the light, and then entering the bridge against the traffic as soon as the people turning onto Tillary lose their left turn signal. It’s an insane, dangerous way to get on, but the alternative is waiting through two light cycles, and the traffic cops never say a word to us.

    The Manhattan side is a nightmare too, but maybe 5% less dangerous than the Brooklyn side. Manhattan Bridge lovers, take note: it’s much more dangerous commuting to lower Soho (Broadway/Grand) using the Manhattan Bridge, even though it’s obviously a preferable ride once you’re on it. The BB saves me at least 5 minutes in each direction.

  • Daniel

    It would make a whole lot of sense to me to take away a single car lane for a two way bike path on the roadway. The view is nice from the upper deck, but there are just too many people crammed into too little space there. Giving the bikes a pedestrian free path would make the route more pleasant and ensure many more riders would use it.

    BTW I almost exclusively take the Manhattan Bridge when I make the crossing, but I’ve been told the Brooklyn Bridge is ok in the morning.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Judging by tonight’s CB2 meeting, I think the transportation chair understands that parking is a worthy sacrifice for safety. Unfortunately, there are clearly people in the area who don’t feel the same way. One board member was angry about a single lost parking space on the Fulton improvement project.

  • smeyer418

    CB#2 passed it last night. We did ask that some(not all) the parking be maintained. It will be a problem in any case. The area where Pedestrians and Bikes cross will require that the Bikers slow down and watch for them. Which I am told already happens in other places(in NYC) where similar conflicts exists….but just as there are drivers who don’t yield there are bikers that don’t either.

  • Cold Shoaler

    It is fine in the morning. It only get stupid in the afternoons and evening. But boy does it get stupid. The detour to the Manhattan bridge is really inconvenient for my commute, so I take the Brooklyn Bridge, stupidity be damned.

  • fj

    Very dangerous. Remember at least one SUV rolled on its side after immediately the nridge

  • Jonathan R

    From east side of Manh Bridge, East on Canal, L on Allen, cross Houston, L on 3rd St, L on MacDougal, R on Minetta, cross 6th Ave to Carmine, R on Downing, L on Commerce, R on Hudson, L on Christopher, R on Greenway

  • David Shoots Film

    I like the car lane idea a lot. I’m sure I sound pessimistic, but I would imagine a “pedestrian free” warning would be ignored unless the path were completely separate (as it would be with your idea). I always joke about joggers in the Manhattan Bridge bike lane: “You know how nice it is to have a path where you don’t have to dodge slow pedestrians? Yeah, we feel the same way.”

  • Denise Maher

    I attended most meetings on this issue, and I think Stephen Miller’s line about the meeting being attended primarily by Concord Village residents is not accurate. Did he attend? I spoke to a reporter from a Brooklyn Paper about slow zones but not to him. It’s fair to say that many Concord Village residents submitted comments for the committee’s consideration, however I don’t think it is correct to say that all the tweaks were car-oriented. As you can see from this letter from Everyday Adams Street, a group of residents who live there, the big concern is the lack of environmental study for this project. Essentially, the plan will bring moving traffic 10 feet closer to our front doors–and remove most of the noise barriers. The main thing we asked for was baseline air quality and noise testing. http://livablebrooklynbridge.com/2014/01/05/letter-from-everyday-adams-street-to-cb2-1-6-14/

    It’s probably also worth noting that CVOI, the Concord Village Board, has been asking for a mid block crossing for years, which would be extremely pedestrian friendly and seriously ease pedestrian crowding at the Tillary/Adams entranceway.

    If you’d like to learn more context about the issues, check out this post: http://livablebrooklynbridge.com/2014/01/17/problems-with-parking-complaints-new-strategies-gateway-project-an-editorial/

    And ask yourself what exactly makes this pedestrian and cyclist friendly? The DOT has provided little evidence, studies or data about how this will impact the area, per transportation expert Amy Pfeiffer (formerly of TA). Rather, it has declared it pedestrian and environmentally-friendly. That is a spin — if you look more closely there’s not much to back it up. We want the project to be pedestrian and environmentally friendly from concept to execution, not just DOT propaganda.

  • Denise Maher

    Here’s my description of the recommendations made by CB2. Take a look to decide for yourself how car-centric they are:
    http://livablebrooklynbridge.com/2014/01/24/report-from-cb2-tps-committee-meeting-1-23-reskedd-from-1-21/

    Thanks!

  • Christina

    The people at Concord Village did not have car-centric suggestions. A lot of us don’t own cars and bike /walk/run over the bridge like lots of other people in Brooklyn. The main concern is that we and folks in Dumbo use ADAMS street as a main walkway to Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights. We also do this with our strollers and children. Any redesign project can’t just focus on the bridge traffic/crossing at the dangerous intersection of Adams/Tilary but must also pay attention to the safety of pedestrians and bikes along Adams Street. The current plan moved faster heavier traffic closer to the sidewalk and didn’t study the safety. Parking is not the issue. Since so many pedestrians (especially children )are killed by cars in this city, safety is our main issue. #visionzero

  • red_greenlight1

    Morning is ok and late at night it’s actually fine.

  • John Kirk

    Why is your private property entitled to storage space on the public’s streets, in a part of the city with fantastic subway access? Shame on CB2 for demanding parking over space for the public.

    If I need more storage space for my stuff, I don’t demand the city provide it, I get a self-storage unit. It should be the same with cars…private garages exist for a reason.

  • John Kirk

    That’s part of the problem. Make parking access convenient, and it encourages dependence…demand is induced by the supply. Kind of like heroin or alcohol.

  • uest

    While we’re at it, no reason for “people storage” either. I mean, almost half of em vote Republican!

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    OMG so true! They really need to do this. There are too many confrontations between cyclists and peds on the bridge and its impossible for either group to have an enjoyable experience on that crammed path. I mentioned this on the Vision 0 map (which for some reason there’s no longer a feature to add more comments).

  • FLYINGCHOPSTIK

    I agree with you that Soho/Chinatown is very dangerous for riding. We should all contact the district’s city council member to address those issues. The more of us thats speak up, the more they will listen.

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