Pedestrians and cyclists don’t have to settle for scraps of space on the Pulaski Bridge any more. This morning, the bridge’s new two-way protected bikeway officially opened to the public, the culmination of a four-year effort to improve biking and walking access between Greenpoint and Long Island City.
The Pulaski carries thousands of cyclists between Queens and Brooklyn across Newtown Creek each day, according to DOT. For many years, cyclists and pedestrians had to squeeze onto a single narrow path, while motorists zoomed along on six lanes of congestion-free roadway. The Pulaski path became more congested every year as housing and jobs boomed on both sides of the bridge.
Assembly Member Joe Lentol began pushing DOT for the project in late 2012 after meeting with local residents frustrated by the increasingly crowded conditions on the path. The engineering challenge of providing sufficient protection for cyclists on the drawbridge section of the Pulaski proved surmountable, and construction was initially set to conclude by the end of 2014.
Red tape and construction delays pushed the project back more than a year, and the long wait came to an end with today’s grand opening. The project cost $4.9 million and was funded by the city with support from the Federal Highway Administration.
The Pulaski project is the most prominent example of the city repurposing car lanes on a bridge for biking and walking since Transportation Alternatives won the full-time use of a lane on the Queensboro Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists in 2000 (a fight that lasted no less than 22 years).
Other bridges could use similar treatments. The Brooklyn Bridge and Queensboro Bridge both have bike-ped paths that get uncomfortably crowded, and DOT is currently working to improve bike-ped crossings on the Harlem River.
DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Planning Ryan Russo led a group of department officials, advocates, and electeds on an inaugural ride on the bikeway from Long Island City to Greenpoint this morning.
Russo hailed the Pulaski project as an important step in connecting the two boroughs. “This bridge really illustrates the power of infrastructure to shrink distances,” he said. The Pulaski project was “one of the first times,” he added, that DOT has done a “bike and pedestrian capital project” on a bridge.
Russo was joined by Lentol, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan.
“This is one of those days that really makes a politician happy,” Lentol said. “There was a problem, a solution was found — even though they said it couldn’t be done — and it was implemented.”
“The only way we get to Vision Zero is by having visionaries that won’t allow a drawbridge to be a drawback on how we continue the expansion of alternative transportation,” Adams said. “The old way of commuting is behind us.”
Bike connections to the Pulaski, especially on the Queens side, could still use improvement. DOT and the Department of Design and Construction are planning a complete reconstruction of Long Island City’s streets, but the preliminary plan does not call for a protected bike lane on 11th Street, which feeds directly into the Pulaski.
I asked Russo if DOT is planning to build a protected bike lane on 11th Street. “We have connections [in Long Island City] now, but we will be looking to upgrade them as part of incorporating that comprehensive area-wide plan,” he said.