DOT’s Missed Opportunity on the Manhattan Bridge

On Friday, Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall stood up in front of 600 people at Borough President Stringer’s Transportation Policy Conference and said that her agency was serious about reducing car use in New York City. It was a great policy speech.

Then on Sunday morning I flipped on the radio and heard that the lower roadway of the Manhattan Bridge would be closed for repairs for a year. Throughout the day on Sunday and then again this morning, the local media has faithfully repeated this message from the City:

The Department of Transportation is urging drivers to use alternate routes and roadways, even though the upper level of the bridge will remain open during construction.

Today’s message to area commuters would have been a great opportunity for the City to begin implementing the new policy direction that Weinshall put forward on Friday. In addition to urging drivers to use alternative routes and roadways, DOT should also be urging drivers to use the many alternative modes that are available to commuters crossing the East River—rail, buses, bicycles, ferries, and the under-utilized Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Unfortunately, DOT is not seizing on this opportunity.

Is this nitpicking? I don’t think so. In the end, it is the moments like this that count far more than a big policy speech at Columbia University. Today, the city’s message on the Manhattan Bridge closure is being repeated ad nauseum throughout the region’s various news channels. DOT has the ear of the region’s commuters. The agency has the chance to let the region’s car commuters know, in a subtle, non-threatening and entirely helpful way, that with the Manhattan Bridge’s car-carrying capacity greatly reduced there are better ways to transport themselves into Manhattan than by car. So, why isn’t DOT doing that?

It is one thing to make a great policy speech. It is a far different thing to implement policy. A policy speech doesn’t mean that much if the content of that speech doesn’t filter down into the day-to-day culture, communications and operations of city government. Commissioner Weinshall needs to make that happen.

Photo: GoCarlo

  • david

    Funny, as I watched Weinshall on NY1 today, I thought the same thing. So no, it’s not nitpicking, it’s just common sense. It wouldn’t have hurt Weinshall to say, “Use mass transportation, maybe even use one of the trains that cross the Manhattan bridge”

  • mfs

    doesn’t this work also close down the one fully-accessible entrance to the manhattan bridge for bikes?

  • I would take it one step further. Not only should they be urging people to take mass transit and other modes, they should be coordinating with other agencies to enhance the attractiveness of those alternatives.

    This year when Shea Stadium closed half it’s parking lot, they did at least urge people to take mass transit. However, there is still no elevator for disabled people at the subway station, forcing them to drive. There is no express service on the Number 7 train back into Manhattan resulting in an hour long trip. There are an inadequate number of turnstiles to handle the rush at the end of the game. There isn’t even buses to bring people to satellite parking facilities near LaGuardia.

    The DOT could have not only urged the use of mass transit and other alternatives to driving, they could have used this opportunity to build out those alternatives encouraging new patterns of transportation for the next decade and beyond.

  • mfs – now pedestrians and cyclists are sharing the one open path.

  • there’s plenty of room – i took that path this morning…

    they even put those tiny ramp thing-ies on the steps so you can roll your bike up if you want

  • AD

    Aaron, phenomenal point.

    "[W]ith the Manhattan Bridge’s car-carrying capacity greatly reduced there are better ways to transport themselves into Manhattan than by car."

    In particular, there are better ways to transport themselves over the Manhattan Bridge: Namely, the bike/ped lane and the B, D, N and Q lines.

    The MTA spent 1986 to 2004 restoring service to all four Manhattan Bridge subway tracks. The DOT could capitalize on the fact that all four tracks are finally back in service and encourage people to fully use the great restored train service.

  • Today the city announced its plans for Flatbush Avenue. From the small opportunity available, it seems like another missed opportunity.

    My architecture studio at the University of Miami is working on the Atlantic Yards / Forest City Ratner / Gehry site: in two of the the three master plans we’ve made that stretch of Flatbush a Parisian-style boulevard, with 12′ traffic lanes, 2 local roads with parking, and 3 planted medians and wide sidewalks (the third plan narrowed Flatbush and made it part of a pair of one-way couplets along with that stretch of Pacific).

    In the last 50 years, we’ve made many of our streets auto sewers, and trees and pretty lights aren’t enough to counteract that. Flatbush is one of the worst, and it really needs some rethinking to reclaim its balance for pedestrians.

  • “From the small opportunity available”???

    Sorry, make that “From the small amount of info available…”

    Let’s hope that’s wrong. Maybe the City has, for example, narrowed the absurdly wide (and thus fast) lane widths NYC normally uses.

  • jk

    Re: Flatbush

    John — That sounds like Queens Blvd. Planting trees doesnt compensate for a right of way that just too wide for pedestrians.

    Gigantism of any kind works much better for people in cars than people on foot.

  • You’re right. A traffic engineer may think Queens Boulevard, an auto sewer if ever there was one, is a “boulevard,” but take a look at the books “Great Streets” and “The Boulevard Book” — or take a trip to Paris — and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    Flatbush Avenue east of Times Plaza is very wide. It’s also an auto sewer, but doesn’t have to be.

  • someguy

    I’m sorry but that plan doesn’t seem to compute. Flatbush Ave is relatively narrow in Downtown Brooklyn given the amount of lanes it has – and the lane widths are definitely not larger than 12′. How the heck are you going to turn it into 3 separate roadways with 3 medians, all without widening the road right-of-way and/or narrowing the sidewalks? Also, how do you turn a diagonal road like Flatbush Ave into a one-way pair with an east-west road like Pacific Street?
    More generally, how do you master plan for a site in NYC when you’re in Florida? Just curious 🙂

  • Clarence

    It might sound like this is nitpicking alright, but I agree with many other posters here. When I heard this announcement on NY1 and again on CBS2 my immediate thought was, “where is the part of the press release that says instead of driving perhaps you should choose mass transit?”

    But I think we are all here to help enlighten our Commissioner who has given us signs of optimisim. I’ll be looking forward to the next similar situation to see if the statement does include better wording and encouragement to get out of the car.

  • Hannah

    A similar opportunity presented itself–and was missed–with the closing of the 145th Street Bridge beginning today. It’s not until the very end of the announcement, after detour info for drivers in both directions, that you get to the fact that the subway is not affected. Peds have to detour too.


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