First Look: A Walkable, Bikeable Gateway to the Brooklyn Bridge

brooklyn_bridge_gateway.jpgThe proposed boulevard-style entryway to the Brooklyn Bridge. Image: NYCDOT.

Last week DOT unveiled this conceptual plan for a better gateway to the Brooklyn Bridge [PDF]. For the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who access the bridge on the Brooklyn side every day, it’s a winner.

Presented at a public meeting in downtown Brooklyn, the new design features a more generous, boulevard-style bike-ped access ramp to the bridge, plus wider medians and sidewalks, curb extensions, and separated bike lanes on each of the three approaches to the ramp. If implemented, the proposal would greatly improve safety at one of the most complex, heavily-trafficked intersections in the city.

The project is still in its early stages. This plan, based on input from an earlier public workshop in January, will be refined again, with DOT aiming to bring a more finished proposal before Community Board 2 this fall. The multi-million dollar reconstruction of Tillary Street and Adams Street, which cross paths at the foot of the ramp, is slated to begin in 2012.

A reader who went to last week’s workshop tells us the reception was generally positive. About 40 people attended, and after DOT’s presentation, everyone marked up large copies of the plan with notes about what they liked and didn’t like.

Some highlights from the concept plan:

  • The entry ramp, currently a concrete barrier-lined chute where pedestrians and cyclists vie for space on a 10-foot wide path, would expand to a 14-foot wide path with plantings on each side. To make room, existing medians would be consolidated and service lanes on Adams Street would be eliminated or reduced in width.
  • Two-way protected bike paths would extend at least one block in each direction from the foot of the ramp. On Adams Street, cyclists would have a straight shot to and from the ramp thanks to a center median two-way bike path.
  • More pedestrian space — including wider sidewalks, medians and curb extensions — all along Tillary from Clinton Street to Flatbush Avenue. Similar treatment on Adams directly south of the access ramp.

The city is, in some ways, making up for lost time on this one. An earlier DOT regime passed up the chance to improve safety at the Tillary/Adams intersection when the Adams Street median was redesigned in 1998.

More graphics from DOT’s concept plan after the jump.

adams_tillary.jpgThe intersection of Adams and Tillary in DOT’s concept plan. The foot of the Brooklyn Bridge access ramp is at the top of the picture. Proposed additions and enhancements to ped/bike areas are shaded lighter than existing sidewalk. For a look at the existing conditions and the full plan, see this PDF.

access_ramp_geometry.jpgProposed geometry for the bridge access ramp. Image: NYCDOT.

  • Pete

    It’s all really pretty, and it’s definitely needed.

    With that, it doesn’t address what’s becoming an incresingly untenable situation with the volume of pedestrians and bicycles on the pathway over the Brooklyn Bridge – with the summer tourist season upon us, the bike path has become completely overrun, creating a dangerous situation for bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

    Is there anything going on at DOT to address this problem?

  • Brooklyn

    Pete, the Manhattan Bridge bike and pedestrian ways could easily take a 20-30% increase in use and still seem underused. As a cyclist, I never use the Brooklyn Bridge at anything approaching a peak time if I’m heading uptown in Manhattan, or if I’m heading downtown back to Brooklyn.

    Unless you’re heading deep into the financial district, there’s only a 5 minute difference to get to most of the same places.

    My cutoff for using the Brooklyn is 8a on a weekend, 6:30a on a weekday. It’s an iconic ride, but frankly, the views are just as good from the ugly duckling right up the river. And with the subway next to you instead of traffic below you, you’re not sucking up fumes.

  • Pete

    Unfortunately, the Manhattan Bridge does not provide easy access to the West Side Greenway, which the Brooklyn Bridge does. That’s key for getting to most locations West of 7th avenue.

  • I was at this meeting and the plan is phenomenal. My understanding is that the DOT will need more funding than is currently allotted to make this a reality. Funding for this plan — and what gets cut if funding doesn’t come through — will be a big question moving forward.

    I live at Tillary & Jay, and the protected bike bath on Tillary will transform this incredibly dangerous street. The suite of pedestrian improvements will help connect the neighborhood which is currently divided by traffic-clogged wide streets. There’s very little not to like.

  • I would prefer the 2004 flyover plan. Having cars and bikes all accessing the bridge approach at the same intersection (Adams & Tillary) causes problems.

    Let’s go whole hog and build an elevated path for peds and bikes above Tillary St along Adams St all the way to Willoughby St, where it can turn east and descend onto the pedestrianized block between Adams and Pearl Sts.

  • Manny B

    The Manhattan Bridge is much better for commuting by bike, but still, there’s always at least one pedestrian lollygagging on the bicycle side of the bridge. Maybe better signage at both ends of the Manhattan Bridge would keep pedestrians on the south side of the bridge?

  • I love it, but I’m with the commenter above. I never use the Brooklyn Bridge (only on very cold winter days). It’s just too uncomfortable with tourists wandering around — not that I blame them, as the bridge is lovely and the demarcation between the bike and pedestrian space is horrible.

    Has anyone noticed that the approach to the Manhattan Bridge from the Navy Yard is starting to look like a bike path separated from traffic by concrete medians? I know that this was promised years ago, but I had given up on it. Is it really going to happen?

  • Brian

    I think it’s great that they’re doing this – it’s long overdue. More room for cyclists and pedestrians is desperately needed on the bridge approach and the bridge itself. What I didn’t notice is whether they have any plan to widen the existing paths on the actual bridge. No cyclist with half a brain would ride over the Brooklyn Bridge near peak hours and expect pedestrians to respect the bike path – I’m an avid cyclist and I rarely ever ride over the Brooklyn Bridge. I think that pedestrians reserve the right to be generally oblivious to their surroundings. No one should have to feel like they need to follow traffic laws lest they get flattened by a cyclist with no brakes while going for a stroll over a national landmark.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Another possibility would be to eliminate the Tillary Street access point altogether and build a full-width gradual ramp down to Cadman Plaza East/Washington Street (where the stairs are now), with a two-way barrier-separated bikeway extending from there up past the courts.

    Except that court personnel would park on it, of course.

    As a pedestrian, I would never use the Tillary Street approach. The entire length to the stairs there is little to see, and you are stuck next to the noise and fumes of traffic. I always tell tourists to take the A to High Street, and the Red Cross Building stair to the stairway entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • rlb

    Bottom line is bikes don’t belong on the Brooklyn Bridge path. One of the car lanes going opposite peak should be dedicated to cyclists. They could switch it for the morning and evening rush.
    They should try it out for summer streets!

  • Streetsman

    Yes that is supposed to be a center median separated bike path on Sands Street connecting to the lanes on Navy Street

  • bc

    May be a bit off topic, but someone mentioned it above, isn’t there a way to better encourage peds to south side of manhattan bridge? It’s silly that with all of this talk of lack of space (which is true) this side is really virtually unused.

  • Peds would maybe use the south side of the Manhattan Bridge if they could access it.

    It’s currently accessible only from the southwest side of the bridge, southeast corner of Bowery and Canal; most of the Chinatown foot traffic seems to cross on the north side of Canal, down the hill toward the LES, walkin’ in the separated bike lanes toward Forsyth.

    I’m comfortable waiting until the next round of Manhattan Bridge approach improvements, and hoping that add’l cyclist load helps to keep the way clear until then.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Isn’t there a way to better encourage peds to south side of Manhattan Bridge? It’s silly that with all of this talk of lack of space (which is true) this side is really virtually unused.”

    In NYC if you are alone in an isolated location, you are in danger. The presence of cyclists attracts the peds to the north side of the bridge. The abscence of other peds makes them fear the South Side.

    The Manhattan Bridge is not popular with tourists. The way to change that is to post a large map at the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge encouraging them to make a loop, ending with lunch or dinner in Chinatown, and also promote that loop in tourist literature.

    On the Brooklyn side a large, multi-lingual sign would have to direct them to the stairs, and several more would have to direct them on the streets to the Manhattan Bridge entrance — or to Brooklyn Bridge park, if they wanted to make a stop.

    Just the other day a tourist stopped me on the Brooklyn Bridge in and asked how to get to the Manhattan Bridge on the Brooklyn side. I explained as best I could, but the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge is really the only entrance that is easy to find.

    If the tourists were only heading to Brooklyn, rather than going over and back, there would be less crowding on its pedestrian side. And if there were more tourists on the sought side of the Manhattan, locals would be less fearful of using it.

  • Larry,

    Great idea, promoting a loop to tourists that ends you up in Chinatown!

  • Brooklyn

    Re: West side Greenway access from Manhattan Bridge — very true, no direct street to the West Side like Chambers. But jeez, Chambers — with its lunar pavement, gutter-tightrope riding — that’s a shaky definition of direct. I get most places faster on the West Side using Reade –> Hudson.

    The Manhattan Bridge has direct access to the Chrystie St. bike pass, fastest way to Houston St.

  • This plan significantly improves access to the Manhattan Bridge as well from my neighborhood, with that protected lane in the median on Adams. Currently I ride two blocks out of the way every morning to use the Clinton Street bicycle lane. Being able to safely ride down Adams, a street I happen live on, would be excellent.

    And… like most regular cyclists I avoid the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s great that they’re working on this particular spot. The giant crash barricade and uneven pavement make conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists almost inevitable; no one knows where to go, there’s no room to maneuver, cars are often stopped in the crosswalk, and everyone is tense from being within inches of 50 mph hour traffic. Weekend cyclists brush by walkers, and suddenly it’s modal armageddon at the bottom of the auto-centric transportation hierarchy.

    Implement this plan, please!

  • This is going to be a great improvement. I hope they make the area at the base of the bike/ped ramp large enough to accommodate the volume of people that crowd it at peak times. Can’t another lane be appropriated for that island?

    Also,why can’t protected bike lanes run all the way from Tillary to Atlantic so that there’s a safer connection to the Bergen and Dean Street bike lanes? I can’t grasp why anyone thinks that after one block of protected riding, cyclists should be exposed to dangerous traffic. Adams street isn’t magically safer one block from the bridge.

    I also have to agree with the other streetsbloggers who questioned how increased cycling volume on The Brooklyn Bridge will be handled. This has been a sore spot for pedestrians and cyclists for a while now and adding more recreational cyclists at peak times is not going to fix it. If DOT wants people to use The Brooklyn Bridge for commuting and sightseeing they need to implement a better solution for bikes on the bridge. I ride the bridge all the time and I don’t blame pedestrians for getting in my way,(I wouldn’t let a little white paint stop me from getting that perfect shot on my vacation) but it’s still a disaster.

  • Brian

    Well said Dan

  • Here is another opportunity for me to invite Pete, Brian, Larry, Rlb, David, Nathan and everyone else to join me and Dan in the Brooklyn Bridge Cycle Track Advocates Livable Streets Network group.

    Also, I think the approach is long overdue for improvements. When people walk across the bridge, they should be welcomed with infrastructure that invites them to visit Brooklyn, not a forbidding concrete chute that makes them go right back to Manhattan.

    Finally, I love Larry’s idea for a loop walk. Maybe the Chinatown and DUMBO business owners can help out. Geoff Lee, are you there?

  • Daniel S.

    I think this is a fantastic idea. The Brooklyn approach for the Brooklyn Bridge is almost perversely unfriendly to pedestrians.

    I live in the area and I often run the Brooklyn to Manhattan Bridge loop, and I can confirm that the south side of the Manhattan Bridge sees virtually no foot traffic. I think part of that is how hidden away it is. If you walk up Canal to get to there, looking across that huge intersection, you would hardly know there was a pedestrian walkway there. Also, I can sympathize with anyone who has safety concerns. I have never personally felt uncomfortable there, but it is pretty well isolated from the very beginning.

    I’m not sure that the Manhattan Bridge will ever see much more casual foot traffic than it already gets, though. It is a lot less pleasant to be on than the Brooklyn Bridge. Although the train is nice because it doesn’t emit exhaust, it is incredibly noisy. I imagine that better maintenance could reduce the sound, but heavy rail like that is always going to be loud. The chain link fence makes the pathway feel a little claustrophobic and institutional. It seems to take them a while to remove graffiti there, too. The view is nice if you can ignore the fence but it’s otherwise a kind of depressing space.

    Also, both approaches are pretty bad. The Manhattan side, in addition to being easy to miss, forces you to cross a big intersection. If there were heavy foot traffic on the south side the way there is on the Brooklyn Bridge it would be even more crowded on the corner of Canal and Bowery, and Canal itself would practically have to become a pedestrian mall. Even without any pedestrian through-traffic, that street is packed most of the day.

    The Brooklyn side might be worse. A tourist could get lost pretty easily on that side, and it’s ugly as anything to boot. Lastly, there’s really not great subway access on either side. I wouldn’t expect tourists–who seem to make up the great bulk of foot traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge–to walk more than a block or two to find a station. I might be underestimating the average tourist, I guess, but that’s my estimate. One of the reasons there is such heavy foot traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, even though none of it seems to make it across to the Brooklyn side, is that the City Hall stop is right at the Manhattan entrance.

    As far as solutions to the pedestrian problem on the Brooklyn Bridge go, I think the Manhattan Bridge is the wrong place to look, unless it’s to improve bike infrastructure there.

    One easy step that might help on the Brooklkyn Bridge would be to repaint the lines more frequently. Some tourists walk in the bike lane because they’re rude, but a lot of them seem genuinely surprised when they realize that there is a bike lane there. I can’t blame them, sometimes. Those lines get badly faded before they’re repainted.

    Anyway, I hope this project gets done in a timely fashion. I look forward to seeing that awful concrete stop removed.

  • EDUB

    Wouldn’t it be better to put the cars approaching the bridge in short tunnels instead of creating a flyover? That would make for a prettier plaza and more friendly biking/walking experience. Imagine a short cut and cover tunnel for the right turn from west-bound Tillary onto the bridge approach, and a similar longer tunnel for east-bound Tillary.

  • Some intriguing possibilities here. If they make the intersection friendlier, and if they find a way to accommodate flow over the bridge, they also need to find a way to improve the timing of the traffic light at Tillary and Adams accordingly.

    Regarding the choice of which bridge to use, the Brooklyn Bridge path is more crowded and a less preferable surface, yes, but it also is accessible from the top of the hill rather than only down on Sands Street, in addition to the points discussed above about a quicker trip to the West Side (and yes, as Brooklyn @ #16 pointed out, it makes much more sense to use Reade than Chambers).

  • Mike

    Ugh. This project makes me glad we no longer live in Concord Village. While it looks nice, it doesn’t really do much for the people living on Adams St, aside from placing their front doors directly on the highway. The service road, while busy, is a relative oasis, making it easier for parking, walking, hailing cabs (loved walking out my door, stepping on the median between the service road and highway and waiting for a cab) and pulling into and out of driveways.

    Under this plan, aside from losing already limited parking (which was only of a concern when we had guests as we didn’t have a car until near the end of our living there), people will be forced to park along a busy road, not to mention that heavy traffic will now be 12 to 24 feet closer to the apartment buildings. I’d hate to live in 175, 215 & 235 Adams if this goes through.

    I’m not saying what is there now (or at least 3 months ago which is the last time I was in our old neighborhood) is wonderful, far from it, but this seems to be another example of the city doing something nice for everybody but those who would have to live with the consequences.


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