What’s Happening to the Manhattan Bridge Bike Path at Canal Street?


Cyclists who’ve crossed the Manhattan Bridge this summer should be familiar with this sight. It’s the construction project at the foot of the bike path on the Manhattan side. This is the view from Canal and Chrystie.

We’ve been trying to find out exactly what’s going on here, but so far the answers from DOT have been pretty vague. Here’s what we know:

  • DOT is installing "access control improvements" on both sides of the Manhattan Bridge bicycle path and pedestrian path. A notice sent to local community boards last month says the project will prevent "unauthorized vehicle access" and "enhance safety" for pedestrians and cyclists. We later learned that this refers to the installation of bollards. So far, so good.
  • A reader reports that construction workers said they were shaving down the turning radius for vehicles at this corner. This is where drivers exiting the bridge turn right on to Canal Street. If this project gives drivers more space to make that turn, they’ll take the curve faster right before crossing the path of cyclists exiting and entering the bridge. (Check after the jump for a shot of that intersection.) DOT’s press office has neither confirmed nor denied that the finished project will include a turn designed for faster car speeds.
  • This is a "high-security" project and DOT won’t release renderings or plans. The work, which is being carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, will last until January.

When all is said and done, will this project encourage higher vehicle speeds at one of the most critical points in the city’s bike network? Maybe that’s the kind of thing the progressive elements within DOT won’t allow to happen. One would certainly hope so.

You’d also think the new DOT wouldn’t try to improve safety on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx by taking a few pages from the 1960s-era "forgiving highway" approach to street design. But they are.

Canal_street_at_night.jpgMotorists turning right onto Canal from the Manhattan Bridge immediately hit the signalized intersection where cyclists access the bridge. Photo: Neotint/Flickr.

  • Grinner

    I’d guess that the purpose of shaving the turning radius would be to keep the long vehicles from driving into the park to make the turn. When i was riding over the MB every day, i noticed that the posts for the chain-link fence had a very short life-expectancy.

    Personally, i’d prefer making that a no right turn intersection, even though that’d increase VMT for deliveries. Making what is essentially a 180 hairpin turn with anything longer than a tandem bicycle seems a recipe for bodywork. But, if they aren’t going to require taking the big Chrystie-Grand-Allen-Canal loop, then i think making the corner less tight is probably a goodness.

  • Tightening the turn will slow cars down, Ben. If they were taking space out of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park on the north side of Canal Street, then I would be worried.

  • Speculation/snap-judgment: It looked to me like they’re making the turn more regular.

    It used to be sharpest at the beginning, reducing driver visibility and encouraging acceleration around the corner. Corps has sliced into the road one to two feet off the curb, I think to create a much smoother curve than was there previously.

    Maybe this is just plus or minus eighteen inches either way, and a giant waste of cash. But my hunch is it’ll benefit both cars and bikes; letting drivers predict and maintain a reasonable speed, and giving slightly more space to us.

  • No mention of the fact that making the path narrower here, on the really hilly part, will mean that zooming-downhill cyclists and slow uphill cyclists will have a much narrower space to negotiate the hilly blind corner where they all have to turn. I predict lots of head-on bike collisions.

  • benbo

    It doesn’t seem like big trucks are able to make that turn- I saw one stuck in the bike lane median when they first installed it.

  • Josh

    Smoothing the turn out seems like a good idea; better visibility for cars coming down off the bridge.

  • I haven’t felt any need to be alarmist about this though the workers aren’t supposed to say what they’re working on. Whenever I’ve asked they’ve always said in an awkward ashamed manner that I’d have to call 311 to find out more, but that 311 probably wouldn’t tell me anything either.

    I assumed this was part of the plaza they’re building on top of the bridge and around Forsyth St:


    “The Forsyth Street plaza will provide additional sidewalk space along the western portion of Forsyth Street to enhance the street environment currently alongside and underneath the Manhattan Bridge. In addition, the project will create an upper plaza on a vacant portion of property adjacent the bridge’s off-ramp so that residents and cyclists traveling off the bridge can enjoy public open space that looks down upon Forsyth Street and the surrounding neighborhood. In total, the project provides up to 10,000 square feet of new public space.”

    Name:Forsyth Streetscape and Plaza Reconstruction(HWPLZ008M)
    Client Agency:Transportation
    Cost:$1 M – 5 M
    Projected Completion Date:07/17/2012
    Scope:Construction of the plaza along Forsyth Street from Canal to Division Street, to include the creation of a plaza on the upper level of the Manhattan Bridge.


  • Eugene V. Resnick

    Has there been any talk of having a bicycle and pedestrian crossing across Canal St. right at the intersection of Chrystie, instead of making cyclists go down that short block, and then back up? It is not such a big deal (going down the little block and then back up), but it feels like cyclists are being inconvenienced in order to allow for higher volume and higher speed exiting off the Manhattan Bridge.

  • There’s also a very similar situation at the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge, which has not had any recent improvements (unlike the bridges to/from Brooklyn). Cyclists are forced to detour down the hill to 1st Avenue, substantially out of most people’s way.

  • Josh

    Eugene, I can’t imagine that’s under consideration, since the whole thing was basically just built as it is.

  • On the issue of detours at bridge entrances, I don’t think it’s such a hot idea to drop both cars and bikes off at the same intersection. On the Manhattan Bridge, the turning detour gives Manhattan-bound bikers a chance to slow down and reintegrate with the street traffic, rather than cannonballing directly into turning auto traffic.

    Back in the late nineties, the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge had stairs from Pitt St to the road level, then another set of stairs up to the walkway/bikeway level. I didn’t like the stairs a whole lot, but I would much rather exit the bridge at Pitt St & Delancey St, where there isn’t so much traffic and you can ride straight up Pitt St, Avenue C, and the FDR service road all the way to 23rd Street. Getting off the bridge and ending up on the Delancey St median, then sharing Clinton St. with the bridge traffic to go uptown, isn’t very pleasant.

  • Doug

    Did anyone else notice the total absurdity of the Pelham Parkway article? They say they will cut down trees to save lives… and then later say that taking down 200 trees is so unacceptable, they would never let it happen! Which one is it?

  • We have an answer:

    What is the ACE doing on the north side of the Manhattan Bridge Manhattan approach, at the corner of Canal and Chrystie Streets? There is an ACE sign there but it’s hard to tell what’s going on.

    — Posted by Jonathan

    Jonathan, thanks for asking about the work we’re doing on the north side of the Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan approach. The United States Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, has been retained by the New York City Department of Traffic to construct access control improvements at the entrances of the Manhattan Bridge bikeway and walkway. The measures will prevent unauthorized vehicle access to the bridge, thereby enhancing both the security of the bridge and the safety of pedestrians and cyclists crossing these bridges. The work is expected to be completed in January 2010.

    From this week’s City Room Q&A feature with Col. John R. Boulé II


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