Streetfilms: The Sands Street Bike Path, a New Kind of Bridge Approach

Chalk up more bikeway innovation
to the folks at the NYC Department of Transportation. Nearly
complete, the Sands Street approach to the Manhattan Bridge is now
safer and more enjoyable thanks to a New York City first: a
center-median, two-way protected bike path. The facility is a
perfect solution to counter the dangers posed by a tangle of roads and
highway on-ramps that burden the area. Dramatic before-and-afters tell
the delicious story.

We’ll also take you back into the archives to April 2005, when, following a severe injury to Transportation Alternatives
Noah Budnick, advocates held a passionate rally asking Mayor Bloomberg to not only improve bike access to the Manhattan
Bridge, but to all East River bridges. Four years later, there’s much
to be proud of. As DOT Assistant Commissioner for
Traffic Management Ryan Russo points out, back in 2005 about 800 cyclists used the
bridge daily. In 2009, those numbers have soared to over 2,600. That
gives us a serious case of happiness.

  • Brooklyn

    That’s a nice film. I had just started commuting in 2005, and would _never_ use Sands Street at the time — that I thought Jay St was safer says a lot.

    I use Sands every day now.

  • Geck

    I too am a convert, happy to stay away from Jay.

  • I am envious. Deeply, even bitterly envious. Good job, New York. The patched-together, haphazard, and largely non-existent bike infrastructure we have in San Francisco is truly pathetic in comparison.

  • nice bike friday.

  • taomom, don’t get the wrong idea: NY is still pretty far behind SF when it comes to bike facilities and connectivity (and general rideability: drivers are a LOT more accommodating in SF). But we’re closing in fast.

  • J

    800 to 2,600 is a massive jump! With increases like these, cycling will quickly transition from a fringe group of the brave/crazy to a recognized legitimate transportation mode. This means that the debate will shift from “Are bike lanes appropriate?” to “How do we accommodate bikes on this street?”. It’s already starting to happen, as most politicians in Manhattan, Brooklyn, south Bronx, and inner Queens at least say they support bike lanes. However, Mr. Thompson has shown us that (proposed) actions still speak louder than words.

  • i left new york about 6 months ago for san fran and will be returning soon. in all honesty, i would say that new york has better infrastructure, but the conditions for cyclists in san francisco – a city 1/4 the size of brooklyn – favor cyclists. drivers are generally “nicer” here and there are fewer of them(though i’ve had people threaten to run me over here too!). there is less street traffic, therefore less need to be aggressive. and streets are typically wider. the one thing sf has is the impending market street car ban. would love to see the same thing on broadway, but that will probably never happen.

  • I may not always agree with some things NYCDoT does for bicycle access but this project seems like a Grandslam of innovative bicycle design. I will definately try to make it over to Brooklyn while I’m in town next week for Walk21.

    Nice work NYCDoT!

  • twowheelsarebetterthannone

    This makes Toronto look pathetic. There’s just too much back-and-forth whining and arguing by both sides (drivers & cyclists) with what feels like little work by city hall to put anything like what New York and some places in Europe have going on.

  • Canonchet

    The Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge is now infinitely approved, but the relatively light traffic on the new internal bike lane may not look to many non-bikers as if it were worth the expense. Until the Manhattan side of the Bridge bikeway is similarly upgraded — including safe and easy access to the West Side — that won’t change much.

    The The Brooklyn Bridge is still the greater challenge, in terms of use and access, especially on the Manhattan side. We may not like it, but Robert Sullivan was right about bikes and the Brooklyn Bridge in the Times Week in Review section Sunday ( And the pro-bike lobby represented in Streetsblog and Transportation Alternatives needs to pay heed rather than cry foul.

    As urban biking has increased, so has anti-bike sentiment. The non-biking populace still outnumbers our cycling crowd by at least a hundred to one. Pedestrians fearful of being clipped by bikers at crosswalks don’t stop and think how grateful they are that bikes aren’t SUVs. We bike riders may see ourselves as eco-friendly contributors to traffic decongestion, but to many pedestrians we are just pests. There is a reason why Bill Thompson concluded that Mayor Bloomberg’s blessing of bike lanes is a point of vulnerability for the incumbent, even in cycle-happy Williamsburg.

    As Sullivan argues, the wonderful Brooklyn Bridge walkway is one of those places that is now making a bad relationship worse.

    A decade or less ago you could walk or bike across the bridge with something approaching a sense of restful solitude. That’s long gone, with more New Yorkers biking everywhere and every tourist guidebook urging a Bridge stroll (followed by the mandatory pizza at the former Patsy’s). On weekends the pedestrian side of the path can barely accommodate the foot traffic.

    For almost two decades I’ve been a regular from-and-to-Brooklyn bike commuter. The Manhattan Bridge is best for heading up the East Side, but for Wall Street or Tribeca or the Hudson the Brooklyn is still the only way to go. But after ten minutes on the bridge as a mere pedestrian I’m ready to sign a bike-banning petition.This is an architectural treasure, not a velodrome. Bikers still usually enjoy more personal space on the bridge than walkers, the pedestrians wandering blindly into bike lanes notwithstanding. Yet as a group we bikers can seem selfish and outright rude, thanks to snarling shouts at straying walkers from the off-to-the-races Lycra brigade. Bridge walkers are not all clueless tourists, either. There are plenty of ordinary Brooklynites and Manhattanites headed for work or out on errands while also enjoying the views and fresh air. Not all path-clogging snapshot-takers are out-of-towners either: listen to them talking, if you slow down enough to hear.

    So Sullivan is correct: something has to give. Putting bikes on the roadways below with the cars may not be the best alternative, though.

    Creating dedicated bike paths on the bridge roadways would reduce an already congested and narrow three-lane bridge crossing to just two, one of which each way is essentially an exit lane, to Cadman Plaza/Fulton Street and the FDR, respectively. The bike paths would have to go on the inside lanes, which makes bridge approaches and exits physically tricky, and probably prohibitively expensive. And they would still snarl inbound and outbound auto traffic, even if adopted as part of a bridge-toll congestion pricing plan.

    Here are five alternative ideas, in roughly declining order of ambition:

    * Retrofitting: Build new bike paths paralleling the wooden pedestrian walk on each side, some five feet above with light protective fencing, right over the roadway. Use as the undergirding the existing steel framework over the roadways. Horrified preservationists can be reminded that this would be just the latest transport-mode alteration of the iconic span, `and with minor visual impact. Granted, this framework inconveniently ends before the bridge does, in both directions, but extensions could perhaps be cantilevered down to return to the inside walkway entrance and exit. Or, better, on the Manhattan side, create bike flyways from the new overhead bike lanes in and out of City Hall Park.
    * Bike speed limits: Coasting down the bridge slopes unimpeded, a bike quickly reaches 15-20 mph, too fast at peak use times given the proximity of pedestrians. Add a little aggressive pedaling and downhill bike speed can exceed 25 mph, a speed that is dangerous to nearby walkers and slower-moving bikers alike. Screaming ‘on your left’ or ‘get off the bleeping bike path’ is not a civicly acceptable compromise. How about a voluntarily observed 10mph cycling limit on the bridge, at least on weekends, perhaps with radar-gun signs signaling a biker’s speed?
    * The Coney Island precedent: The boardwalk at the beach is open to bikes from 5 am to 10 am only. That seems to work well, allowing reasonable access to recreational bikers but avoiding conflicts and congestion when pedestrian traffic gets too heavy for both. The Bridge path is quite different, as a weekday commuter route, but it could also be closed to bike traffic after 10 am on weekends when tourism and recreational bridge strolling doubles or triples the average weekday pedestrian flow.
    * The Manhattan Transfer: Biking the Manhattan Bridge instead would be more popular if there were a clear, protected east-west bike route between the bridge and the West Side. Build it now, with barriers and signposts and all, a block south of Canal all the way to the Hudson River Greenway. And that includes a rethinking and rebuilding of the current bridge access and exit routes on the Manhattan side, which after the last series of improvements still requires adept dodging of delivery vans, intercity buses, pedestrians and skateboarders.
    * And finally, get those City Hall and Board of Ed cars with their spurious parking passes off the bike path in front of City Hall Park. The southbound bike lane directly across from the Brooklyn Bridge entrance should be one of New York’s busiest, but has instead long been a free linear parking lot for assorted municipal functionaries, forcing bikes out into intense traffic or onto the already crowded sidewalk. Fixing this won’t resolve bike-vs.-walker tensions in the greater Bridge area, but it would keep a few more bikers off the sidewalks, away from the buses and out of the emergency rooms. Call it the Broken-Bikepath Theory of Transportation Mismanagement: You can hardly expect your average car-driving civilian to respect bike lanes as no-parking zones if this elemental rule is brazenly flouted by senior city officials in one of the most visible and critical marked bike lanes in the city. Nor can you expect the police to start ticketing parked cars for blocking bike lanes elsewhere if this rule is never enforced right in front of City Hall. Instead, the police now also use the bike lane as a workday parking zone.


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