Peds and Cyclists Fighting for Space on the Pulaski Bridge

pulaskibikes2.jpgNew lane markings split up an already-tiny space for pedestrians and cyclists on the Pulaski Bridge. Photo: New York Shitty

There’s been some discussion recently
on the issue of cyclists and pedestrians unhappily sharing the Brooklyn Bridge’s crowded promenade. Similar ped-bike conflict is heating up on the Pulaski Bridge, linking Long Island City and Greenpoint.

The Pulaski’s eight-foot wide greenway is about half the width of the Brooklyn Bridge promenade and accommodates cyclists and pedestrians traveling in both directions. With bike commuter rates soaring in North Brooklyn, the pedestrian vs. cyclist shouting has begun. Local Brooklyn bloggers Restless and New York Shitty both recently published posts on the issue.

As on the Brooklyn Bridge, DOT recently striped in some new markings but that doesn’t really seem to be solving the fundamental problem: Plenty of space dedicated to cars and trucks while the cleanest, most efficient and environmentally-friendly modes of transportation — biking and walking — are largely squeezed into the margins.

Pulaski Bridge motorists, meanwhile, seem to be oblivious to the whole thing, content to speed along their free-flowing, six-lane right-of-way. 

  • As much as I love some of the ambitious new bicyclist and pedestrian infrastructure that DOT has created (Times and Herald squares, the 8th and 9th avenue bike lanes), it too often seems that their default method of creating “infrastructure” for cyclists and pedestrians is to paint lines on asphalt, as if that were really an effective means of reallocating street space. It’s an easy way for them to claim credit for bicycle-oriented “improvements” that preserve the sanctity of the automotive space and, indeed, improve it (by providing handy lanes for double parkers).

  • Ian Turner

    Agreed regarding this article. I’ve never tried to bicycle across the bridge, but I’ve walked it many times (I live near the Queens end) and it’s easy to get buzzed by cyclists, especially ones moving downhill. The bridge is loud from the traffic and poorly lit at night, making it difficult to stay aware. The entire cyclist infrastructure feels as an afterthought; probably that’s because it is. The area feels unsafe at night and traffic moves very fast.

    The solution would seem to be the same as the best solution for the Brooklyn bridge: Take away a lane of auto traffic to install a bidirectional separated bicycle lane. This approach is even more indicated in this case, as the bridge is rarely congested with automobiles.

  • Danny G

    For your convenience, here’s the bridge approaches on Google Maps.

    Pulaski in LIC:,-73.950949&spn=0.00369,0.010568&z=17

    Pulaski in Greenpoint:,-73.952354&spn=0.003691,0.010568&t=k&z=17

    Both 11th Street (Qns) and McGuiness Boulevard (Bklyn) have two lanes in each direction. It has been pointed out that the bridge’s three lanes are overbuilt, but detractors of this can legitimately point out that Jackson Ave (Qns) and Freeman Street (Bklyn) also provide car/bike traffic to and from the bridge.

    Ideally, one of the lanes should be transformed to a bi-directional bikeway and let the sidewalk be for pedestrians, as it was designed. What’s the best tactic for making this happen? I know fans of symmetry would be aghast at having two Brooklyn-bound cars lanes and three Queens-bound car lanes, but is this such a big deal?

  • McGuinness is only two lanes leading up to the bridge, i don’t know why they need to expand to three lanes on such a short bridge. There’s plenty of room to lose a lane of traffic and expand the bike/ped walkway.

  • Urbanis is right. Why not just take a lane on the roadway? Are local cyclists that much in thrall to thermoplastic lines on asphalt?

    I attest from personal experience that cycling the long downhill into Brooklyn is much more pleasant at 28 mph on the roadway than it is at 12 mph on the footpath.

  • I work in Long Island City and cycle across this bridge frequently. DOT recently made major and very needed changes to the Queens-side of the bridge approach.

    The path across the bridge is extremely narrow, made narrower by occasional structural protrusions that don’t provide enough space for more than a single cyclist, or two pedestrians brushing shoulders.

    My approach to using this narrow greenway was to relax, enjoy the view, and cycle at a “walking speed” across the bridge. When I do this, peds and other cyclists alike seem to understand and appreciate the gesture, and often stop to usher me by. There’s not enough traffic on this bridge to warrant an “issue” if people just took the time to be neighborly.

    The flip side is that any “issues” will force NYPD to enforce the “please dismount” sign at the base of the bridge, which won’t do anyone a lick of good. :/

  • Bill from Brooklyn

    Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge issue, which has multiple complications and concerns about unattended consequences, the situation at the Pulaski Bridge should be easy. As noted, there is rarely any automobile congestion on the Bridge, and usually I have found that when I have crossed the Bridge, cars are regularly traveling significantly above the speed limit, which is partly a function of having three underutilized lanes. Take a lane, better the one next to the current path and convert it to a protected two way bike lane. This can solve the problem in an efficient (i.e. not that costly) manner and eliminate any conflict between pedestrians and cyclists.

    Does DOT control the bridge?

  • > McGuinness is only two lanes leading up to the bridge, i don’t know why they need to expand to three lanes on such a short bridge.

    Approaches are two lanes on both sides of the bridge. They’re also 30-40mph. The bridge is a 60mph road, and _that_ is why it’s got an extra lane. Cars need the 1/3 more space to go that extra 20mph over the 35mph reaction time threshold.

    This is the logic of pavement.

    By this logic, McGuinness also needs two extra lanes, so everyone can remain at their 60mph bridge speed through Greenpoint. And so on. Soon enough the BQE has spurs and everyone’s living under concrete canopies.

  • The Opoponax

    “The bridge is a 60mph road”

    Which makes no sense, considering that the Pulaski bridge takes approximately .2 seconds to drive over and connects two equally dense urban neighborhoods – it’s really just a quick hop over Newtown Creek. I could understand having a major speed limit change if it were on par with the Triboro or Verazzano Narrows, but it’s not. Who decides this stuff?

  • Kaja was being sarcastic. The speed limit on the bridge is 30 mph.

  • rlb

    There used to be a bridge between manhattan and vernon. Put it back and make it a pedestrian/biking bridge.

  • The Opoponax

    Oh, duh. Sorry.

    Frankly, considering how often I’ve been angrily blown by driving over the bridge doing 35-40 mph, a little part of me thought the speed limit there might really be 60…

  • Well, I’ve looked at my own speedometer when doing the Pulaski in my car, and I hit 60mph just keeping pace with everyone else. The road’s built like a racetrack, and so everyone uses it that way.

    So, yes, it’s a 60mph road, even though that’s double the posted limit. It is a kind of sarcasm I suppose.

    There totally should be a Vernon/Manhattan bridge; it should carry one car-plus-bicycles lane in either direction, and have wings on either side for pedestrians.

    The Queens-Midtown tunnel plaza would make this difficult.

    I once sold an orange PacDesigns messenger bag to a dude off craigslist, and then saw him weeks later, on the Pulaski traffic lanes in a goddamn cargo bike, like some cycling superhero. It is then that I truly knew what it was to be hardcore.

  • The Opoponax

    You know what I’d really love? A ped/bike dedicated bridge that passed over Newtown Creek only slightly above street level. Looking at a map I’m having a hard time deciding where it would be, especially considering that between the LIE and the rail yards very little on the immediate Queens side is particularly human-friendly. And then also considering that Newtown Creek is a superfund site, so potential ew factor. But maybe in an idealized biketopian future, it would be possible…

  • The newtown creek is a working waterway.
    I also have to ride over this bridge quite often, just go slow, try not to taunt the locals, don’t be the menace to peds that cars are to us cyclists.

    I wish I had taken photos of the smashed fire plug guards that used to stand on the Queens side across the intersection from the bridge. Cemented iron bollards smashed flat like folded cardboard tubes. Now there is a Feders style apt building there, let’s see how often that thing gets hit.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever ridden with the cars on this bridge, but I used to do it several times a week on the nearby Greenpoint Avenue Bridge (named after J.J. Byrne, but nobody uses that name). The sidewalks don’t have railings and are pretty narrow.

    I never really had any problems, but it was pretty scary. I’m not sure I’d do it again at this point. I definitely wouldn’t want to do it on the Pulaski. But I would like to see part of the roadway set aside for cyclists.

    Someone told me that it would be hard to do on the Pulaski because it’s a drawbridge, but I don’t buy that. There’s got to be something that can be done with flexible bollards or something.

  • JJM 63

    According to this report:

    the Pulaski bridge carries 37,200 motor vehicles per day. The rule of thumb for urban roads is peak hour volume is usually somewhere near 11% of total daily volume, or ~4100 vehicles per hour. During free flow, each lane can carry 1900 vehicles per hour. A traffic signal cuts this to half that or less.

    It would have to flair out again at each end for the intersections, but you could easily give up a lanes or even two on the bridge without too much trouble, unless there is a real heavy directional commuter flow, like I684 in Westchester.

  • Matt H

    In response to #14: the Grand Street bridge technically goes over Newtown Creek. 🙂

  • Hilary Kitasei

    If the actual speed on the bridge is close to 60, and eliminating a lane brings it down to 30 (the actual limit) – would this still be considered a “bottleneck”?

    Likewise, if congestion reduces average overall speed to the speed limit, should it be allowed to be used to justify widening the highway? Bottlenecks are bad because they produce more pollution, but they shouldn’t be allowed to drive expansions.

  • Am I #14? Stupid iPhone doesn’t show it. The captain in me bristled at the apparent lack of recognition of the use of the waterway. The tugs that move cargo through there keep loads of trucks off the street.
    I think dreaming up another bridge will be just that, espcially when the Pulaski just needs and can be cheaply and easily adjusted to safely accomodates bikes.

  • JJM 63

    Hilary, the “sweet spot” for fuel economy and capacity is about 35 mph. Faster than that, and drivers leave longer gaps between vehicles, reducing capacity. Slower than that, and congestion starts to take a toll. Also, at those speeds, riding on a shoulder is okay.

  • I appreciate the volume calculation, but I can’t get past the obvious commonsense observation that McGuinness is two lanes each way, 11st is two lanes, and the bridge in the middle is… three lanes.

    It’s bone stupid, is what. Unless you think cars going really effing fast fast is the holy goddamn grail. Ladies and gentlemen, American traffic engineering!

  • I’ve never witnessed a high volume of auto traffic over that bridge. two lanes each way are more than enough. take a lane away from the cars and give it to the peds and bikers.


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