Friday Bikeway Omnibus Review

Furman_bike_lane3.jpgFurman Street, under the BQE. Photo: Paco Abraham

We’ve got a few different bikeway-related reader submissions that have come over the wire recently. First up, Dave "Paco" Abraham sends this picture of a two-way barrier-separated bikeway going in on Furman Street by the downtown Brooklyn waterfront. Furman is on the route of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, and with Brooklyn Bridge Park opening piece by piece, it’s already pretty common to see people biking in both directions on this three-lane speedway underneath the BQE cantilever.

Paco says it looks like the new bikeway is only going in between Joralemon Street and the entrance to the yet-to-open Brooklyn Bridge Park bike path, about a block away. We have a request in with DOT about the scope of this treatment. Extending it along the full length of Furman would plug one of the last major greenway route sections that feels unsafe to bike on between Greenpoint and the Columbia waterfront district.

Remember this from last week? It’s where the East River Greenway caved in at 72nd Street. The Parks Department told us they would have it fixed this week, and here it is, all patched up. Parks didn’t tell us, though, whether there’s any attempt underway to determine whether all the other sinkholes on the greenway are symptoms of a larger problem.

The final update comes to us from Ed Ravin. Actually it’s more like an epic saga with a happy ending. I’ll let Ed tell the story:

For years, the East River bridges have been the stepchild of emergency phone coverage. Up until the mid 1990s, the Brooklyn Bridge had four emergency phones hooked up to two regular telephone lines.  If one of the lines failed, all the phones on that side of the bridge would go down with it.

Starting in the early 1990s, the city began installing shiny new emergency phones along the city’s highways.  These phones are solar powered and use the cellular network to reach emergency dispatchers, so they have no wires and are much more reliable than the old land-line based system. But as was typical of many infrastructure improvements in the 1990s, the phones were installed only in places where motorists could get to them. Bicyclists and pedestrians, especially on crime-prone East River bridges like the Williamsburg Bridge, were on their own.

emergency_call_box.jpgA (broken) emergency call box on the Queensboro Bridge in 2001, conveniently placed for easy cyclist access. Photo: Ed Ravin

Adding to the problem was that the old landline-based emergency phones were maintained by the Fire Department, while the new cellular phones were installed by the NYPD’s Communications Division. The Fire Department wanted to get out of the phone business (as seen later in the 1990s, when the streetcorner fire call box became an endangered species), and were no longer installing callboxes. So the NYPD was asked to put callboxes on the East River Bridges. They said they’d be happy to do so but needed some other city agency to fork over the money for them.

As with all things for the East River Bridges, it turned out that NYCDOT was the "responsible" agency and we weren’t going to get any new phones on the bridges until the DOT paid for them. A cellular phone appeared on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway after some unfavorable press coverage, and that was it. When the Manhattan Bridge path was first opened, there were no callboxes at all, and the Queensborough Bridge (see photo) had not had a working callbox for many years.

Starting in the early 2000s, callboxes have been turning up one by one on the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, but still, there did not seem to be any consistent plan.

I recently moved to Brooklyn and began commuting regularly over the Manhattan Bridge, and was pleased to see that both the north and south paths had two cellular emergency phones, one at each anchorage. And it was a welcome surprise in mid-July when two more phones sprouted up at the towers. It appeared that someone had looked at the needs of the bridge and was finally implementing a plan.

manny_b.jpgManhattan Bridge, 2010: Reliable emergency call boxes finally have bike-ped spaces covered. Photo: Ed Ravin

Today I ran into a work crew installing a fifth phone on the Manhattan Bridge’s north path, right in the middle over the river. I was told that there are now 8 or 10 phones on each East River Bridge, all of them ringing through to 911 should you ever have cause to pick one up. It’s great to see that the emergency needs of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian-only places are, finally, part of the plan.


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