Council Members Propose Widening Brooklyn Bridge Bike-Ped Path

The council members' proposal would triple the width for pedestrians and create a separated, two-way bikeway on the bridge. Image: Office of Council Member Brad Lander

Council Members Brad Lander, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin — along with advocates from Transportation Alternatives — stood at the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge this morning and put forth a proposal to expand the bridge’s increasingly popular and exceedingly cramped bike and pedestrian path.

“It’s about time, in 2012, that we update it a little bit,” said Lander.

This announcement comes as a response to several years of rising pedestrian and bike traffic on the bridge. As the number of cyclists crossing the Brooklyn Bridge surpasses an average of 3,000 daily, and the number of tourists and walk-to-work commuters exceeds 4,000, according to NYC DOT, the potential for conflict and collisions has grown. While the daily tabloids have sensationalized the competition for space, there’s no doubt that it’s real and that something must be done about it.

The most recent efforts to address this issue have been the “pedestrian safety managers” that were hired by the city to ensure safety on the bridge. But as Levin said, “there is a limit to what can be done with management of the path.”

Currently the path ranges from eight feet to 16 feet wide, not including wider sections where the path passes the bridge buttresses. (It was also narrowed by three feet in some places due to reconstruction work that began in 2010.) The proposal unveiled today would widen the path to 34 feet, providing significantly more space for both pedestrians and cyclists.

The crux of the proposal is to expand the path so that the entire length is as wide as the sections that extend out and over the roadway in order to pass the buttresses. Extending the more generous width to the whole length of the bridge would allow for the creation of a two-way, separated bike path and a tripling of the space dedicated to pedestrians.

Image: Office of Council Member Brad Lander

The purpose of today’s announcement was simply to begin a serious discussion among city officials and agencies about a redesign of the Brooklyn Bridge path. Obviously there are some large questions that still need to be addressed, chief among them the construction cost. As of yet, there are no estimates of the total project cost, though Levin stated that it would most likely be “on the low end of infrastructure projects” and could draw funds from all levels of government. The council members also said their proposal shouldn’t pose a problem in terms of preservation, pointing out the many alterations that have already been made to the bridge over the years without detracting from its historic integrity.

While the time frame for the project is unclear, the council members suggested that it could possibly be integrated into current plans to redesign the Brooklyn side of the bridge approach at Tillary Street. Regardless, said Levin, “It will have to be done eventually.”

  • No need to reinvent the wheel and spend hundreds of thousands in the process. Close one lane of car traffic on the bridge and turn it into a two-way protected bike lane. Leave peds to themselves on the existing walkway. Problem solved for a fraction of the price.

    The proposed design’s bikeway is too narrow…it’s essentially the same as what’s supposed to be there now, with separation being the only improvement. With bike traffic increasing exponentially every year, the proposal will still leave cyclists squeezed.

    It’s a good start and a great discussion generator, but the proposal as is will be inadequate in 10 to 20 years. We need to design for the future and not merely in response to the present.

  • Separation is a huge improvement for cyclists on the bridge and during peak hours will be a de facto widening of the bike path. If it’s feasible to build this with a 10-foot wide bike path (same width as Manhattan Bridge), seems like a big winner to me.

  • Anonymous

    Following up on  @Doug_Gordon:disqus Tolling the bridge would bring a material reduction in car traffic.  The resulting space could be used for a dedicated bike lane.  No construction needed.

  • J

    A widened Brooklyn Bridge esplanade is an awesome idea. It would be great for tourism, making the bridge more of an actual place instead of just a path from one place to another. It avoids angering drivers by removing space from them. It would be symbolic of a city dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. It would also continue to reserve the best views for the most efficient modes of transportation. 
    However, it would cost small fortune. A lot of space could be freed up for pedestrians cheaply by moving bicycle traffic to a lane on the roadway below, something that many cyclists have advocated. However, it’s not clear which would be easier, removing a lane of traffic or paying for a massive new esplanade. Given the crowds I’ve seen, though, even without bicycles the esplanade is overcrowded. As a result, Levin is probably right–this is something that will need to be done regardless, so we might as well start planning now.

  • Danny G

    @Uptowner13:disqus @Doug_Gordon:disqus Run the numbers for the cost of an expanded walkway, let people freak out, and then go with a cheaper plan B: let one of the six vehicular lanes be a two-way bicycle path.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, so they’d, actually widen the path?  Like physically?  Isn’t that a significant and major undertaking?  

  • Anonymous

    Being up above traffic is a much better option.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m not sure you could remove those girders on the top side of the motor vehicle traffic lanes.  They may be integral to the structure.

    Which would mean adding paths, and fences, on top of the girders, which would run into flak from preservationists.

    Unless I’m wrong about the girders, this isn’t as easy as the Council Members may believe.

  • I agree that it’s a winner, and the fact that it can even be proposed seriously shows you how far we’ve come, especially in light of Charlie’s earlier post on the Midtown bicycle ban. But it’s a winner for the here and now, not for the NYC of 2030. Even the Manhattan Bridge path is starting to get congested these days. Induced demand works for bicycles, too, so I’d hate to spend all that money only to have the new design be inadequate. Look at the 8th Ave bike lane in Midtown. What if the political will had existed to widen the sidewalk and also put in a bike lane? We might be left with a design that would last for decades, instead of one thats already overrun with pedestrians.

    Incrementalism can be more expensive in the long run.

  • Ian Turner

    @36056f95783f8cfb512e9d49d4187ce6:disqus : Tough sell to take the lane away from the 20,000 motorists who use it daily to give it to the 6,000 cyclists who cross the bridge daily.

  • Anonymous

    Like I said on today’s headlines, it’s a small step closer to what the Brooklyn Bridge should be like. The
    peak year for usage was 1907 (page 4 of this PDF), when there were streetcars and el trains
    crossing it.

  • Clarence eckerson

    Oh man MARTY ain’t gonna like this.

  • Danny G

    @7c177865bd107a919938355fe93de93a:disqus 1) There’s 6 lanes for those 20,000 motorists. 1/6 of 20,000 people is 3,333 people.
    2) If they replaced the four train tracks that cross the Manhattan Bridge with four car and truck lanes, you’d expect people to adapt to the change and start driving across instead of taking the train. If there were bus lanes on the the Brooklyn Bridge with reliable and affordable bus service, people will take the bus. People will work with the choices they are given. The current situation on the Brooklyn allocates the most space to driving, so the numbers are a result of that pragmatic choice.

  • Jeff

    What’s the deal with the second image, where we have “existing path converted to dedicated pedestrian area”?  Does this imply that there would be NO dedicated area for bikes where the path wraps around the tower, as the diagram implies, or what?

    And if anyone pulls the “historical preservation” card, they must be equally adamant about returning the motor decks to rail purposes, lest they be dismissed as pushing a double standard.

  • Miles Bader

    @7c177865bd107a919938355fe93de93a:disqus One way to change those numbers in a favorable direction (fewer cars, more bikes) would be to make bicycling infrastructure better … hint, hint

    [And of course, bicycles are a vastly more efficienct use of a lane…]

  • Anonymous

    @36056f95783f8cfb512e9d49d4187ce6:disqus : the total traffic on the bridge is over 120,000/day, at least according to Wikipedia. I think Ian Turner already accounted for the number of lanes when he said 20,000/day.

  • Anonymous

    @36056f95783f8cfb512e9d49d4187ce6:disqus Sorry, Danny, Ian Turner’s 20,000 motorists (actually, motor v’s) is per lane. According to DOT’s “Manhattan River Crossings,” 2009 edition, 63,555 vehicles use the bridge daily inbound, 61,466 outbound.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think the only argument against this is the one I raised — the beams that are part of the structural box.  The “before” and “after schematics don’t show those beams where they are — at the height of the fence for the pedestrian path.  

    So unless the beams across the roadway could be removed, the side paths would have to be higher than the central path, with the fences for the side paths blocking the view from the center path.In that case, forget the added pedestrian path and keep the view in that direction free.

  • Danny G

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus @qrt145:disqus Aww man. Thanks for pointing that one out.

    That being said, the status quo isn’t great, and I’m sure we all agree it can be improved. Hopefully this proposal will lead to some sort of improvement.

  • Ian Turner

    My sense is that if daily bicycle traffic were double, or at least 10,000 per day, then you could convincingly argue that bicycles deserve one of the car lanes, on the theory that their numbers could be even greater (i.e., over 20,000) with appropriate infrastructure.

    Whether the city leadership, especially post-Bloomberg, would accept that argument is a different question altogether.

  • Anonymous

    I think a better alternative would be to make the Brooklyn Bridge path pedestrian only, and the Manhattan bridge would have one side as a dedicated bike lane and the other side as a mixed use ped/bike lane.
    The Brooklyn Bridge gets such heavy pedestrian traffic due to tourists that it is somewhat foolish to try to split the space, in any configuration, with bicycles.
    In a perfect world you could take a lane from car traffic, but we all know that is not going to happen.

    It’s easier and better to have good bike infrastructure on one of the bridges, than to have mediocre bike infrastructure on 2 bridges that connect very similar destinations.

  • Anonymous

    J_12 : the Brooklyn Bridge is an important bike connection to the Hudson RIver Bikeway and downtown and it is absolutely not a problem during the morning commute.
    Larry L : Maybe the current central path could be raised to the level of those beams as it is now around the towers.

    Also previous configurations of the bridge seem to have had those beams set up differently.(page 4 of this PDF )

  • Anonymous

    Those beams are the main bridge trusses.  They cannot be removed or lowered.
    Up to 1508, there was a second set of trusses set one lane out, around  the rail trackway – first for cable cars, later for elevated train cars.
    Any path way over the roadway cannot be lower than the top of the trusses – same height as at the bridge towers – because it would cut into overhead vehicle clearance.  The bridge is not supposed to carry trucks, but there now is vertical room so they don’t get stuck.

    The cross beams over the roadway are stiffeners installed in 1948-50, they are not designed to carry any vertical loads.  In the early 1980’s bike planners looked into using them to carry a second path.  Will need major additional structural beams, which add dead weight.  Not a good thing on this bridge.

    Also problems with how to carry this extra wide path down over some 900 feet of approach roads on each end of the bridge.  Either the entire pathway has to be raised totally above roadway level, or the new path will be at a different height.  Awkward.

    Technically, an inner roadway lane would be best for bicycle travel.  Using an aluminum Jersey Barrier would add minimal dead load.  An inner path can run uninterrupted from Tillary St to Centre St since the BQE and FDR on/off ramps all connect via the outside lanes of the bridge.

    Apply East River bridge tolls and/or congestion pricing and there won’t be 120,000 cars a day on this bridge.  They then can afford to shift one of the 6 lanes from cars to bikes.

  • Anonymous

    Typo – the middle trusses were removed between 1948 and 1950 – not “1508”.  This was when both the trolley tracks and elevated line was removed to make the bridge 6 car lanes after WW II.  In those days, Cadman Plaza was a giant trolley and elevated train complex.

  • “My sense is that if daily bicycle traffic were double, or at least 10,000 per day…”

    But that’s just not going to happen in the current configuration. There are plenty of times I would like to ride that bridge but don’t, out of courtesy. Lots of cyclists do the same. At peak times the bridge is absolutely packed with pedestrians, cyclists, and joggers. You may as well say that cyclists should prove they deserve a lane by accelerating to 60 miles per hour. Also the underlying assumption in this comparison, that auto and cycling trips are of equal cost and benefit, is nuts. If reducing auto trips over the bridge is a bad thing, why do we want to toll it?

    Meanwhile, Williamsburg Bridge is the most traveled by cyclists in the nation, and it has a lot to do with the broad pathway that beckons cyclists and pedestrians on the Manhattan side and continues most of the way over. It’s a pleasant ride and I take it fairly often, even though I don’t live or work in that part of Brooklyn. But mostly I use the Manhattan Bridge, which is no picnic these days thanks to construction sheds and highway garbage cluttering the narrow path between the suicide fence and the subway train barrier. We put up with a lot of crap, really.

    Doug is right: cyclists deserve a lane on that bridge, as walkers deserve the whole walkway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Technically, an inner roadway lane would be best for bicycle travel.”
    That is my sense also, although riding next to the motor vehicles would not be pleasant.  

    Ideally, I’d like to see a four-foot, one way bicycle path on each side of the bridge, elevated above the roadway but with head clearance below the girders.  The bridge would have two motor vehicle moving lanes and one motor vehicle breakdown lane in each direction.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Will need major additional structural beams, which add dead weight.  Not a good thing on this bridge.”
    Between your comments and the report, it seems that sooner or later the bridge will not be strong enough for motor vehicles, either.  Hopefully they won’t wait 30 years to paint it again, even if it means not borrowing money for paint.

  • Anonymous

    How do you folks propose getting to the two-way bike on the road surface of the Brooklyn Bridge?

  • Doug Hawes

    This is a really good idea. As an architect and a Canadian fan of NYC, I believe that enhancing the Brooklyn Bridge experience will be a great thing. The bridge walk is in my mind a wonder of the world. 

    Doug Hawes, St.John’s, Newfoundland,Canada

  • Rich Brome

    This needs to happen. The Brooklyn Bridge is actually extremely unpleasant to cross at most hours, on foot or by bike. I love the bridge and would love to walk, run, and bike it, but it’s just too dang packed. I avoid it at all costs for that reason alone.

    They also need to improve signage as part of tis project. I live near the foot of the bridge, and I’m stopped at least once a day by a lost tourist who’s standing right at the foot of the bridge but can’t figure out how to get up there. There are no signs, and that’s just dumb.