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DOT Will Study Widening the Brooklyn Bridge Walking and Biking Path

1:49 PM EDT on August 8, 2016

Rendering: NYC DOT
What a wider Brooklyn Bridge promenade might look like. Rendering: NYC DOT
So much for all that. Rendering: NYC DOT

The days of pedestrians and cyclists fighting for scraps of space on the Brooklyn Bridge may be numbered.

NYC DOT has initiated a study of expanding the narrow promenade, which is too crowded to work well for pedestrians or cyclists for most of the year. The Times reports that the city has retained engineering firm AECOM to study the feasibility of widening the pathway, which has not been expanded since the bridge opened in 1883.

Stories about conflict between walkers and bikers on the cramped promenade have become a rite of spring in New York City. As soon as the city thaws out from winter, people head out to walk or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge in numbers that the path, which is as narrow as 10 feet on some sections, cannot comfortably support.

Pedestrian counts on peak days tripled between 2008 and 2015, and bike counts nearly doubled, according to the Times. Typical weekday traffic is now 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists. Still, those numbers probably don't come close to capturing how many people would bike or walk across the bridge if the path were not so cramped.

For pedestrians, there's not enough space to walk past other people or line up that perfect shot of the Lower Manhattan skyline and stay within the confines of the walking path. For cyclists, the bridge is pure stress, dodging and weaving and trying to avoid collisions with people who stray into the bike path. It has become a bottleneck in the bike network, putting people off cycling across or compelling them to take indirect routes via the Manhattan Bridge instead.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the Times that "the time has come" to deal with the crowding on the bridge, but that making changes to the historic structure "tends to be costly and complex."

In a conceptual rendering (above), DOT shows a wider promenade with a central bikeway in the space occupied by today's shared path, flanked by walkways on both sides.

Calls to expand the bridge path have intensified in the past five years. In 2012, council members Margaret Chin, Brad Lander, and Steve Levin, along with Transportation Alternatives, called for widening the path to 34 feet, equal to the points on the path that skirt the central columns of the bridge towers. With the impending redesign of the Tillary/Adams approach to the Brooklyn side of the bridge and the expansion of Citi Bike to nearby neighborhoods, widening the bridge path is increasingly urgent.

This summer TA has been surveying people who bike on the bridge path about what they'd like to see improve. In more than 500 surveys, the overwhelming consensus is that the bridge path needs to be wider, with physical separation between cyclists and pedestrians, said TA's Caroline Samponaro. TA volunteers in Manhattan and Brooklyn will be doing more organizing for a better bridge path going forward.

"The room left is non-existent," said Samponaro. "The time is now."

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