DOT Might Widen Brooklyn Bridge Promenade, But Rules Out Claiming a Car Lane for Bikes

A cable inspection that won't wrap up until 2021 will determine whether the bridge can carry more pedestrian and bike traffic.

The city plans to study whether the Brooklyn Bridge's suspension cables can handle the additional weight of a wider promenade. Image: DOT
The city plans to study whether the Brooklyn Bridge's suspension cables can handle the additional weight of a wider promenade. Image: DOT

Sixteen months after DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a study of expanding the Brooklyn Bridge’s narrow path for walking and biking, the results are finally here [PDF]. But a wider path is still at least several years away, if it proves feasible at all.

DOT intends to test the structural feasibility of a wider promenade via cable inspections scheduled to begin in 2019, a process that’s expected to take another two years to complete. Construction would take another few years.

A faster solution would be to repurpose a traffic lane for bicycling on the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, but DOT has sided against that, mainly citing traffic impacts on downtown Brooklyn. It’s exactly the type of concern that a good congestion pricing plan — which Mayor de Blasio has been resisting — would address.

Walking and biking on the Brooklyn Bridge have more than doubled over the last decade. On a typical weekday, about 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists use the bridge path, according to DOT counts, and on most days with decent weather it is a constant contest for scraps of space.

DOT is looking to widen the promenade and raise it to the grade of the girders above the roadway. The conceptual design DOT released today shows a path that’s roughly double the width of the current promenade:

Image: DOT
Image: DOT

A preliminary engineering study by AECOM found that the bridge can support the weight of a wider promenade but not necessarily the additional people who would use it. AECOM said a cable inspection slated for 2019 as part of planned maintenance would reveal whether the bridge can bear that weight. The inspection itself will take around two years to complete.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Trottenberg said construction of any promenade expansion would “probably take a couple years.” That would put completion on pace for 2023 at the earliest.

DOT does have some ideas to relieve the worst bottlenecks before then, including a bike ramp on the Manhattan side that would bypass the pinch points near the base of the path. A shuttered Park Row exit ramp could be repurposed for bikes, independently of any promenade widening (though the rendering shows it connecting to a widened path):

Concept rendering for a potential bicycles-only exit ramp onto Park Row. Image: DOT
Concept rendering for a potential bicycle exit ramp connecting to Park Row. Image: DOT

DOT also wants to set new rules to limit vending on the promenade, which can create intense pinch points near the Manhattan approaches, and is looking for potential nearby alternative locations for vendors.

Those spot improvements could help with the most uncomfortable crowding, but most of the bridge path will remain cramped. With a full widening of the promenade taking at least several years, the decision to rule out the conversion of a motor vehicle lane stings more.

“As someone who bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge regularly, I understand the desire to do that,” Trottenberg said. “The traffic modeling showed it produced pretty extraordinary traffic back-ups that made their way through the whole network of downtown Brooklyn.”

On the bridge roadway, she added, it “would not necessarily be that easy to create a bike lane that felt safe and enjoyable for the cyclists.”

DOT did not model a bike path on the Brooklyn-bound side of the bridge, however, which would presumably affect traffic less, since the evening rush hour is more dispersed.

Putting a price on the free Brooklyn Bridge would certainly change the equation too, but the mayor has shown no inclination to use incentives to reduce driving as a catalyst to create a safer, greener transportation system.

  • JarekFA

    “As someone who bikes over the Brooklyn Bridge regularly, I understand the desire to do that,” Trottenberg said. “The traffic modeling showed it produced pretty extraordinary traffic back-ups that made their way through the whole network of downtown Brooklyn.”

    I call bullshit. Also, downtown Brooklyn is a total cluster fuck, but only during certain hours of the day. Jay St gets very little traffic during the evening rush. You reguarly, I’m not joking, see up to 20 bikes per light cycle (versus just a handful of cars). This is because of the deliveries in the morning that park wherever the fuck they can because delivery parking is commandeered by placards.

  • Vooch

    BB motor traffic peaked years ago at 120k cars/day. It’s now 25% lower.

    Easily reallocate one motor lane to bicycles. Could be accomplished in a couple of months.

  • JarekFA

    But could you imagine the Brooklyn Bridge traffic in the morning rush? It’d be just as bad as it always is except some might take a different route. Like the partner at my law firm who always takes a car from BK Heights to FiDi.

  • Vooch

    reallocating one motor lane to bicycles would:

    increase throughput of the bridge by approx. 25%

    “traffic” congestion would improve significantly. Pedestrian “traffic” congestion would vanish. Bicycle “traffic” congestion would also be nil. Automobile traffuc congestion would hardly change.

    If one is interested in maximizing capacity of the bridge, reallocating inefficient motor lanes to efficient modes is the best path. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/013c8cc80cb64c2ffdf7f3f750d4d6f9f0806ecacff958698b09b101fab6c3b6.png

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    The presentation PDF only mentions studying the east side of the bridge to convert a lane to cycling. Did they look at the west side, or would that have cost an extra $370k?

  • Here’s an interim measure that could be employed, one which would cost nothing:
    enforcement. They already have cops sitting up there on the bridge path doing nothing; instead, these cops could help keep the pedestrians out of the bike lane.

  • Bikeguyemoji

    I always figured the simplest method would be taking the outer-most Manhattan-bound lane and connecting it to the unused Park Row ramp, using an entrance design similar to that of the Manhattan Bridge. Could someone describe how taking a Brooklyn-bound lane would work?
    The report clearly sandbags a roadway-level option by only comsidering 1 of 6 vehicle lanes to use. It is more shameless than that Verrazano Bridge report.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    If they used the inside lane on the Brooklyn-bound side, both Manhattan and Brooklyn entrances could be immediately next to the existing entrances to the deck, and accessing them would be done virtually the same as today. This wouldn’t require much more than jersey barriers and curb islands with bollards at both ends (to avoid the Northern Boulevard car-mounting-barriers problem they’d have with just the jersey barriers).

    Though the presentation lacks details, it seems like AECOM considered the inside lane on the Manhattan-bound side. Another advantage of using the Brooklyn-bound inside lane is that the people cycling immediately adjacent to the traffic lane would be moving in the same direction, rather than facing traffic.

  • sbauman

    The 1923 to 1933 period was omitted from the chronology section of the report. That was the period when motor vehicles were banned from the Brooklyn Bridge roadways.

  • Bikeguyemoji

    Okay, that would probably work best. It would have ‘less impact’ on cars and less construction compared to the outer-most Manhattan-bound lane. Incidentally, while the connecting ramp proposed by DOT would have about as much construction as a Manhattan-bound ramp in Brooklyn, it would still be a bottle neck; a 90 degree turn. Pedestrians will surely end up walking down it too.

    Maybe calling for bus lanes AND a lane for bikes on the Brooklyn Bridge will line up enough allies to make it happen.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think the assumption is that bicycles will eventually be banned from the bridge.

    Though according to the analysis, it may not be able to hold the additional pedestrians.

    Perhaps they shouldn’t have let the bridge rust for 100 out of the 120 years it has been in public ownership.

  • sbauman

    Perhaps they shouldn’t have let the bridge rust for 100 out of the 120 years it has been in public ownership.

    Pedestrians present a much greater live load than motor vehicles.

    It’s one of the reasons Roebling limited the width of the Promenade in his design. Roebling could have extended the Promenade over the cable car tracks, with the presence of the original intermediate trusses. He chose not to because of loading concerns. These concerns were expressed by Roebling in correspondence with the bridge trustees during construction.

  • Who has raised the possibility of bicyclist being banned from the bridge?

  • Omafiets

    Aecom analysis is a joke. Did DOR describe the outcome in the scope they gave them?

    Manhattan bound options anaylises is flawed:
    – capacity not cut by 50%, they remove a third of roadway and Sand street ramp is lightly used anyways. How about using south land on manhattan bound for bicycle use. Can use brooklyn bridge blvd bike path as entrance and exit, similar as today at municipal bldg.

    Since manhattan bridge now has 5 lanes of manhattan bound traffic, the capacity in morning rush in that direction is not that different (and larger in afternoons compared to before that change)

    Then we can add congestion pricing as a bonus + reduced induced demand. Their downtown traffic mayhem is very car centric.

    Also, whomever as a traffic engineer designed this bicycle exit to park row ramp, should be fired or last his traffic engineer title stripped. Two 90 degree turns? Might as well put a “dismount bike and walk bike over bridge” sign at that section.

    Overall pretty a insulting report for a bike friendly city/”progressive” major and see public money is wasted like this.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Aecom analysis is a joke. Did DOR describe the outcome in the scope they gave them?”

    http://r8ny.com/2008/05/18/nobodys-gonna-pay-you-to-tell-the-truth/

  • Larry Littlefield

    I can see where this is going. “Congestion pricing” for pedestrians and bicycles only.

  • Larry Littlefield
  • A five-year-old editorial and a petition with twelve signatures do not constitute support for the proposition that banning bicyclists from the Brooklyn Bridge is currently being considered.

    Anything is possible, of course, especially as so many of us cyclists constantly make new enemies by running red lights; and so the public’s hostility could conceivably manifest itself at some point in a widespread call for a bike ban on the bridge. But this has not occurred just yet.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I haven’t heard it talked about recently, but it has been talked about. That’s just what I was able to Google up on a dime.

  • kevin

    I think ideally the entire top would be decked over where bikes and pedestrians could move freely.

    Then lanes on the road below can be reclaimed for light rail and buses.

  • J

    “The traffic modeling showed it produced pretty extraordinary traffic back-ups that made their way through the whole network of downtown Brooklyn.”

    And there we have it. DOT still values car movement over pretty much everything else, including safety. Safety and mobility project are only allowed to move forward if they don’t hurt traffic too much. But Vision Zero, right?

  • Vooch

    DOT does NOT consider people, buses, and bicycles to be traffic.

    Toi get what you measure and all DOT does is measure cars

  • KeNYC2030

    When multi-ton SUVs began to replace lighter sedans, did the DOT feel a need to ban them for several years so they could test the cables? I didn’t think so.

    In any case, “extraordinary traffic back-ups” are predicted every time there’s a proposal to close a street or lane to motor vehicles. Somehow, they never materialize. As Jane Jacobs said, “Isn’t it curious that traffic engineers are so loath to learn something new even after repeated demonstrations?”

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here’s the thing. For years, the NYPD had the bridge narrowed to 2 lanes, supposedly for security reasons. There were also narrowings due to painting. It’s been two lanes more often than not, in at least one direction, since 9/11.
    Now it’s 3 lanes, and the report is released.

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