Council Members To DOT: How About Those Brooklyn Bridge Upgrades?

Crowded conditions are a constant problem on the Brooklyn Bridge foot and bike path.
Crowded conditions are a constant problem on the Brooklyn Bridge foot and bike path.

Three Council members are blasting the Department of Transportation for literally doing nothing to improve dangerous congestion on the cramped Brooklyn Bridge bike and pedestrian path — two years after the agency itself analyzed the persistent problem that continues to this day.

Brad Lander and Steve Levin of Brooklyn and Margaret Chin of Manhattan wrote on Wednesday to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to complain of the agency’s failure to devise a solution at the so-called Times Square of the Sky.

“Efforts to abate crowding and improve the experience for cyclists and pedestrians on the promenade have not been noticeable to the public,” the trio of Council members wrote, demanding an update on how the agency will, in fact, give the long-suffering sardines some relief on the fabled span.

For years, the Brooklyn Bridge has become a victim of its own success, a pedestrian/cyclist wasteland that’s both a necessary transit path and a living example of one of Yogi Berra’s greatest supposed quotes: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” But the 136-year-old bridge not only welcomes tourists and commuters alike, but sluices them through a pathway that’s just 10 feet wide at its narrowest and, for reasons of inconsistent enforcement, is frequently lined with vendors hawking replica pictures of Spider-Man and “hand-painted” canvasses of the city skyline.

The letter from Lander, Chin and Levin (embedded below) emphasized the problem with crowding.

“[T]ourists and pedestrians are frequently at odds with fast-moving cyclists, especially when navigating around vendors,” the trio wrote, asking for updates on three measures to alleviate crowding: the expansion of the pedestrian promenade over the bridge’s car lanes, the status of new vendor rules that have been promised for two years, and a commitment from the DOT to open the closed ramp from Park Row to the bridge promenade.

It seems unlikely that the car-obsessed DOT will ever remove a lane of car traffic from the bridge roadway, so most activists are calling for a widened walking and cycling path as the only real and lasting solution — a plan that is way behind schedule. The DOT says it must complete a cable inspection to determine if the old bridge can handle the weight of an expanded promenade. The agency was supposed to complete that inspection this year, but the budget for the fiscal year starting in July sets aside just $2.5 million for that study — a number so low as to suggest that the inspection won’t actually be done.

And even if it is, no work could be completed until 2023, according to previous comments from Trottenberg.

Rather than push things back even further, the Council members asked the DOT “to speed the process by inspecting a sample of cables” and then extrapolating what can be done “if results are positive.”

The Council members’ letter is largely conciliatory, and does not demand changes that activists have been calling for, such as a total ban on vendors or the banishment of path-clogging NYPD vehicles. But Lander told Streetsblog that police should leave their Smart squad cars or three-wheeled Cushmans back at the stationhouse.

“In a pedestrian and bike environment, pedestrian and bike policing is better practice,” he said. “In a place where there’s no cars at all, it’d be a lot better to have the officers be on bikes or be pedestrians as well.”

The DOT did not respond to a request for comment.

BK Bridge Promenade Study Update June 2019 (1) by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

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