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

  • sbauman

    I was involved with getting 5 sets of stairs removed from the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade and maintaining pedestrian/bicycle access while the Promenade was replaced back in the 1980 to 1983 period. This work involved a thorough study of the bridge’s design history from an aesthetic and engineering perspective.

    The unfortunate result is that there is no available live load capability to increase the pedestrian capacity through expanding the Promenade or by any other means. Loading for pedestrians is greater than for automobiles.

    There were strictly enforced spacing requirements for the elevated trains and trolley cars that once crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. These spacing requirements permitted the trains and trolleys to adhere to the Bridge’s live load constraint.

    Even if motor vehicles were banned from the Bridge, as they were during the 1923-1933 period, the Bridge’s live load constraint would preclude turning the roadways into pedestrian plazas.

    I’m not surprised at NYCDOT’s reluctance in releasing Promenade expansion plans, given the engineering realities of the situation.

  • 8FH

    “[T]ourists and pedestrians are frequently at odds with fast-moving cyclists…”

    There are certainly conflicts, but nobody is moving fast. Whenever I cross the Brooklyn Bridge on a bike, I’m slower than my usual walking speed.

  • Bridge user

    Unbelievable that anyone is entertaining an expanded walkway or promenade at lord knows how many millions of dollars when there are six available lanes on the bridge itself. And what happens if this stupid and drawn-out DOT study shows that the bridge can’t support the weight of a bigger promenade? That’s it? Cyclists and peds just have to suck it up and watch as single-occupancy vehicles hog the available space? Man oh man, not having a visionary atop DOT or in City Hal is a huge friggin’ problem!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, they did repaint the strike down the middle on the wood board portion of the walkway just the other day.

    I didn’t see any markings for the vendors and police vehicles, however.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I see where you are coming from, having evacuated over the bridge on the roadway twice in the early 2000s.

    Of course you are assuming that more space would mean more pedestrians, but that may be the case.

    How much of the live load constraint is the result of defective cable being installed when it was built?

  • AstoriaBlowin

    Many work days there is at least some point where the bridge is carrying 6 lanes of gridlock traffic or cars moving at less than 5 MPH, which is walking speed. The live load of those vehicles is less than that of pedestrians? I can’t believe that, what number was used for pedestrians, something in the hundreds of thousands? Pedestrians won’t just go to to the bridge and stand there all day until there is no room for additional people, they will move across it just like cars do now.

  • sbauman

    The live load of those vehicles is less than that of pedestrians? I can’t believe that,

    Let’s assume an 18 ft long loaded vehicle weighs 5000 lbs (large SUV). There are 6 traffic lanes so the live load per linear foot is 6 * 5000/18 = 1667 lbs/ft. Pedestrian loading is given as 50 to 90 lbs/sq ft. The roadways are 60 feet wide. The low figure comes to: 50 * 60 = 3000 lbs/ft. The live load for the Brooklyn Bridge is 1795 lbs/ft.

    If you still have doubts, consider the Golden Gate’s 50th anniversary experience. The Brooklyn Bridge, unlike the Golden Gate, was not designed to be flexible.

  • sbauman

    How much of the live load constraint is the result of defective cable being installed when it was built?

    The assumption is that Washington Roebling compensated for the defective wire by adding more strands to the main support cables.

  • CallMeIshmael

    It’s a beautiful and historic bridge. Please move it to a museum upstate and build a new bridge with pedestrian walkways above on either side, a cafe with a bathroom in the middle, bike lanes running below (I don’t need to see the beautiful view when riding home, I just need to get there without someone’s bag snagging my handlebar). Add in heated roads, walkways, and lights powered by tidal generators in the East River so snow can be melted, and a retractable roof for bad weather also powered by the generators. We have all the technology so let’s put it to good use.

  • Tooscrapps

    A clogged bridge with major choke points. What could go wrong?

    https://www.thoughtco.com/brooklyn-bridge-disaster-1773696

  • Vooch

    Agreed – simply reallocate one of the 6 motor lanes to cycling ; one would increase through out of bridge by about 10%.

    ever since they let cars on the east river bridges these bridges have been a disaster

    Through put on the brooklyn bridge is 30% less because of cars

  • Larry Littlefield

    Not based on the book I read.
    He said it still worked because the bridge was designed to be seven times stronger than it needed to be.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Water is heavy. People are mostly water.

    Metal is heavier, but most of a motor vehicle is air and not metal.

    Whereas if people are crowded in, you have a 5-6 foot column of water pressing down on every square foot.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I feared something like that might happen during the 2003 blackout.

    The walkway got overcrowded, and some people tried to get back to Manhattan. My wife was pushed all the way back to where she started, before walking on the roadway — with the cars. I walked on the roadway myself, both times.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Great comment perfectly illustrates why the quite ugly and structurally deficient Brooklyn Bridge should be demolished and replaced by something that works properly and isn’t an eyesore.

  • kevd

    at 8am in the winter, on can ride somewhat fast!
    (I pretty much refuse to use it any other time)

  • 8FH

    I would imagine so. My normal bridge is the Manhattan Bridge, though. I only take the Brooklyn Bridge if I go downtown after work, so it’s almost always packed when I go.

  • AMH

    The other problem is the impact of thousands of footsteps which creates a lot more stress than the rolling of wheels.

  • AMH

    “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.”

    Yes, thank you. Please prohibit NYPD from zooming around pedestrian pathways in parks with their SUVs.

  • ProfSlowlane

    Surely a civil engineering genius could devise a way for the ped/bike capacity to be increased on this bridge. As it is only good for early morning or late night trips on a bike. I do appreciate the tourist dedication to selfies up there though, even when it entails leaning out over the railing above the car lanes below — what idiots.

  • 6SJ7

    Even if motor vehicles were banned from the Bridge, as they were during the 1923-1933 period

    Are you sure about that?

  • 6SJ7

    I guess that’s why transit buses are banned from the Bridge except in the most extreme emergencies.

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