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Bicycle Infrastructure

‘Radical’? No, the Brooklyn Bridge Bike Lane Plan is Simply Adjusting to Reality

One rendering of the proposed Brooklyn Bridge bike lane shows an arrow pointing into our glorious future (though the lane would likely be a narrow two-way route). Photo: Mayor’s Office

Putting a bike lane on the Brooklyn Bridge sounds radical to car drivers (and even the man who will make it happen), but the plan is only just dealing with the reality we live in.

Even Mayor de Blasio called his own plan "radical" in his State of the City address last week. But unless Hizonner was up late watching "Point Break" while he wrote the speech, he completely misunderstands how very un-radical such a plan for the Brooklyn Bridge really is.

Bicycling is surging across the East River (even as the weather gets colder), while car traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge has fallen from historic highs. A realignment is not a big deal.

As the following chart from Comptroller Scott Stringer shows, bridge crossings by cyclists have been up throughout the pandemic — and even as the weather cooled in November, there were cyclists crossing the East River than in many of the warmer months in the previous year.

Chart: Comptroller's office based on NYC DOT data
Chart: Comptroller's office based on NYC DOT data
Chart: Comptroller's office based on NYC DOT data

Broken down by bridges, the data comparing 2019 to 2020 show the need for more cycling capacity:

    • Bike traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge was up 24.7 percent in 2020.
    • Cycling on the Queensboro Bridge was up 38.5 percent.
    • Cycling on the Manhattan Bridge was up 13.2 percent
    • Cycling on the Pulaski Bridge was up 35.4 percent.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the only East River span with a decline in cycling from 2019 to 2020 because cyclists simply avoid its overly crowded expanse; and looking at the big picture, bike traffic over the bridge increased 195 percent between 1980 and 2019, going from 866 to 2,558 cyclists per day. Adding a bike lane to the roadbed then, just balances the scales to where they should be, and the mayor doesn't even need to use the Reality Gem to do it.

"Reallocating space from cars to bicycles is a common sense solution that will allow more people to cross safely on foot or bike between Brooklyn and the heart of downtown Manhattan," said  Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn Activist Committee Co-Chairs Katherine Willis and Blythe Austin. "Providing adequate and safe space for people who walk and bike isn’t radical, but the ramifications of it — that the city will prioritize zero-carbon transportation over private vehicles on a major commuting corridor — is transformative."

While all this bike boom is happening, car traffic across the bridges is declining. Even before the 2020 cycling surge, car traffic across the Brooklyn Bridge dropped by double digits over the last two decades, as this 2016 chart from the Department of Transportation shows:

Graphic: DOT
Graphic: DOT
Graphic: DOT

Since the chart above was made, traffic has gone up a bit, but will plummet somewhere between 20 and 35 percent on the Manhattan-bound lanes once congestion pricing kicks in.

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