Need Help Finding the Brooklyn Bridge Foot and Bike Paths? Good Luck!

Photo rendering: DOT
Photo rendering: DOT

All the signs point to confusion.

The Department of Transportation presented a plan almost exactly 12 months ago to install a sign to help confused cyclists and pedestrians find the Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge bike and footpath, but the signs were never installed, despite unanimous community board support.

And no one can tell us why.

Let’s go back to the beginning: The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 and things were more or less unchanged for decades. But the pedestrian (and later, cyclist) access to the bridge has been confusing for years, with a barely marked flight of stairs under a highway overpass on Washington Street, and a long access road from Tillary Street serving as the only way for cyclists and pedestrians to get on the bridge. The Tillary Street access point has long confused cyclists and pedestrians because the iconic towers of the bridge are not visible from that vantage point, so many walkers and bikers don’t know where they are supposed to go.

Indeed, the only bridge visible from the walking and biking entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is the Manhattan Bridge (see photo):

Wait a second, Mabel, is this the Brooklyn Bridge entrance or the Manhattan Bridge entrance? Photo: DOT
Wait a second, Mabel, is this the Brooklyn Bridge entrance or the Manhattan Bridge entrance? Photo: DOT

So on Jan. 21, 2021, the DOT came to Brooklyn Community Board 2 with an elegant solution [PDF]: A big, iron sign!

Here's one of the four versions of the sign DOT presented last January. Another version excluded the cables. Photo: DOT
Here’s one of the four versions of the sign DOT presented last January. Another version excluded the cables. (Note, even the DOT photo captured the omnipresent NYPD squad car blocking the walkway.) Photo: DOT

The design paid homage to Brooklyn’s industrial past and the bridge’s unique lattice of steel cables. Another version of the laser-cut metal sign — this one without the cables — was also presented to the board. Two other versions — vinyl signs — were presented. These versions have the advantage of being able to feature a different message, “Welcome to Brooklyn” on the other side.

Members of Community Board 2’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee loved the proposal! In fact, members of the board asked for an additional sign, perpendicular to the DOT proposal so that it could be visible from Tillary Street, too. (DOT said it could add such a sign after the first sign was built.)

The committee unanimously passed a motion to call on the Public Design Commission to approve the signs. The same motion also passed unanimously at the full board meeting on Feb. 10, 2021. (And this was before the bridge’s inner-most Manhattan-bound car lane was converted into a bike path, making signage especially important so cyclists don’t end up on the roadway.)

What happened next is clear: The signs were never installed.

Why they were not installed is a mystery. According to an exhaustive review of the Public Design Commission’s 2021 minutes, the agency never took up the issue. But it’s also unclear if the DOT ever presented the design for review. The DOT and the Design Commission declined to discuss the matter with Streetsblog, so it’s unclear which agency is slow-walking the plan.

Officially, DOT spokesman Seth Stein only said this: “We will have more to say soon about when we will be able to install this signage.”

Advocate Jon Orcutt of Bike New York thinks the delay is bizarre.

“In a city full of highway-like signage, we can always use more attractive wayfinding for people on foot and on bicycles,” said Orcutt, a former DOT official. “Let’s hope the Design Commission has a good reason for failing to schedule its review of DOT’s new signs.”

The DOT’s track record on reinstalling signs is certainly mixed. On Aug. 4, Streetsblog noticed that a crucial sign directing drivers towards Prospect Park Southwest from Prospect Park West (roadways that cab drivers constantly confuse) had fallen as a result of the high winds of Hurricane Isaias (see photo).

This sign fell on Aug. 4, 2020 and has not been replaced. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
This sign fell on Aug. 4, 2020 and has not been replaced. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

That sign has still not been replaced.

So in the meantime, if you want to walk or ride over the Brooklyn Bridge from Tillary Street, point yourself towards the Manhattan Bridge tower.

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