No Bike-Ped Overhaul in Brooklyn Bridge Reno Plans [Updated]

Editor’s note: After we published this post, DOT contacted us to clarify the scope of the Brooklyn Bridge rehab and to clarify their statement on potential safety enhancements to the promenade. We have updated the post accordingly.

Cyclists and pedestrians have uneasily shared scarce space on the Brooklyn Bridge promenade for years. As people use the walkway in ever greater numbers, it only becomes more crowded for pedestrians, more stressful for cyclists, and more dangerous for everyone involved. Is there an end in sight? In a Times op-ed last month, Robert Sullivan suggested that the upcoming overhaul of the bridge would provide a good chance to disentangle the promenade by giving cyclists their own space. The rehab plan that’s moving forward now, however, includes no such solution.

bbridge_crowds.jpgThe shared pedestrian-cyclist walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: PIPERPILOT84.

New York City DOT is scheduled to begin a massive renovation project on the Brooklyn
Bridge in December, with the contract awarded to Skanska Koch. The overhaul has been in the works since the state DOT listed the bridge in bad condition in 2007, and it will give the bridge some long-needed repairs, taking care of cracked concrete and other structural issues. But there’s more to the project than just maintenance:

  • Arguing that the on- and off-ramps for car traffic are too narrow, the city will widen many of them from one lane to two.
  • Steel safety barriers will be added to the bridge’s roadway, to prevent cars from crashing into the East River. These barriers are required for the project to receive federal stimulus funding.
  • A side project, set to start in 2012, will revamp the gateway to the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side by reconstructing the entryway at the crossing of Tillary and Adams Streets.

Overall, the rehab project (which doesn’t include the revamp of the
Brooklyn-side gateway) is set to cost $365 million, of which about $30
million is coming from federal stimulus funding.

None of that money is slated to improve the bridge for the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who use it every day. DOT has no plans right now to address the crowding on the promenade, but the agency does say it will act accordingly if a crash proves that safety enhancements need to be made. Update: DOT contacted us to clarify their statement, saying they were speaking about monitoring street safety in general, not the specific condition that exists on the promenade. "The agency is always looking for ways to improve safety," said spokesman Seth Solomonow. "We take appropriate actions no matter where they’re needed in the city. We’re not waiting for a crash to prove that improvements need to be made."

A walkway overhaul, he added, would not be a natural fit for the rehab project, which is limited to structural problems with the ramps, not the whole span. "We are not rehabbing the whole bridge," he said. "What you drive on and what you walk across is not going to change."

It’s only a matter of time before some poor tourist gets hit and injured (or worse) by a cyclist trying to navigate through the crowds that the bridge attracts. And when the revamped Brooklyn-side gateway starts enticing more cyclists and pedestrians onto the bridge, the problem is only going to get worse.

There’s no shortage of ideas to fix the problem. The city could, as Sullivan suggests, install a protected bike lane on the roadway. Or they could construct a bike path over one of the road beds. It is not out of the ordinary for New York City’s bridge reconstruction projects to improve bike-ped infrastructure. One phase of the Williamsburg Bridge reconstruction, completed in 2002, included the addition of a
new 18-foot wide footpath/bikeway in addition to structural repairs. With hundreds of millions of dollars now targeted for the Brooklyn Bridge, there’s got to be a better way to allow cyclists and pedestrians to safely use it.