Pulaski Bridge Bike Path Now Scheduled to Open by End of 2015

This time next year, cyclists and pedestrians will no longer share the same cramped path on the Pulaski Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]
This time next year, cyclists and pedestrians will no longer share the same cramped path on the Pulaski Bridge. Last year, DOT said the project would be done by now. Image: DOT [PDF]

About a year behind schedule, a major project to improve walking and biking between Queens and Brooklyn is set to move forward in 2015.

The project, originally scheduled to be complete this year, will convert one southbound car lane on the Pulaski Bridge into a protected bike lane, giving more breathing room to pedestrians on what is now a shared-use path and calming traffic headed toward deadly McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn. Now that a construction contract has been signed and a design is in place [PDF], DOT told an audience in Long Island City last night that the new pathway will open in 2015, but maybe not until the end of the year.

In attendance was Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who urged DOT in late 2012 to study a protected bike lane on the Pulaski. “I’m here because I want to see this project through to its conclusion just like you do,” he told the audience. “I’m very excited seeing this started. We’d hoped that it would’ve been completed by now.”

When the project was first announced at the end of 2013, DOT staff said construction would take a few months and it would open by late 2014. And last month, Deputy Commissioner for Bridges Bob Collyer told the City Council that he anticipated the project would be complete in the spring. But now, with final approvals in hand, the latest word from DOT is that the contractor will start the job in April and wrap later in the year, no sooner than October. The contractor is required to finish work by the end of 2015.

The project’s cost has also increased. DOT’s cost estimate last year was $3.46 million. Most of the tab is covered by a $2.5 million federal Transportation Enhancements grant awarded by the state. When the grant was announced in January, Lentol said the city would pick up the remaining $625,000, for a total project cost of $3.125 million. Last night, DOT said the cost is now $4.2 million.

DOT says there are two major reasons for the Pulaski delays. First, the project is linked to other bridge work. The city bundled 11 bridge projects totaling $15.6 million, including the $4.2 million Pulaski project, into a single contract. While the bike path is first in line among those projects for implementation, the contract couldn’t get approval without the other projects also being ready to go.

Second, DOT says the Pulaski Bridge itself complicates things. Opened in 1954 and rebuilt in 1994, the crossing is a drawbridge that opens about 400 times a year, mostly during low tides between October and April for barges delivering heating oil to a facility on Newtown Creek. The opened drawbridge cannot support the weight of an additional concrete barrier, so in the middle of the bridge, the project calls for eliminating the barrier that separates the current biking and walking path from traffic. On this stretch, pedestrians and cyclists will have physical separation from traffic, but not between each other, though unlike the current path there will be sufficient space for everyone. (Along other sections of the bridge, there will be two concrete barriers, separating the bikeway from both car traffic and pedestrians.)

Drawbridge activity, which is most intense during the winter months, actually works to the advantage of the construction timeline, which is scheduled mainly for the warmer months, DOT staff said. The project will involve nighttime and midday car lane closures, but bicycle and pedestrian access to the bridge will be maintained at all times during construction.

While pedestrian and motor vehicle patterns should remain the same on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, changes are in store for cyclists. Image: DOT [PDF]
While pedestrian and motor vehicle patterns will remain the same on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, small changes are in store for cyclists. Image: DOT [PDF]

The project also entails some changes to the approaches to the bridge at both the Queens and Brooklyn landings. As cyclists descend both sides of the bridge, they will ride over textured paint “rumble strips,” like those installed on Prospect Park West, to remind them to slow down.

On the Queens side, DOT says it is still designing additional markings and signage for cyclists near the bike path entrance at Jackson Avenue. The plan shaves a sliver off a planted traffic island to make room for the bike path in the existing slip lane to the bridge. Currently, drivers getting on the bridge from the intersection of Jackson and 49th Avenues zip directly onto the bridge’s third southbound lane. Under the new configuration, they will have to merge into what is now the middle car lane across the bridge.

“We performed a traffic analysis to see what kind of impact it would be, and it doesn’t really have any impact,” DOT project manager Nick Carey said last night of the new merge.

In Brooklyn, there will be adjustments to the bike approach, but no changes to driving or walking patterns. Cyclists coming to the bikeway from Eagle Street will have to yield before crossing the path of cyclists coming off the bridge. Bike riders coming off the bridge will continue straight to sharrows in the McGuinness Boulevard service lane, passing a bus stop before turning right onto the Freeman Street bike lane.