Enough is Enough: Five Ways to Fix the Brooklyn Bridge Right Now

The hint of warmth in the air means that the Brooklyn Bridge is about to become its annual springtime shitshow.

The Department of Transportation and other city officials have said for years — 2012, 2016 and 2017 — that the pedestrian and cycling path in the middle of the fabled span should be expanded to accommodate the hordes of visitors and commuters.

And when I say “hordes” I mean Genghis Khan, invasion-type hordes. I don’t mean a few selfie-taking tourists. It got so bad during the holiday season last year that even the Times, which covers local transportation issues like Streetsblog covers Ebola outbreaks, reported that the bridge footpath had reached its “tipping point” (which is a scary metaphor for a bridge!). Police even closed the walkway intermittently during the Christmas rush last year.

But the DOT has long been saying that it can’t repair the problem until a “cable inspection” is completed in 2021.

Certainly, a full-scale, expensive capital improvement [PDF] won’t happen for years, but there’s no reason why the city can’t undertake simple changes to make the bridge function better for the car-free majority squeezed into a path that is simultaneously a world treasure and supposed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, yet is 10-feet wide in several places.

Here are some easy fixes for DOT officials, from their friends at Streetsblog:

Get rid of the vendors

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photos: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s absolutely absurd that pedestrians and commuters have to share space with illegal vendors, hawking souvenirs, sunglasses, “No Stupid People” signs and, yes, locks that the lovelorn affix to the bridge (only to have them cut off by city work crews).

In December, 2017, the Department of Transportation said it was “working to draft rules to create vending restrictions,” and added that “concession areas at various appropriate points on the bridge are being explored.”

That was more than 15 months ago. Vendors still lay down dropcloths from the entrance to the footpath on the Manhattan side to about halfway up that first incline — and they also circle the bridge towers, and have established marketplaces at other points on the footpath.

They are simply in the way.

Get rid of these vehicles

nypd cushmans 1

It’s an ongoing mystery why the NYPD parks four cars on the bridge footpath itself, given that the officers inside are almost always spotted playing with their phones. Occasionally, they help a tourist with a photograph.

Putting aside whether the footpath even needs such a large troop deployment, is it too much to ask that they leave the large motorized vehicles in some placard-parking space on either end of the span? Mostly, the officers use small, three-wheeled scooters, but occasionally they give way to the so-called Smart cars. In either case, almost an entire lane of the already-too-narrow pathway is occupied.

Help the tourists find their way

no signage 1

The biggest problem with the flow of bike and ped traffic on the footpath is that tourists have no idea where they should be (keep left, FFS!). That’s because there is virtually no signage indicating cyclist space and pedestrian space.

no signage 4The photo above shows how long pedestrians can go before they get a reminder that they are in the wrong place.

In other portions of the bridge, the cyclist and pedestrian icons have completely worn off. On most of the path, they are faded to the point of suggestion to tourists that it doesn’t really matter where they go.

So can we just please paint some new bike and pedestrian silhouettes? How much could that cost?

And could someone replace the “Keep right” sign that’s covered in graffiti (see photo, right)? It’s completely useless.

Taken together, the lack of clear signage is a prescription for endless conflict between hardened cycling commuters and tourists, who literally have their head in the clouds (but figuratively have it up their asses). No amount of bell-dinging or screaming can get these people out of the way of New Yorkers simply trying to get to work over a bridge entirely controlled by city government. (I mean, come on, isn’t the sound of a loud bike bell the same in every language?)

And under day-to-day conditions, those guys in the three-wheeled scooters never do anything to help, either. At the very least, they should help direct traffic.

Get rid of these boulders

sugarcubes 1

Last year, without warning or a specific stated reason, the NYPD dumped big blocks of cement at the Manhattan end of the footpath. They serve no purpose other than to steal more of the already-limited space from pedestrians and cyclists.

And don’t argue that security makes these blocks essential — they are mere feet from existing security measures that render the footpath impassable to cars. Worse, the so-called sugar cubes only end up inhibiting people from riding or walking because they make such forms of transportation appear dangerous.

Fix the pinchpoints

security pinch 2

There simply has to be a better way to protect exposed cables than to surrender several feet of precious space at the narrowest points in the bridge, as these cages do. In all, there are four sets of them — two horizontal and two vertical — and mostly they serve as a place for people to sit as they get their picture taken (see below).

pinchpoint best

Or just let us bike like this

Photo: The Tech
Photo: The Tech

Then again, the DOT could just hand out vuvuzelas and just let us blow them for the entire length of the bridge.