Popularity of iconic Brooklyn Bridge walkway calls for redesign, or banning something

NYC DOT balks at closing lane of car traffic below for bikes

April 4, 2018 By Raanan Geberer Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Visitors stroll along the Brooklyn Bridge's bike and pedestrian lanes. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
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When the Brooklyn Bridge walkway was crammed to capacity this past weekend, it was just one of many instances of pedestrian and cyclists overcrowding on the famed bridge and sometimes coming into conflict with each other.

One Twitter user, @makequeenssafer, posted on Saturday that “cops actually closed bridge to pedestrians/bikes as it was too crowded. Has anyone ever heard of that?”

Actually, it has happened before. On July 5, 2017, Streetsblog NYC, an advocacy blog for walking, biking and non-automobile transit, reported that the day before, on Independence Day, police blocked cyclists and pedestrians from using the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridge to prevent excessive crowding from happening. Even then, some bicyclists, flouting rules, reportedly biked alongside cars and trucks on the main roadway.

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Streetsblog, in another article published yesterday, added that overcrowding has become so intense that in 2017, biking on the Brooklyn Bridge decreased slightly after increasing every year since 2007. Inevitably, the crush from pedestrians has made cycling more difficult, even though the walkway was designed to accommodate both groups.

In December 2017, the city Department of Transportation (DOT) released a series of recommendations for decreasing crowding on the walkway. They were partially based on a study done the previous year by the consulting firm AECOM. Among them were creating a new bicycle-only entrance on the Manhattan side and limiting the places where vendors could sell their goods on the path.

However, the report postponed any decision on a proposal to widen the wood-and-concrete walkway, which is only 10 feet wide in some places, by building new decks on top of girders that are placed directly on top of the car lanes. DOT said that the strength of the bridge’s cables needs to be tested first, according to The New York Times. An inspection is scheduled for 2019.

In an editorial in the Brooklyn Eagle in December, this reporter wrote, “As far as I’m concerned, expanding the walkway and bikeway should be done as soon as possible. The Brooklyn Bridge, the first to be built of the four East River bridges, is a world-famous landmark.

“When tourists come to New York, the bridge is one of the main attractions people want to see. Many of these tourists aren’t satisfied with just standing near the bridge and taking pictures of it, but want to walk across it, too.” Overall, this issue isn’t new. In September 2011, Mary Frost wrote in the Eagle about the introduction of pedestrian safety officers on the bridge “to keep pedestrians separated from speeding cyclists” and to prevent collisions. Frost noted, however, that many of the tourists who crowd the bridge do not speak English.

Frost quoted a firefighter after an earlier cyclist-pedestrian collision as telling her, “This happens almost every day. It’s crazy to have pedestrians and bicyclists on the same walkway. On the Manhattan Bridge, they keep them separate.”

Even earlier, on May 30, 1883, soon after the bridge opened, a woman fell, causing another woman to scream and others to rush to the scene. Soon, a rumor formed that the bridge, the longest in the world at that time, was about to collapse. The crowd turned into a stampede, and 12 people were killed. Thankfully, this situation wasn’t repeated, but the pedestrian “crush,” as it was called, became so prevalent during the early days of the bridge that in 1907, the Eagle published its own musical composition, “The Brooklyn Bridge Crush March.”

Getting back to the present day, many advocates of alternative transportation support taking a lane of traffic away from automobiles and turning it over to cyclists. That option was rejected to DOT because of its possible impact on traffic. Still, Streetsblog believes that it’s necessary. “These tweaks [that DOT is proposing] will provide modest relief, but on many days the bridge will remain cramped and miserable unless DOT takes a lane from car traffic,” says the blog.


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