Brooklyn Boro

Cyclists snub Brooklyn Bridge as other spans draw more pedal power

October 19, 2020 Jose Martinez, THE CITY

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New Yorkers have increasingly taken to cycling across most East River bridges during the pandemic — but not along the city’s most famous span.

In all but one month since April, fewer cyclists have used the Brooklyn Bridge’s notoriously cramped biking and pedestrian promenade than they did during similar time spans in 2019, according to city data.

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That’s in contrast with bike paths on other bridges — all of which have experienced a significant cycling surge.

“It should be such a lovely experience, but it’s unfortunate that the bridge has become what it is,” said Hilda Cohen of Fort Greene, who has been biking across the Brooklyn Bridge for 12 years. “We should have space for all of us, but cyclists and pedestrians end up fighting over this tiny bit of space and it’s just awful.”

The decrease in two-wheeled traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge comes even as many New Yorkers are getting bikes and cars as the subway system slowly rebounds from a pandemic ridership plunge.

Advocates say the decreased cycling across the Brooklyn Bridge points at least in part to the city’s inactivity on proposals to improve conditions on a path that, prior to the pandemic, proved a top draw for camera-toting tourists.

“There have been a series of studies the city has done, but there’s been zero action,” said Jon Orcutt of Bike New York. “Widen the promenade, divert a lane of cars — do something. But there’s been nothing done for a glaring problem.”

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A Landmark Fight

In August, the City Council and the Van Alen Institute, an urban design nonprofit, announced the winners of a “Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge” competition in which ideas were solicited on how to make the symbol of the city more cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly.

City Department of Transportation officials have previously said plans to evaluate the Brooklyn Bridge’s iconic cables as a first step in a potential widening of the shared path had run into “financial challenges” that could worsen because of the city’s looming budget shortfalls.

Some cyclists told THE CITY they now prefer other routes to avoid battling pedestrians for space on the 137-year-old landmark bridge.

Cyclists and pedestrians share a narrow path leading to the Brooklyn Bridge on Friday. Photo: Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Dani Simons estimated that she now cycles into Manhattan from Brooklyn four to eight times a month, but avoids the bridge’s crowded path almost entirely. She’s mostly traversing the Manhattan Bridge these days.

“It should not be a tradeoff between pedestrians and tourists enjoying the space and cyclists trying to get somewhere,” said Simons, who helped launch bike sharing in the city as part of her work as a transportation advocate and consultant. “It doesn’t seem like it has to be that way.”

‘A Tale of Two Bridges’

In April, cyclist crossings on the Brooklyn Bridge fell by 53 percent from one year earlier — with just 26,809 bike trips recorded in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order.

Except for June — when bike trips inched up 5 percent to 66,542 — the decrease has remained steady at a tourist hot spot billed as “Times Square in the Sky” in a 2017 DOT report.

The number of cycling trips on the Brooklyn Bridge hit 70,741 in September, fewer than the 71,824 crossings recorded a year earlier.

In contrast, 97,502 cycling trips took place last month over the more modest Pulaski Bridge, which links Long Island City, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. That’s over 25,000 more than logged during the same month last year.

Cyclists credited part of the increase to the Pulaski’s protected bike lane, which opened in December 2016 on the bridge spanning Newtown Creek.

“It’s like a tale of two bridges,” Orcutt said. “One saw decisive action and one did not.”

Data shows the volume of cyclist traffic has also been increasing for months on the Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges. Elected officials and activists have been pushing for the Queensboro’s south outer roadway to be converted into a bike-only space.

‘There has to be political will and it just doesn’t exist.’

Cyclists predict the Brooklyn Bridge’s downward trend will continue unless more space is created on the promenade. They point to collisions, such as the man clipped by a bike last month while trying to photograph a wedding proposal.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation did not respond to repeated requests for comment from THE CITY.

“I get it, I’m an architect and I know you need to have reverence for something like the Brooklyn Bridge,” Cohen said. “But that does not make improvements unfeasible. There has to be political will and it just doesn’t exist.”

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2 Comments

  1. Clara West

    That bridge was never really designed for bike traffic. In past decades cyclist
    had to deal with a number of short steps. Dismounting to wheel bike up of down
    to then re mount. When they were eliminated cyclists could then ride at faster
    speeds.
    Bridge is still usable but with increased pedestrian traffic cyclists need
    to be aware of now increased pedestrian/tourist use. Or use the
    Manhattan Bridge.
    I don’t think we would want to return to the previous step system that slowed
    down bike speeds?