New Yorkers know that biking or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is no easy feat—and the city's trying to figure out ways to alleviate crowding on its promenade. At present, the 10-foot-wide expanse is barely big enough to fit both pedestrian and bike lanes, causing growing concerns over congestion and safety.
The numbers don't lie: according to the New York Times, pedestrian crossings rose in 2017 to an average of 13,196 for a weekday, compared with 10,484 in 2011. Weekend crossings for the same period have grown to 32,453 from 14,145. Cyclist crossings, too, have increased, from to an average of 2,981 in for a weekday in 2011 to 3,157 in 2017.
Last year, the NYC Department of Transportation hired the consulting firm Aecom to look for ways to relieve overcrowding and improve safety, and today, the DOT released a report of proposals based off Aecom's findings. The report follows the opening, earlier this year, of a $22 million entrance on the Brooklyn with wider pathways (16 feet versus 14 feet) for both pedestrians and bikers, along with improvements to the bike lanes, and better separation between the two.
So what's to come? According to the Times, the DOT postponed any decision on widening the promenade itself, or building decks on top of the girders that could run directly above the car lanes. The report says that a larger promenade would attract even more people and add more weight to the bridge. Aecom recommended an inspection of the bridge’s cables before considering any sort of expansion; that's scheduled to happen in 2019.
A more realistic proposal, the city felt, was building a separate bike entrance consisting of an elevated lane on the Manhattan side that would run along the edge of the bridge, physically separate from the existing promenade. It would then join back with the promenade in an L-shape, diverting cyclists from the heavily crowded entrance and also reducing conflicts with pedestrians in the sloping section of the bridge where Manhattan-bound cyclists pick up speed. The city could do this by converting a vehicle exit ramp on Park Row, which was closed after the September 11 attacks. This would take several years to open, according to the Times.
While transit advocates have long floated a proposal to transform an existing vehicle lane along the bridge into a roadway bike lane, the report said that it raised safety concerns, would be difficult to maintain, and would lead to traffic backups. But Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, thinks that improving bridge entrances will not suffice. "Improving the entrances is welcome, but you’re not doing enough to address the core problem that there is not enough space for pedestrians and bikers on the bridge itself," he told the Times.
The DOT is also moving forward on more immediate plans. For one, the transit agency will soon draft regulations to limit street vendors on the bridge. Though it'll relieve the bottleneck vendors create at the Manhattan entrance, those vendors are upset by the decision and worry that there's "no Plan B" for relocation.
The DOT will also install new signage to divert traffic to a lesser-used bridge stairwell on the Manhattan side that leads down to Frankfort Street. Pedestrians could take it continuing onto the ramp leading to City Hall, or to enter the bridge from below. The stairwell will eventually link to the new pathway on Park Row, which is expected to open in 2018. Once it does, it's expected to serve as a corridor between the South Street Seaport and Chinatown.