Every day, an average 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross the upper-level pathway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Commuters, tourists, and joggers vie for space on the congested path, whose width varies from 16 feet to as little as 8 feet—creating a bottleneck for two-way bike traffic. For years observers have recounted harrowing tales of near collisions on the overcrowded span, like the bike-phobic Post pitting reckless cyclists against merely oblivious tourists and the Times calling for the appropriation of a traffic lane for bike use. But now a proposal to double the width of the path could offer a solution to the overcrowding.
Proposed changes to improve pedestrian access (Courtesy Office of Brad Lander)
The answer to this conflict is expansion, according to three City Council members from districts adjacent the Bridge: Margaret Chin representing Lower Manhattan and Brad Lander and Stephen Levin representing the Brooklyn waterfront from Greenpoint through Carroll Gardens. “As the lower Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn communities continue to grow, the Brooklyn Bridge is becoming an increasingly vital connection,” council member Chin wrote in a statement. “We must ensure this historic destination is equipped to handle our city’s growing transportation demands.”
Currently the pathway widens as it passes around the iconic bridge towers supporting the bridge’s suspension cables, extending over the innermost traffic lanes below. The council members propose widening the entire pathway to that width, creating a dedicated bike lane on the northern side and an additional pedestrian lane on the south side, thus tripling pedestrian capacity.Detail of buttress showing existing path (solid orange) and proposed extension (dotted orange) (Courtesy Office of Brad Lander)
The proposal has not yet been discussed with designers or engineers, and council member Levin suggested a design competition to create a more refined plan. No budget or plans for funding have been established and no timeframe has been set for such a project.
The council members suggest that it could be integrated with current plans for a redesign of the approach at Tillary Street on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, which currently leaves pedestrians and cyclists to pile up in the middle of the road waiting for a crosswalk. Increased capacity will also demand a redesign of the Manhattan approach, as bottlenecking already creates congestion there as well.
Any alterations to the bridge will require the approval of city preservationists, as the main span is a city-designated landmark, a national historic landmark, and a national historic civil engineering landmark. Modification would not be unprecedented, however, as the original trolley and railways were removed from the bridge in the 1950s.Brooklyn Bridge ca. 1903 showing walkway enclosed by elevated train lines on top and trolley lines on side (Courtesy Office of Brad Lander)