Council Members Ponder Widening Brooklyn Bridge Walkways

Three City Council members representing both Brooklyn and Manhattan believe the Brooklyn Bridge needs to fatten up. Citing tight quarters along the pedestrian and bicycle paths, the members proposed Tuesday to widen the upper-level platform for tourists and commuters.

The New York Times reports that Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin suggested that “the engineering and ideas community” could be enlisted to widen the artery by as much as three times its current span, perhaps through a competition organized by local design groups.

Likewise, Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn, believes that “just looking at how the path goes around the buttresses gives you a sense that a wider path is feasible. If it can widen out there, surely we can find a way to widen it out elsewhere.” Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the Manhattan side, also attended the event on Tuesday to lend support.

Lander’s office says the city Transportation Department has not yet been consulted about a possible plan, though Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said the city shares their “interest in enhancing safety and accommodating the growing number of people crossing this iconic transportation hub and tourist destination.” Any proposed designs “would be part of a long-term look at improving bridge access and safety,” he said.

The width of the main portion of the 129-year-old Bridge’s pathway varies between 8 and 16 feet. A bike lane on the bridge can comfortably fit only one rider in many areas, though traffic is intended to flow in both directions. The council members cited a Transportation Department estimate that 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross the bridge each day.

See the full NY Times story here. DNAInfo also reports here.

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  • sajh

    Widening would cost probably somewhere in the $15-25 million range at bare minimum. That’s just a guess based on the 1 mile length of the bridge and the fact that you can’t get anything done in this city without ballooning costs. Basically, this is a pipe dream unless we allow the pathway to be called the “Chase Pathway” or the “Citi-Access point” with logos…
    The issue here is the tourism is at an all time high but everyone is looking to see NYC on the dime. Thus, anything that is free very popular. (i.e. Staten Island ferry).
    Best cheap solution I can think of is to split the already narrow pathway with physical barriers. Update/add clear signage on both entrances to the bridge and in several spots that clearly state pedestrians on the northside and bikes on the southside. Reduce biking speed to no more than 15 miles per hour (I myself was able to reach speeds of about 25 on the downslope). Create a special ordinance that fines pedestrians from using the bike side (and bikes from using the pedestrian side). And fines cyclists for speeds over 20 mph. Fines would go to support the cost of having someone on duty to give tickets.
    These are just simple “now” solutions. Obv a widened pathway would be great but even if the miracle money happened, it would be years away.

  • DrewB

    Before we call it a pipe dream maybe we should let the professional study it. I think widening would make great sense, and be great for Brooklyn, particularly the Heights and DUMBO. If they do this, they definitely need to figure out some sort of physical Barrier between Peds and Bikes. The situation now is very dangerous and putting up a barrier will only diminish what space is now there.

  • Still Here

    Reduce bike speed? Who is gonna enforce that?

    The obvious quick solution is just ban bicycles from the bridge – restrict them to the Manhattan bridge.

  • runnic

    This would be wonderful. Between the bikes and tourists walking three abreast, running across the Brooklyn Bridge during the summer is a perilous endeavor.

  • Mr. Crusty

    As usual, the first comment out of the box is a naysayer. Can’t be done. Shouldn’t be done. Numbers are glibly pulled out of the air as to how much it would cost. And this is all before a study has been done to see the feasibility of such a project.

    The answer to the problems on the Brooklyn Bridge? Cops giving tickets to tourists on the bike path. Yeah. That should do the trick.

  • zburch

    I agree with Still Here. Until the city can afford to widen the pathway, bikes should move to Manhattan Bridge. It is simply too narrow for tourists and bikes to co-exist safely. Bikes fly down the downside at top speed yelling at tourists that have no clue what they are doing. It is a dangerous situation. I used to run across the bridge regularly, but in the past few years it has been over run with tourist groups and large school groups and speeding bikes. It just isn’t worth it anymore. The increase in tourism and draw of the Brooklyn Bridge Park will continue to increase ped traffic. I love to walk across the Manhattan bridge too, but for now, I think it should be dedicated for bikes and the Brooklyn Bridge for pedestrians.

  • soulman

    The Brooklyn Bridge is actually a very under-utilized (or perhaps “under-exploited”) tourist attraction. It’s amazing that there is no concerted “Gateway to Brooklyn” aspect to it, except for a sign. There’s no store, where visitors can buy junk to take home. It’s dangerous for people with kids, especially when the most entitled bikers are speeding over it. Signage for visitors is feeble at best. I agree that something must be done – first, moving the bikes to the Manhattan Bridge. I walk, bike and bring out of town visitors to it regularly as well as directing tourists to it on an almost daily basis, since I live a couple of blocks away. Good luck to this initiative.

  • Bloomy

    Just a few thoughts…

    As someone who inspects bridges for a living I agree this would be a very expensive endeavor. This will require new entry points on both sides of the bridge in order to get over the height of the traffic, or else there would sill be bottle necks at each end. Also a different surface than wooden slats should be used in order to keeps things from falling down onto the traffic. This would change the “feel” of the bridge to many. And drivers on the bridge would then effectively be driving in a tunnel across the bridge.

    Also, the last thing I want is more construction on the bridge. The current traffic flow is terrible from the FDR to the onramp. Widening the upper deck would take at least a year or two and shut down lanes on the bridge.

    The current setup with a divided bike / ped lanes would not work well unless you give more room to bikers. It is a pain to pass people as it is, and with a hard barrier I feel it would be unsafe to pass at anything more than a crawl.

    Why not just pay a few cops to yell to / ticket idiots that cross over the line into the bike lane to take photos. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper than retrofitting the bridge with wider lanes. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.

  • lee

    I think if there was a safer way for cyclist to get to the Manhattan Bridge from the Manhattan side most of us would use that bridge. Why should pedestrians be entitled to use the Brooklyn Bridge only???? Not all cyclist go speeding down the bridge, some are respectful and careful. Keeping the speed down is what I have found to work best for me…

  • Tom Murphy

    Ah for the good old days! Like when biking on the Brooklyn Bridge really rescued commuters in the Subway Strike of 1980. Especially the cop at the Manhattan end giving instruction: “Pedestrians to the left! Polish air force to the right!”. The stairs were fun.
    After that I had the bridge to myself biking alone with a few lost pedestrians. Then CM Bobby Steingut got it all flattened out and the crowds came.
    Like London Mayor Boris Johnson said, biking advocates are insatiable–wanting more.
    A ban is simple; therefore, impossible. Making structural changes, the same. Answer: Can’t we all just get along(and over this hump)?

  • Donald Brennan

    Make current walkway pedestrian ONLY and dedicate one outbound vehicle lane for two way bike traffic in the AM and then switch the two way bike tracffic to an inbound vehicle lane in the PM.

  • Wrennie

    As a cyclist, I don’t see the appeal of going over the Brooklyn…I use the Manhattan. When I run, though, I go over the Manhattan and return over the Brooklyn, and I try to stay right on the mid-line so that I’m between the cyclists and pedestrians. It’s honestly not the cyclists who bother me–except this one girl who basically laid her bike down in the middle of the entire pathway for no reason. It’s the tourists…they really are so clueless. My current tactic of swinging my fists into people’s backs, side-arming them, or elbowing them as I go by doesn’t seem to deter them from being imbeciles. Womp.

  • David on Middagh

    Widening should be done, if possible.

    Clots of tourists usurp the people lanes, planting the flags of their knapsacks and employing the walk/jog/bikeway as an observation deck. Some amble out half way, take pictures, then turn around and head back to Park Row.

    I don’t blame them. It’s wonderful to be suspended above the river. But a bridge’s primary function is to make transportation possible without a demolecularization device.

    Crossers, whether walking or jogging, should take precedence, not be banned from the boards!

  • David on Middagh

    …or biking, bien sûr. That was my point.

  • Park Lover

    And our Mayor thinks 50 million tourists a year aren’t enough- he wants at least 5 million more! Fine– but then NYC should consider the infrastructure and quality of life implications. Whether or not the lanes can be widened, at least SOME government officials are thinking about the issue!

  • Neil

    Pedestrians will definitely overlap into bike lanes even if the area is expanded….(they already do that even without crowds present) They should definitely consider adding a divider between pedestrians and bikers as part of the plan.

    While we’re at it, can we get an elevator, stairs or fireman pole to get easier access to Brooklyn Bridge park from the bridge?

  • John Q

    Neil– Believe it or not, there was originally a circular stairway from the bridge down to what is now BBP. Not sure when it was removed. Great idea to restore it!

  • BH’er

    this is a great idea and i hope they do it quickly – you could easily extend the wooden decking out over the medial traffic lane in each direction so bikes one-way ride on each side directly over the fast lane

    the entry could be split out at either end to rejoin the main path for a little bit and 95% of your current problems will go away

    guarantee you still get an occasional stray duck tourist meander up the bike path but we’d still be way ahead of the current accident-waiting-to-happen

    build a gift shop mid-span to sell tourist junk and photos to pay for construction – you could even charge tourists for a ticket to walk out and get a photo so the bridge starts generating revenue until we find a way to toll it

  • BH’er

    happy birthday BHB! can we get an edit button on the birthday cake?? “… bikes ride one-way on each side…” (yoda me attack)

  • PJL

    There’s still the bottleneck at the entrance/exit onto Tillary Street… what’s the proposal there?

    As it stands now, bikes are always riding through the crosswalk nearly hitting pedestrians as it’s so congested there at times….

  • Arch Stanton

    PJL wrote”bikes are always riding through the crosswalk nearly hitting pedestrians” In english you are implying; the cyclists are trying to hit pedestrians.

  • willowtowncop

    I can’t see how they can just change a landmark as historic as the bridge. That’s like adding an escalator to the outside of the Empire State building. The problem can easily be solved with a few (removable) speed bumps.

  • JR

    if NYC was serious about traffic on the bridge they would ticket & remove all the peddlers. These beverage, t shirt, ice, water, soda and numerous other sellers bring there own chairs, umbrellas & radios to camp out on the bridge. Tourist cannot even read the plaques on the arches some days with all the merchandise in front of them. The peddlers should be removed!

  • Hicks on Hicks

    Many great suggestions on the blog. I’d like to add this one: Enforce the vendor prohibition on the Bklyn Bridge. There are souvenir and refreshment vendors on the path despite its narrow size. There is even a bicycle rental vendor on the Manhattan side of the span.

  • L.C. Armstrong

    The problem is overuse by tourists. I use the Brooklyn Bridge for my commute. I have a reverse commute from Tribeca. The Manhattan Bridge is not convenient for me because getting to the bridge forces me to ride through Chinatown. The problem has worsened in years as there are many more tourist buses. They let people out in a glut. This creates bottlenecks. I agree that riders should slow down. I was recently mowed down by a bike running a very stale light, and broke both wrist bones. The solution? Separate lanes, enforced speed restrictions. I also think that bikes should have licenses. The guy who struck me rode off without even a “sorry”.

  • sajh

    I agree a professional surveyer, engineer and designer should be hired to give their estimated professional opinion and renderings of what this project would cost. However the professional fees for this would probably run in the 50,000-100,000 range.
    A number out of thin air, hm? Crust, what’s your estimate? I think it’s best to make a guestimate based on similar projects of size and scope as a high level estimate. Then beyond the city having the prove the cost.. there’s the look of the bridge, which would be changed and might not fly at all. The iconic look of the bridge would not be the same with the roadway covered partial on both sides.
    Simpler solution: ROPE, 2-3 ft off the ground for all points that crossing is not allowed. And dividers such as the same ones already in place near the stair entrance from Washington St.
    Speed bumps, great idea but they have some already… .and they dont work. Bikes are designed for such bumps.
    Ticketing,, I dont see a problem with this as the European countries do this to tourists in theirs for not understanding their systems.
    The rope idea is probably the quickest and fastest solution. It isnt perfect (people will still cross it) but it will herd them better to one side and those that go past the ropes will be fully aware that they are outside their bounds…

  • sajh

    As far as closing the bridge to bikes and having bikes use the Manhattan bridge… the Manhattan bridge is already closed to bikes due to construction / scaffolding.

  • Mr. Crusty

    @sajh: “A number out of thin air, hm? Crust, what’s your estimate? I think it’s best to make a guestimate based on similar projects of size and scope as a high level estimate”

    I would not be presumptuous enough to think I had any expertise whatsoever to be able estimate the cost of a project as unique as this. Apparently you do. What exactly is your expertise again?

  • sajh

    Construction and real estate. What’s your presumptuous qualification to discount someone else’s?

  • sajh

    Oh that’s right, you said you don’t have expertise. So if you dont have any expertise in the matter, why are you even remotely able to discount a number, opinion, idea or scope of this project? Sounds like you don’t have any constructive ability to comment on anyone’s suggestions as you have admitted to having no knowledge base.