The Brooklyn Bridge is a major tourist attraction and a key link for bicycle commuters heading from Brooklyn to the Financial District. Also, as anybody who's braved the bike and pedestrian path knows, the bridge's popularity, the narrowness of the path (10 feet in some places), the obliviousness of selfie-taking and rented-bike-riding visitors, the obstacles created by soda vendors and police golf carts, and the raw aggression of some cyclists can make for a hair-raising combo on a summer day when work lets out.
The Department of Transportation announced today that it's going to look at building a new and/or wider path to accommodate the growing, and sometimes dangerous crowds crossing the bridge.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the New York Times that today begins a seven-month engineering study to figure out how much weight the bridge can hold and what the options are for a new path, including possibly bumping out the existing promenade over lanes of car traffic.
Trottenberg told the paper that we shouldn't get our hopes up about the problem of human-powered congestion being solved anytime soon, though.
"I have to tell you, every time we touch this 133-year-old bridge, it tends to be costly and complex," she said.
The study is set to cost $370,000, and an overhaul will be performed only if engineers and the DOT deem it feasible.
Other ideas on the table include: expanding the cement path at the base of the bridge on the Brooklyn side to take up unused space in the roadway; covering the Manhattan stairway that creates a single-file choke-point for cyclists coming off the bridge at high speeds; and adding crosswalks, stop signs, and even concessions and Citi Bike stations to the areas around the towers.
A vision of tomorrow? (DOT)
In 2012, Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander and others called for the city to look at widening the path, but the proposal was met with silence from then-mayor Michael Bloomberg and his transportation head Janette Sadik-Khan. At the time, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists crossed the bridge on an average weekday.
The DOT says that number has grown to 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists.
The city told the Times that there are fewer than 12 pedestrian-cyclist crashes on the bridge each year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that crashes go unreported with far greater frequency.
For example, a drink vendor told the Times in 2012 that he sees crashes almost every day. And this summer, on July 22nd, at around 6 p.m. on the Brooklyn approach to the promenade, I saw paramedics wheel a woman who appeared unconscious off the bridge in a stretcher. According to a bystander, a cyclist had hit her. The witness said that the cyclist stuck around to make sure that the woman was okay, "But then he saw the police coming."
An officer on the scene said that the cyclist ran down the stairs to Washington Street. "It's unfortunate," the cop said. "You want to catch them but sometimes...The cyclist ran down the steps. No one saw which way he went. It's one of those things."
An NYPD spokesperson said that the department press office has no record of a crash on the bridge at that time. A Fire Department spokesman said EMTs picked up a patient in stable condition near the scene.
The lead-up to the Manhattan tower near the center of the bridge is the most popular spot for taking photos, according to the DOT. Though the agency deems 16 feet to be wide enough for a typical bike-pedestrian path, the constant picture-taking the bridge inspires "creates pinch points and conflicts with walking and cycling" even on its widest, 17-foot stretches, according to a presentation.
In 2014, after German artists 2014 replaced the American flags atop the bridge with white flags, the NYPD stationed officers in Interceptor mini-cars on either side of the bridge near where the cables meet the path. These have added to the path's many choke points, as have cages built around the cables in the wake of high-profile tourist climbs that continued into 2015.
Trottenberg told the Times that shortly after she moved back to New York to become commissioner, her husband Mark Zuckerman told her, "You have to figure out how to widen the walkway."
"Trying," she remembers saying.