Visionaries around the world are formally invited to help solve a quintessential NYC problem: the infamously overcrowded Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian and bike path. In a competition launched Tuesday, the City Council is actively seeking fresh ideas for the chronically clogged walkway.
"People from all over the world flock to the Brooklyn Bridge to soak in its history and breathtaking views of Manhattan," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a press release. "We need to make sure they are not competing for space because we want the number of people using the bridge to continue growing."
The walkway has become known for its dangerously crowded conditions; on New Year's Eve in 2018, a "human traffic jam" forced the bridge to close temporarily. Though there is technically marked spaces for pedestrians and cyclists, crossing the bridge by bike requires dodging selfie-taking tourists and distracted cyclists in close quarters.
On average last year, 16,500 pedestrians crossed the bridge each day, but the number of cyclists crossing the bridge fell from 3,600 in to 3,000 between 2016 and 2018, according to the Department of Transportation, even as cyclist commuting continued to rise citywide.
"The Brooklyn Bridge has been perhaps New York City's most iconic structure for 137 years," the DOT's chief operations officer Margaret Forgione said in a statement. "Not only is it a must-see tourist attraction, this beautiful bridge is relied upon by thousands of New Yorkers who cross between Brooklyn and Manhattan each day—many of them by foot or bike."
A study to investigate whether the walkway's deck could be extended over traffic found pedestrian and cyclist traffic increased by 275 percent and 104 percent, respectively, between 2008 and 2015. That study also determined two years of cable inspections on the bridge were required before further consideration the promenade changes. Cable inspections have since been delayed.
A DOT spokesperson said Tuesday that cable inspections are supposed to begin in April, and a preliminary report will be issued in June.
"As we undertake our own engineering inspection this year to help assess the capacity for changes to the promenade, we welcome new and innovative ideas on how to reimagine the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists," Forgione said.
The City Council and the Van Alen Institute will lead the "Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge" competition, in which teams of two categories—professionals ages 22 and older and young adults ages 21 and younger—will submit designs for the walkway.
The deadline to submit proposals is April 5th. Three finalists from each category will be chosen by a nine-member jury, which will consider factors such as accessibility and safety to "magic" and "new ideas that surprise, delight, and fascinate," according to an announcement. The jury is made up of leaders at the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Transportation Alternatives, the Van Alen Institute and other organizations.
Finalists in the professional and young adult categories receive $13,000 and $3,000, respectively. Two winning designs will be chosen through a public vote in July.
It's unclear what will become of the winning proposals. A DOT spokesperson did not immediately respond to our inquiry about whether the department will give the contest winners serious consideration.