About a month ago, City Council member Brad Lander unveiled a proposal to double the width of the Brooklyn Bridge promenade: an explanatory diagram shows a pedestrian lane triple its current width, and a bike lane that’s about as wide as it is now, but protected by a physical barrier from oblivious tourists.
According to Lander’s brief, obstacles to widening the promenade include weight, cost, and “Historic Compatibility”: Can the bridge handle the additional weight of a wider path and more people? Can the money be found to fund construction? Can a substantial change to the bridge’s layout win approval from local and federal landmark commissions?
Here’s an idea that would achieve Lander’s safety and quality-of-stroll goals while circumventing all three challenges: Give the promenade (at its current width) over to pedestrians; turn a single motor vehicle lane, on the bridge’s lower level, into a protected two-way bike lane.
I’m not the only one who thinks this is a good idea: In a 2009 Gothamist poll, 61% of respondents favored shifting cyclists to the bridge’s lower level, while only 39% objected, saying that “biking down on the car level sounds like an asthmatic nightmare.”
As a biker, I would of course be happier to breathe in the pure CO2 emitted by pedestrians than the CO2-plus-toxic-stew emitted by motor vehicles. But the level of exhaust I’d be exposed to rolling alongside cars on the bridge would be no greater than what I already inhale as I tool along the average Manhattan thoroughfare. Also, it needn’t cost much to install a living wall of exhaust-filtering, vining plants (perhaps extending up from a concrete barrier?) between bikers and motorists.
As a triker, I’m even more enthusiastic about giving cyclists a car lane. Currently, the Brooklyn Bridge bike path ranges in width from four to eight feet; the average car lane is at least ten feet wide. Riding a freight trike over the Brooklyn Bridge on the lower level, I would not only have less climbing to do, to get to the highest point in the span, I would also have more room to maneuver (RR’s freight trikes are four feet wide). (Yes, it’s ridiculous to ride the King Kong of cycles over the teeming Brooklyn Bridge Promenade – but the recent bollarding of the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridge bike lanes have rendered them both inaccessible to trikes.)
I don’t ride my bike to work most days, though RR is just a couple blocks east of the Hudson River bike path; after a long day at the depot, I can’t handle fighting the Battle of the Brooklyn Bridge on my way home. For me, a physically separated Brooklyn Bridge bike lane – on either level – would be a little piece of commuter heaven. Maybe, while plans are being laid, and funds raised, for an expanded promenade, we cyclists – with the help of a few signs, a few vines, and a line of concrete barriers – can go ahead and occupy a car lane.