Higher, Wider, Handsomer
City Council Announces Design Competition to Improve Pedestrian Access to Brooklyn Bridge
The City Council has partnered with the Van Alen Institute (a New York nonprofit architectural organization, dedicated to improving design in the public realm) in sponsoring a contest to incubate fresh ideas for better pedestrian access to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The contest, announced Tuesday, has been sparked by the fact that, after 13 decades, the Brooklyn Bridge may need some surgical enhancement. A report released in 2017 by the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) noted that the span’s pedestrian and cycling deck is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Brooklyn and among the top five in Manhattan. The report also documented that between 2008 and 2015, the number of pedestrians crossing the bridge each weekend almost tripled (reaching 15,000), while the tally of cyclists has more than doubled (topping out at 3,600).
This has led to a massive squeeze in which hordes of walkers and bikers compete for space as narrow as ten feet across — a 1.1-mile bottleneck made worse by the profusion of food and souvenir vendors who also set up shop on the bridge’s deck each day.
The “Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge” competition invites both professional designers and members of the general public (including high school and college students) to submit ideas, with a deadline of April 5. Entrants are welcome to work individually, or to form teams. Three finalists will be selected from the adult category, and awarded $13,000 to develop their proposals further. Three additional finalists will be selected among participants younger than 22 years old, and will be awarded $3,000 each. For more information, please browse:
This follows the DOT’s 2016 decision to hire engineering firm AECOM to develop ideas about how to ease the Brooklyn Bridge’s chronic pedestrian logjam. The consultant’s primary recommendation was that DOT consider widening the deck, by partially covering the traffic lanes beneath with additional boardwalk. But the firm also suggested that DOT wait until an upcoming inspection of the bridge’s cables (the first in three decades), originally slated for 2019, to confirm that the structure can handle the additional weight. AECOM said it was highly confident that the bridge can bear the load of the new deck structure, but less certain that it could handle the heft of the additional thousands of people likely to be drawn onto the bridge by an improved promenade.
In any event, the planned inspection never started in 2019, and is now slated for this year. That evaluation of the cables will take at least two years, which means that construction on the enlarged deck (if it is ultimately approved) could not begin before 2022, and would not be completed until at least 2024.
In the interim, DOT is considering implementing some additional proposals, but has rejected others. One option the agency deems viable is restricting the number of food and souvenir vendors allowed onto the bridge deck. A proposal it has rejected is the idea floated by biking advocates for closing one lane of vehicular traffic and giving that space to cyclists.
Also still under evaluation is a scheme to build a new ramp, entirely for cyclists, that would bypass the constricted approach path over the bridge’s anchorage. Instead, this new viaduct would let bikers ride directly from the central span of the bridge to Park Row, which has been closed to the public since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, because of its proximity to One Police Plaza. This perpendicular connection would run north and south, at a 90-degree angle to the bridge’s east-west orientation.
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