After 134 years, the Brooklyn Bridge may need some surgical enhancement. A report released Friday by the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) notes that the span’s pedestrian and cycling deck is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Brooklyn and one of the top five in Manhattan. The report also documents that between 2008 and 2015, the number of pedestrians crossing the bridge each weekend almost tripled, while the tally of cyclists has more than doubled.
A rendering of what an expanded pedestrian and cycling deck on the Brooklyn Bridge would look like. In this view, the center lane shows the existing path, while the left and right shoulders are the new space that would be created by partially decking over the traffic lanes below.
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. In 2016, the DOT hired engineering firm AECOM to develop ideas about how to ease the logjam.
The consultant’s primary recommendation is that DOT consider widening the deck, by partially covering the traffic lanes beneath with additional boardwalk. But the firm has also suggested that DOT wait until an upcoming inspection of the bridge’s cables (the first in three decades) slated for 2019, to confirm that the structure can handle the additional weight. AECOM is highly confident that the bridge can hold the load of the new deck structure, but less certain that it can handle the heft of the additional thousands of people likely to be drawn onto the bridge by an improved promenade.
That evaluation of the cables would take at least two years, which means that construction on the enlarged deck (if it is ultimately approved) could not begin before 2021, and would not be completed until at least 2023.
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 police headquarters. This perpendicular connection would run north and south, at a 90-degree angle to the bridge’s east-west orientation.