For years, activists had called on city officials to make the sclerotic Brooklyn Bridge safer for biking and walking – a campaign that ultimately led to the opening last month of the protected cycle path on the causeway towards west of the legendary span. But there is still a lot of work to be done to put people first over cars, so we asked the organizers of Transportation Alternatives’ Bridges 4 People campaign to chart the way forward.
The new Brooklyn Bridge track is an important first step, but many more is needed: now is the time to build on this momentum with bold infrastructure changes. We are facing a record year for road violence and need a truly connected cycling network across the city that allows cyclists to plan trips entirely along protected routes. This new connected network would include wide protected cycle paths that national standards on all the bridges that connect our boroughs, including the East River bridges, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, and the Washington Bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge must be further improved to make this safer network: another automobile lane must be reallocated to create wider cycle lanes, and streets near its entrances must be redesigned to facilitate protected connections to nearby cycle paths so that people using the new routes can reach their destinations safely. We need to deploy these improvements quickly and holistically rather than in a gradual, piecemeal process, to ensure that vital infrastructure reaches everyone and works for everyone, including cyclists working on cargo bikes and families with young children.
Last year we launched the Bridges 4 People campaign to ask the mayor to reallocate two lanes of traffic on each of the bridges connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan into a protected space for cyclists and to convert the existing bike lanes into more pedestrian space. Our vision is rooted in the belief that New Yorkers shouldn’t have to avoid walking and cycling in such beautiful and popular urban spaces simply because of the artificial prioritization of cars. Bridges 4 People imagine what is possible when our public spaces serve the majority of New Yorkers who do not own a car, and the new Brooklyn Bridge bike path brings the city closer to that vision.
The rapid installation of the new route immediately improved the quality of life for millions of residents and visitors to the city. Thousands of suburban cyclists, tourists and delivery men no need to reorient yourself towards the Manhattan Bridge to find more security. The new option relieves the increased congestion that the bicycle boom has brought to the Manhattan Bridge. Couples and tourists posing for a perfect panoramic photo on the bridge promenade no need to dodge cyclists anymore, and we were even able to easily parade on the bridge with a marching band and bikes to celebrate the bridge last month.
Our efforts to transform the Brooklyn Bridge have been propelled by the cycling boom and the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is another crisis that requires the ubiquity of cycling: climate change. Catastrophic climatic events are already here – we recently lost 13 New Yorkers to the Ida floods – and the Latest UN report confirms sweeping government action needed to avert another looming climate catastrophe. We need to recover more space for cycling, walking and public transport so people can switch to safe, reliable and zero-emission transportation alternatives that help ensure that the city’s bridges and streets will be there for generations to come.
We’ve seen the incredible transformation possible in no time with the new Brooklyn Bridge bike path, and we look forward to construction to begin on the new bike path on the Queensboro Bridge this year. We urge Mayor de Blasio and our next mayor to empower DOT to quickly enact the necessary changes so that all of our bridges and streets are people-centered, not cars-centered. Activists shouldn’t have to fight for decades longer just to get their fair share of the bridges for the majority of car-less New Yorkers.
Liz Denys, Diane Martins and Katherine Willis are leaders of Transportation Alternatives’ Bridges 4 People campaign.