Both Well-Known And New

We now interrupt this week’s planned blog posts for some welcome news: a dedicated bike lane has opened yesterday on the Brooklyn Bridge, roughly 138 years after it should have. The bridge as built had a pedestrian walkway, elevated almost to the top of the central pair stiffening trusses (of the six then provided) and in the center of the deck, two lanes for elevated railroads (at the inboard location, next to and below the walkway), and four lanes for horses and horse-drawn vehicles. There were full-height trusses on either side of the railroad tracks and half-height trusses at the outboard edges of the deck. At some point early on, streetcar tracks were put in the lanes next to the trains, which were then shared by streetcars and horse-drawn vehicles. Other than motorized traffic replacing horses, nothing much changed until the 1950s. Here’s a nice view from the front of an el train in 1899, heading from Manhattan to Brooklyn:

The first thorough renovation of the bridge, in the 1950s, raised the outer trusses to full height, removed the trusses between the el tracks and the rest of the deck on each side, removed the el tracks, removed the streetcar tracks, and replaced the wood deck (on steel beams) with a concrete-filled steel grating. In the 1980s, the short flights of stairs in the walkway that had been needed at each tower were replaced by ramps in the wood pedestrian deck. Other renovations over the years have addressed the superstructure but not the deck itself.

For as long as I can remember, bicyclists have used the pedestrian walkway. There was a line painted down the middle of the walkway that theoretically divided pedestrians on the south side of the walkway from bikers on the north side, but there is always friction. The bridge gets crowded with both commuters and tourists, many of whom ignore the line, and the removal of the walkway stairs means that bikers have no inherent need to stop.

As of today, the inboard traffic lane on the north side of the deck (the old lane for Manhattan-bound el trains) has become a dedicated bike lane, separated from the adjacent cars by a concrete Jersey barrier. Unfortunately, that means a 4-foot wide bike lane in each direction, which is tight. There are signs saying all bikes have to use the new lanes, but we’ll see if any end up on the old walkway. In the long run, another traffic lane should be taken from the south (Brooklyn-bound) side of the deck so that the bikers have one-way traffic in dedicated lanes.

A view of the ride from Brooklyn to about halfway to Manhattan (the pedestrian walkway is on the left, elevated to the top of the trusses on the suspended spans):

And a view of the ramp down the Manhattan approach, with on-point commentary from Dustin, a traffic engineer based on Michigan:

Scroll to Top