Since starting this blog way back in 1989, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with cycling in New York City. Indeed, it’s this very tumult that gave birth to this blog, in the same way that a heaving cat deposits a hairball right in the middle of your finest throw rug. And of all the fraught places to ride in this town, perhaps the fraught-est over the years has been the Brooklyn Bridge, chiefly because it’s a huge tourist attraction and major pedestrian thoroughfare, and bicyclists and pedestrians are forced to share the relatively narrow gangplank that runs along the middle of it like a Brazilian wax job:
For me, the Brooklyn Bridge figures prominently into some of my fondest cycling memories. Back when there were fewer tourists, the other East River crossings were virtually unrideable due to neglect, and I was a young Mary Tyler Moore for whom the city still crackled with possibility, I recall the thrill of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at night before the backdrop of the scintillating Manhattan skyline. Then there was the excitement of riding over it in the predawn hours on the way to a bike race, when the only sound was the railroady ker-thunk of those wooden boards beneath my over-inflated 23mm tires, though if you’d also strummed my tightly-wound nerves they’d have struck a jarring chord.
The Brooklyn Bridge is also a major figure in my most harrowing memory, cycling or otherwise: September 11th, 2001, when I found myself riding across the span into lower Manhattan as the towers smoldered above and the bridge path began to fill with the first evacuees.
In the years after 9/11, as tourism and cycling boomed in tandem, it became increasingly difficult to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge due to all the slack-jawed gawkers (and I don’t mean that pejoratively, I myself gawk slack-jawed at New York City to this day), and advocates pointed out the irony that cyclists and pedestrians were fighting over scraps on the pedestrian path while the rest of the bridge was given over to motor vehicles–which were hardly even a thing back when they built it:
Though I will say there did seem to be a lot of space for horse-drawn carriages, and the relative paucity of space for bicycles has been an issue since at least 1897:
Anyway, given the absurdity of the current (or at least “current” until March 2020) situation in which bicyclists and tourists fight for space while drivers luxuriate in the ample motor vehicle lanes below (I mean yes, they’re also stuck in traffic, but that’s only because they’re choosing to cross the bridge in giant metal boxes), advocates have increasingly been calling for a portion of the roadway to be given over entirely to bicyclists, thereby alleviating conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians and bringing the allocation of space into something more closely resembling balance.
Like any sensible proposal it seemed like putting a bike lane in the roadway was never going to happen, but incredibly Mayor de Blasio has just announced that the bicycles will finally have their day–both on the Brooklyn Bridge and on the Queensboro Bridge, where a similar (if somewhat less fraught) situation also exists:
The bridge’s promenade, between 12 and 13 feet wide for much of its length, is difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate. Before the pandemic the walkway was also filled with tourists meandering and posing for photographs.
The city plans to create a two-way bike lane on the innermost road lane of the Manhattan-bound side of the bridge separated from traffic with a barrier, according to a copy of the city’s plans. The promenade will be reserved for pedestrians.
On the Queensboro Bridge, the city intends to convert the north outer roadway into a two-way dedicated bike lane. The south outer roadway will be converted into a pedestrian-only lane.
Having relocated to the northern precincts in 2012 there is of course that part of me that is merely spiteful and resents the fact that the city continues to lavish improvements upon the portions of Brooklyn and Queens that are closest to Manhattan while it’s still exceedingly difficult to cross the Harlem River by bicycle. But then I remember two things:
- Those sad sacks in the portions of Brooklyn and Queens still have to pedal a good 20 miles to get to any decent roads or trails whereas I have trails and tire piles right in my backyard;
- This is of course a major step forward in making the city more bikeable that ultimately benefits even those of us who aren’t able to avail ourselves of it on a regular basis.
Most importantly, it will hopefully cut down drastically on behavior such as this:
And yes, at :56 seconds he does in fact hit a little girl:
I realize this is totally an “avid cyclist” thing to say, but assholes like this are why people hate cyclists (well, that and because they’re stupid), and it’s too bad the design plans don’t include a special bike lane just for this asshole which will launch him off the bridge completely and send him plunging into the East River below.
Riding like this is what happens when you tell someone they’re special their whole lives and they grow up believing it.
Then again, I guess I’ve also managed to hit someone on the Brooklyn Bridge:
Though oddly I have no recollection of this collision whatsoever, so if my victim ends up suing and I say I don’t recall the incident I won’t be perjuring myself.
I also don’t remember falling off my bike on the Brooklyn Bridge in the early days of the blog, but I suppose I must have, because I wrote about it:
However, I definitely remember posing there for the cover of Momentum magazine, though the joke’s on me because the only image of it I can find on the Internet now is the one I doctored for my own blog some time ago:
Still, I take pride not only in the fact that I was using flared bars long before it was cool, but also attained the rarefied smugness status of people like David Byrne, who does not even own a car:
All of this is to say mazel tov, Brooklyn Bridge, on this, the occasion of your motor-vehicular bris. Don’t worry, they’re just trimming a little bit off the edges. You won’t feel a thing.