The Brooklyn Bridge bike lane opened to the public on Tuesday, bringing a welcome end to the chaotic mix of cyclist and pedestrian traffic on the iconic bridge’s promenade.
The new two-way lane lies on the Manhattan-bound side of the roadbed, separated from passing drivers by concrete barriers topped with chain link fencing. It was first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year, amid a pandemic-fueled boom in cycling that has shown no signs of slowing.
The new configuration — the bridge’s first since the trolley tracks were removed in 1950 — earned mixed reviews from cyclists on its inaugural day.
Most agreed that it was a major improvement from riding on the wood-slatted promenade — which carried some 2,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians, many of them bike-oblivious tourists, each day. But at just 8 feet wide, the new lane allows little room for error.
Roni Patrone, a Brooklyn Heights resident, said she was nearly side-swiped by a delivery cyclist’s GrubHub bag on her first ride. Despite the barriers, she was left “a bit nervous” by the lane’s proximity to vehicle traffic.
“It’s great not to be dodging pedestrians, but, on the other hand, the lanes are narrow and the cars are going too fast,” Patrone said.
According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the “desirable” width of a two-way bike lane is 12 feet, with 8 feet being the minimum in “constrained locations.”
The de Blasio administration, which for years opposed any dedicated bike lane on the bridge, is believed to have turned down a proposal that would have provided a wider one-way lane on each side of the bridge.
“There’s no better sign that the cycling boom is here to stay than permanently redesigning the most iconic bridge in America,” the mayor said in a statement. “It’s a symbol of New York City fully embracing a sustainable future and striking a blow against car culture.”
Katherine Willis, a co-chair of the Bridges 4 People campaign, which helped secure the new bike lane, said the city would have little choice but to add a second pathway on the Brooklyn-bound side. She noted that, unlike other East River crossings, the new lane does not have shoulders for cyclists to safely pull off if they encounter a problem.
“It makes an ideal one way lane,” Willis said. “As soon as you have people coming toward you, it will be too crowded and dangerous. We expect that to happen immediately.”
The new lane also has some built-in advantages. Both approaches are significantly less steep than climb up the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, making the trip more accessible to a range of riders.
Its implementation also comes with new protected bike lanes on the Manhattan side, allowing cyclists to avoid the crush of traffic that typically builds up around City Hall. After portions of that lane were quickly overtaken by NYPD vehicles in recent weeks, the mayor agreed to address the issue last week. The lane was clear at the ribbon-cutting on Tuesday, with two cops and a tow truck stationed nearby.
In addition to new stop lights, the bridge was also fitted with signage reminding New Yorkers that bikes are no longer permitted on the promenade. As cyclists whizzed between the boroughs, at least one betrayed a hint of sadness about the loss of that experience.
“It’s extremely smooth, easy to ride, but it’s boring,” said Kenny Chan, a 67-year-old cyclist. “So it’s a compromise.”