According to the DOT, the number of bicyclists using the East River bridges is the highest since it began counting twenty years ago. On an average fall weekday in 2003, 4,000 people biked across the East River bridges between 7 am and 7 pm compared to 1,100 in 1980. This increase in bridge traffic suggests a growth in citywide commute and utilitarian bicycle trips.
The East River bridge bicycle paths are the backbone of New York City's bicycle network. They connect residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens with jobs, schools and other destinations in Manhattan.
In 2001, the City opened all of the East River bridge paths to cyclists and pedestrians for the first time in fifty years. The restoration of the bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges that year helped draw an additional 1,500 weekday bicyclists to the bridges.
This surge in bridge use hints at the potential for yet more bicycling that the City could foster with safe and convenient street approaches to bridge paths. The Brooklyn side of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge need immediate attention. The dangerous traffic and inconvenient entrances at these bridges discourage cycling. The good news is that the DOT is taking a fresh look at the Manhattan Bridge (see facing page). The agency should also work with the Department of City Planning to make access safer at the other East River bridges.
Connections between bridges and bike lanes and greenways will also increase bicycling. The DOT should start by connecting the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge with the East River Greenway at Delancey Street and the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge with the Hudson River Greenway at Chambers Street. New Yorkers who are not everyday cyclists should not need a map to ride the short distance between these bridges and greenways.
Write to DOT Commissioner Weinshall and ask her to improve safety and connections near the East River bridges.