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It’s a wheely bad time on the Williamsburg Bridge

The Brooklyn Paper

Pedestrians and bicyclists were at each other’s throats this week on the remaining Williamsburg Bridge bike path now that the city has closed the southern lane for repairs that will drag on through the entire spring biking season at least.

For more than a week since the detour sign went up, bikers and pedestrians have been having one near miss after another — and not all the misses have been near.

“I saw someone lying on the ground bleeding from his head,” said a jogger named Jennifer who declined to give her last name.

With its southern lane closed, the northern path is jam packed — more resembling the always choked bike and pedestrian path on the Brooklyn Bridge. As a result, few users of the Williamsburg Bridge are happy.

Pedestrians chastise cyclists for clipping them or careening by at high speeds near the foot of the bridge. Cyclists criticized pedestrians for walking too slowly. Both sides accuse the other of occupying the wrong lanes.

Either way it’s a mess.

For three months, Department of Transportation officials are resurfacing and repainting the bike-pedestrian pathway to create clearly marked lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, causing users to be rerouted to the north pathway until at least early June. The project is just one part of the city’s $173-million Williamsburg Bridge rehabilitation.

Transportation watchdog groups, including Times Up!, are wary of the city’s timeline and believe that the project could take even longer. The group’s director, Bill DiPaola has observed no construction activity on the south side of the bridge for the past five days.

“Things need to be repaired, but you wouldn’t close the street for five days in a row and do nothing,” said DiPaola. “Don’t close it and not show respect for people on the bridge.”

In the meantime, cyclists and pedestrians have been forced to share the path, often swerving into each other’s lanes to the consternation of the other group.

“Two girls were walking down the bridge on the wrong side and a kid hit them,” said Ashley, a cyclist, who declined to give his last name. “The city needs to repaint the lanes.”

His friend, Aidan Lyon, recounted a scene where his cycling roommate collided into another cyclist head on and flew off his bike in the middle of the bridge.

“Neither of them were mad at each other because there were other people around,” said Lyon, who himself had been almost hit multiple times this week.

Chaya Kurz, who was walking with her family over the bridge on Sunday, blamed out of control cyclists for ruining her afternoon stroll.

“You can’t walk very peacefully because you’re always crashing into bikes,” said Kurz.

Transportation Alternatives spokesman Wiley Norvell believes that the restriping will ultimately improve safety on the bridge.

“It is incumbent upon cyclists, as the faster-moving users on the path, to yield to pedestrians and to bike at a safe speed,” said Norvell.

Yet cyclists such as Rachel Steinberg are not so sure people will stick to the lanes once they are painted in.

“It is kind of marked already. It is more a matter of people not paying attention where they are going,” said Steinberg.

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Reader Feedback

J from BK says:
Toll the bridge and give bicyclists a protected lane on the roadway. That'll solve the problem.
April 15, 2010, 7:06 am
Peter from Park Slope says:
It's been like this for years on the Brooklyn Bridge as well - even moreso, with all the tourists, and on a narrower path.

DOT seems to be hoping the problem will just go away. It won't.
April 15, 2010, 9:45 am
Dav from Greenpoint says:
J from BK says: Toll the bridge.. perfect idea will be to enforcing all bicycle riders to a special insurance and registration fee that’s will be a great salutation and salve lots of problems down the road..
You need the roads and bridges pay for it there is no free rides!!! You give and take.. Bottom line must of bikers are not falling rules an regulation
Start behaving like a normal persons people will like you….
April 15, 2010, 10:22 am
Michael from UWS says:
Dav, given that city streets are mostly paid by general tax funds, cyclists (and pedestrians) are paying already more than their fair share given the (little) wear'n'tear they cause and the little space they need. It's rather the cars which get the free ride here ....
April 15, 2010, 10:27 am
Boris from Bay Ridge says:
For the Brooklyn Bridge, that's considered "normal." Cyclists definitely need to be given a road lane there as well as on the Wiliamsburg. Tolls for cars are an absolute necessity as well. The upcoming repairs will cost about half a billion dollars and only benefit motorists, which is completely unfair.
April 15, 2010, 10:35 am
John from East Williamsburg says:
There's a NY State Law that says if a person riding a bicycle hits a pedestrian on a sidewalk, the bicyclist is automatically presumed 100% responsible for both parties' resulting injuries. (This means it is not necessary to prove in civil court whose fault the accident was - only to prove damages, and the bicyclist cannot claim the pedestrian was at fault.) It would be interesting to find out if that law applies to the pedestrian portion of the walkway.
April 15, 2010, 10:37 am
Richie rich from parkslope says:
I see pedestrians on the bike lane on the brooklyn bridge and vice a versa. What we need is a few NYDP cops patrolling on the Brooklyn Bridge ensuring everyones safety.
April 15, 2010, 11:13 am
b from williamsburg says:
Users of mixed-use paths need to share the responsibility.

For cyclists, this means slowing down and being more courteous to pedestrians. For peds, it means not walking 4 abreast and being aware of cyclists.

That said, I'm not sure why the DOT is insisting on striping both the north and south paths for both bikes and peds.

The Manhattan-side ramp should be divided or striped, with two lanes of bike traffic on the left side, and peds on the right.

At the top, bikes go left and take the North path (which would be striped with lanes for Manhattan-bound and Brooklyn-bound traffic), and peds go right, and walk on the South path.
April 15, 2010, 11:31 am
Moshe aron Kestenbaum from Williamsburg ODA says:
I Hate Cars, I Hate Driving. I really dislike cars, and driving in general. ... Sitting in a car is bad for you. I hate being cooped up. ...
I wish they would shut one car lane and dedicate it for bikes only
April 15, 2010, 6:13 pm
mike from park slope says:
Having "clearly marked paths" for bikes and peds doesn't help - the Manhattan bridge has signs that clearly mark that peds should use one side and bikes the other - as far as I know, no one ever uses the pedestrian only side of the bridge... I ride the "bicycle side" every day to and from work and I have to dodge people. You'd think people who are walking would love to take advantage of the fact that there's an entire side of the bridge just for them - but it's not the case. Apparently it's too inconvenient for them to walk up a set of stairs? Or they don't know that the sign with the little person means walking and the sign with the bike means bicycles?
April 16, 2010, 10:58 am
Jim from LES says:
I run across the Bridge a lot and I can see how this is going to cause problems. A lot of pedestrians ignore the lane markings and walk with the bike traffic. If you're on a bike, you have to dodge people walking the wrong way as well as bikers coming towards you. I understand why people are walking the wrong way, because it's counter intuitive to walk on the left side but that's the rule. They could put up more signs, but I'm sure people would still ignore them. I wish the city could enforce the lane rules, but it would be a waste of resources. All we can do it yell at the people walking and riding on the wrong side.
April 18, 2010, 1:14 am
Walker Daily from Bushwick says:
Thank you for this excellent article! I was wondering if it's a good idea to take a daily walk across the bridge after work; now I know it's not. I wrote off the Brooklyn Bridge some time ago. I guess what we have is the inevitable result of not enforcing traffic laws in confined high-traffic areas. It becomes a competition for territorial control, and some people feel a need to use or threaten to use force by biking (and running!) as fast as they want. Do you not realize that you need pedestrian support to take on our common enemy, drivers? Is it good for bikers when a pedestrian gets injured? Do bikers think that will help their cause by raising the stakes? As a pedestrian, I become more and more sympathetic to the idea of making bridge paths pedestrian-only and moving bike traffic onto the roadways with every incident I hear about. Actually, as one of the commenters has said, a crash doesn't have to happen; it's the constant near-misses and evasions that cause the bridges to be unusable to walkers. Runners are just as responsible in this respect and should be banned during peak walking hours.
June 5, 2010, 2:42 pm
John from Williamsburg says:
I was ecstatic last week when the lanes were separated and the big signs went up prohibiting bicycles on the south deck (and pedestrians on the north one) but my happiness didn't last long. Sure, most cyclists are taking the north deck and most walkers are taking the south deck, but rather than being relaxing it's almost worse because you now tend to let your guard down when walking across and feel you can saunter wherever you want, until some thug cyclist comes speeding from behind you. Some cyclists will never get the message that it's a matter of equal rights and not them above everyone.

And I'm just as ashamed of the dolts walking on the bike side. I almost hope one of them gets knocked down as a lesson. I walk this bridge home almost every day and my blood pressure probably sky rockets when I'm up there. All I can think of now are large speed bumps or barriers of some kind. If you point out to a cyclist that he/she is not supposed to be three expect little but a raised finger and a "f*ck you" in reply. Maybe some city DOT people up there for awhile making certain everyone understands what is happening, maybe some summonses & fines for awhile . . . to walkers, too.

What more can you do than solidly separated lanes like this? If we are to immature and thuggish to make this work then close the damn bridge to everyone and let the cars have it like they used to. After 30 years of walking in this city I can honestly say I've never come close to being hit by a a car.
June 29, 2010, 10:04 pm
Chris from Williamsburg says:
The number of people who still cross this bridge on the wrong side, as well as ignoring lane discipline on the combined stretch on the Manhattan side of the bridge, is staggering. Everyday I ride and have to navigate my way around someone walking or jogging... even worse when people walk their bikes, that's just a real pain as they force you even further out of your lane.

There is always a traffic cop on Delancey at the the bottom of the bridge on a morning, maybe they should have someone there on a night directing people up the bridge.

We have to work together to make it work. But as John says, people are too quick to just give you the finger and tell you to 'go f*ck yourself'.

Not only do pedestrians pose a problem on the bridge, but they pose a problem in bike paths around the city. Just yesterday I collided with a pedestrian who crossed a one-way street looking the wrong way, and just stepped straight out in front of me. It could've been a lot worse if I'd had my speed up.

But I know it's not just the pedestrian's at fault. I've seen plenty of cyclist go down the south side of the W'burg bridge, I don't know why, it's far too bumpy and narrow for my liking. So what if you have to cycle a block or two back on yourself if you take the north side, deal with it, you're on a bike anyway! Peds don't have that excuse this time, they always have to walk further if they choose the north side path.

Safe to say though, I agree with John, there are signs everywhere, so there's no way you can't tell what side you're supposed to use. If you use the wrong side, you're just being ignorant, and you should watch your back.. as it might end up with tire-marks down it.
July 20, 2010, 3:06 pm

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