‘Lots of Close Calls’
By Mary Frost
BROOKLYN BRIDGE — After numerous complaints and injuries, the city has come up with a plan to potentially reduce the number of collisions between pedestrians and cyclists on local bridges — especially on the Brooklyn Bridge’s narrow, overcrowded walkway.
On Monday crews of “pedestrian safety officers,” wearing bright yellow vests took up posts on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridge walkways. Their job is to keep the crowds of often-clueless tourists separated from the cyclists, some whizzing by at 30 mph.
The trial period is scheduled to end on Nov. 26, reflecting the end of the peak usage period for the bridges. Until then, the agents — who work for Sam Schwartz Engineering — earn $38 per hour. The total cost of the program is estimated to be $80,000 per month for all three bridges.
Daniel Meyer, on his fourth day of the job Thursday, said, “So far so good. It’s not easy during rush hour — there have been lots of close calls.” He added for emphasis, “Lots.” As cyclists whizzed by at a high rate of speed he said, “You see how fast they’re going?”
The officers inform the crowds of tourists, many of whom do not speak English, to stay in the pedestrian lane. ”They come from every country,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Norway, the Ukraine, Russia. The tourists want to take pictures. Even though the lane is marked with a logo, they don’t understand.”
According to Department of Transportation (DOT), more than 4,000 pedestrians and 2,600 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge every day. During good weather and rush hour, however, the walkway teems with so many walkers they often can’t all physically fit in the pedestrian half.
The bike and pedestrian lanes get so packed during rush hour that Meyer sometimes has to wade out into the crowd and “push them apart,” he said.
On the Brooklyn Bridge, two pedestrian traffic managers will be onsite from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. On the Williamsburg Bridge, there will be one person on duty from 7 to 11 a.m., and again from 3 to 7:30 p.m.
For the Manhattan Bridge, safety personnel will be posted to the on-street entrances on the Brooklyn and Manhattan sides from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays to highlight that cyclists should cross using the south side of the bridge, while pedestrians should use the north side.
Tourists, Construction, Speeding Cyclists
Tourists are not the sole cause of the problem, however. All three bridges are active construction sites, and work on the Brooklyn Bridge has narrowed some sections of the walkway to 10.5 feet. According to DOT website, “For the safety of all bridge users, cyclists must yield to pedestrians in this restricted work zone.”
Some cyclists don’t seem to be aware that they are supposed to yield, however. “When I walked on the bridge about a month ago, I had to walk around the construction,” said one Brooklyn resident. “I’m all for bike lanes, but the cyclists yell at you — it’s jerky. There’s no place else to go, tourists are taking pictures, it’s a big mess.”
On August 26 the Brooklyn Eagle reported about a young woman who was hit from behind by a cyclist who was riding in the pedestrian lane. The victim was transported by FDNY first responders to Long Island College Hospital with head and ankle injuries. Her present condition is unknown.
FDNY has no official statistics regarding pedestrian-biker incidents on the Brooklyn Bridge, but one firefighter at the scene at the time told this reporter, “This happens almost every day. It’s crazy to have pedestrians and bicyclists on the same walkway. On the Manhattan Bridge they keep them separate.”
Zach Campbell, who commutes by bike to work from Bushwick every day, said, “I don’t do the Brooklyn Bridge for just that reason. I go out of my way to use the Manhattan Bridge.
“There are so many tourists who just don’t know,” he said. “First, the walkway is badly designed. Second, you can’t expect tourists to constrain themselves to one side of the bridge and bikers going 40 miles per hour to constrain themselves to the other. I’m surprised no one has been killed.”
He said he took a spill just last week. “A Japanese tourist went down on his knee to take a picture of his girlfriend. It was either plow him down or put the bike down. I ended up screwing up my knee.”
Campbell was doubtful that the safety officers would have much effect. “Cattle herders,” he mused. “If it works, great. It’s not how I would have chosen to do it. All we have now is a big white line. If you didn’t see the stencil at the foot of the bridge, you might go into the wrong lane. There should be signs saying ‘Caution, Bikes Moving at High Speed.’
“If they paid me $38 an hour for one week, I’d figure out a better plan,” he said.