Cyclists and pedestrians will each get a lane of their own when the Department of Transportation implements its plan to make the Pulaski Bridge safer.
Nicole Garcia, the DOT Queens deputy borough commissioner, and Nick Carey from the DOT Bike program gave Community Board 2 an update on the plan during its April 3 meeting. The board voted to approve the DOT’s recommendations.
According to Carey, the popularity of the bridge has skyrocketed and, between 2009 and 2013, there were 50 percent more pedestrians on the span and bike traffic doubled on the two-way, 8.5-foot wide path shared by cyclists and walkers.
Carey called the path “way too narrow for all its uses,” adding that it narrows even further at obstacles.
“If any of you have walked or biked over the Pulaski Bridge you know that it’s a narrow path, it can be very uncomfortable, there’s a lot of friction between the pedestrians and cyclists, so we were asked to do something about it to make it more comfortable,” Carey said.
The Pulaski Bridge is a “critical link” to both the bike network and the transit network, especially for people in Greenpoint, Brooklyn who walk over the bridge to the Vernon-Jackson stop on the No. 7 train in Long Island City. The project will also relieve congestion on the B62 bus, Carey said.
The roadway has three lanes in each direction, but the DOT’s traffic analysis shows that only two Brooklyn-bound lanes would suffice, Carey explained.
During peak hours only 1,500 vehicles cross the bridge every 60 minutes, he said.
The proposal is to convert the westernmost Brooklyn-bound car lane into a two-way bike path, with a cement barrier to protect cyclists from vehicles and make the current shared path exclusively for pedestrians.
It would run straight through on the Brooklyn-bound side, where the three lanes already merge into the two receiving lanes, as the bridge feeds McGuiness Boulevard.
The Queens-bound side is more complicated and will require some changes. For example, a slip lane will be removed by 49th Street and Jackson Avenue. The DOT determined that the traffic impact will be minimal because the volume of cars entering the bridge is low.
“Having gotten clipped as a pedestrian on the Pulaski Bridge, I’m so excited,” a community member said, adding that she wants more traffic-calming measures on the Queens-bound side of it, where cars fly off the bridge en route to the Midtown Tunnel.
Another board member criticized the DOT’s plan for “only looking at things in the here and now,” neglecting long-term effects and planning for the future, especially since the population of Long Island City and Hunters Point is growing rapidly.
However, Carey noted that improving pedestrian and bicycle safety on the bridge is crucial to the city’s resiliency.
“When our transit system breaks down, we become incredibly dependent on our bridges,” Carey said. “After Hurricane Sandy we saw record-high volumes on bike and pedestrian paths on bridges, including the Pulaski. When our transit system breaks down we really need our bridges to operate at extreme efficiency. So, it might not be the first thing you think of when we talk about bicycle and pedestrian safety, but it will help us be more resilient in the face of hurricanes or blackouts or any situation where our transit system stops.”
The DOT is implementing the plan as part of a bigger bridge contract that will go into effect later this year. Carey said the DOT doesn’t know when construction will start, but it has the $3.46 million in place and it’s been approved.
The DOT representatives also addressed the community’s concerns about bike parking near the Vernon-Jackson stop on the No. 7 train, as the number of cyclists from Brooklyn has spiked and there are not enough bike racks to accommodate them.
Carey said the DOT plans to replace the assortment of M- and U-racks with hoop racks, which add more space and are more efficient and attractive. The DOT has identified some spots for them, but needs a maintenance partner before they can move forward. One possibility is to place a bike corral in the dead street space next to a green street triangle on the south side of Jackson Avenue and 50th Street.