Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images
On New Year’s Day, an all-too-familiar scene unfolded at the Brooklyn Bridge. Thousands of people on the way were stuck at a standstill. This type of overpopulation happens periodicallyoften on exceptionally hot days, but there was a noticeable difference this year: a larger contingent of street vendors. And that seemed to catch the attention of Mayor Eric Adams. Last week, NYPD officers apparently on direct orders from Adams, abruptly swept the vendors off the bridge – even though they had permits – and told them they could no longer do business there. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the sweep took place due to “safety and security concerns at a busy walkway”. MD Rahman, a hot dog vendor, says Streetsblog that he had never encountered problems like this in the 20 years he was stationed on the bridge and was nervous about losing his livelihood. “I want to take care of my family, I want to take care of my grandson, my grandchildren,” he said. “I don’t do crime here.”
Where there are tourists, there are street vendors. They’ve coexisted in a kind of balance around the Brooklyn Bridge for decades. For many years, most of the food carts and souvenir stalls were parked in the midtown Manhattan walkway and Memorial Grove leading to the boardwalk. But since 2021, when bikers moved to a protected lane at vehicle level below, vendors have steadily mushroomed in the newly freed up space, setting up trinket stalls and selfie stations (equipped with ring lights and of tripods) along the entire length of the bridge. . As visitors to the bridge and the number of vendors have increased, it’s easy to see why Rahman and his fellow vendors have been targeted – who’s going to limit tourist selfies? For six years, in fact, the Ministère des Transports has been working to sales restriction guidelines for the bridge, but they are not yet finalized. However, the safety issues facing the Brooklyn Bridge cannot be solved simply by removing all hot dog carts. What is needed is a strategic vision that fits everyone who uses it, including suppliers.
Overcrowding is a growing problem on the Brooklyn Bridge. On busy weekend days it sees more than 30,000 pedestrians, double the volume of a decade ago. Where improvements are made they are piecemeal and have failed to cope with the basic danger of an influx of crowds, as the crushing of people on New Year’s Day proved. In 2017, the Ministry of Transport made recommendations to address bottlenecks occurring at entrances, including more signage to direct foot traffic to stairs, changing the on and off ramp for bicycles, and creating designated concession areas for vendors. And five years ago Brooklyn approach received a much needed overhaul make entering and exiting the bridge safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists. The new protected bike lane, which was intended to relieve congestion for cyclists and pedestrians, resulted in a classic case of induced demand: with more room for bikes and pedestrians, more bikes and pedestrians came. Cycling on the bridge a double since the opening of the way. Meanwhile, one of the most positive recent changes to the bridge has been a publicity stunt of a porta-potty company. The unlicensed toilets only lasted a few days before they were told to pack up and leave.
We saw examples of what holistic thinking for the Brooklyn Bridge can look like through a recent competition from the Van Alen Institute, an urban design nonprofit. “Reinventing the Brooklyn Bridgeshowed us radical ideas for modernizing the bridge, including adding High Line-like landscaping, which would widen the promenade and create areas where people could stop and rest (or take pictures ) without obstructing the path. Two teams have even proposed removing cars altogether and extending pedestrian paths to the roadways below. While some of these ideas may seem far-fetched, they show that there are real alternatives to the everyone gathers in a limited space.
The need for a masterplan for the Brooklyn Bridge Parkway is especially urgent as more types of vehicles share space on our streets than ever before – including a growing number of e-bikes, cargo bikes, electric scooters, and mopeds. As the city redesigns its streets and intersections to make them safer for all New Yorkers to get around, bridges haven’t kept up, especially one as busy as the Brooklyn Bridge.
Proponents have been calling for better access for bikes and pedestrians on city bridges for decades, but change has come slowly, if at all. The Queensboro Bridge, which has seen a cycling boom during the pandemic, was to receive an in-pavement protected bike lane (like that of the Brooklyn Bridge) in 2021. It received massive support from the city councilbut the Adams administration delayed improvements, and construction has yet to begin.
More recently, there are some promising signs of increased access. This month, the MTA published a strategic action plan to improve multimodal transport through his system, including building accessible ramps and paths on the RFK Bridge (at this time there are only stairs along the way), widening walkways on the Henry Hudson Bridge, and lifting the ban on bicycles on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. The plan also calls for continued research for a cantilevered shared-use path over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and allowing bicycles on buses crossing the span – ideas that have been studied by the Department of New York City planning. in 1997.
But, so far, no proposal responds to the growing crowds on the Brooklyn Bridge. During his State of the City address on Thursday, Adams’s Worker Program included revive public spaces under the Manhattan side of the bridge to better connect the northern and southern districts. Details have yet to be announced, but this looks like another change that will affect the bridge as a whole and attract even more people to the area. If so, there is an urgent need to create a holistic plan so that everyone who uses it – commuters, residents, tourists, vendors – can continue to enjoy the bridge safely.