26 April 2016

The Pulaski Bridge Bike Lane Is Open. It's A Victory--Almost

One sure way to elicit chuckles or groans, or both, from a longtime New Yorker is to mention the Second Avenue Subway.  It has been planned for nearly a century, and construction on it began in 1972, only to be halted by the city's near-bankruptcy in 1975.  

The tunnels were dug in three non-contiguous sections.  By the time new construction on the line began eight years ago, those tunnels were unusable.  So, the whole line has to be built from scratch.  It was supposed to open last year; now the city's Metropolitan Transit Authority is saying, in effect, "maybe next year, or the year after."

On this blog, I have also mentioned the Randall's Island Connector, which seemed to take nearly as long to build and open as it took for the island--and neighboring Manhattan, Long Island and the Bronx--to form during the Taconic and Acadian orogenies.  Finally, in spite of the snark and cynicism (entirely warranted!) of people like me, it opened late last year, and is actually a good, well-designed bike route.  My only complaint is that the Bronx entrance, while not difficult to access, is easy to miss if you're not familiar with the area.

Speaking of difficulty in access:  That has always been one of my complaints about the Pulaski Bridge pedestrian path.  That difficulty in entering it--especially if you're coming from the east on 49th Avenue or the north on 11th Street, which just happen to be the two ways I usually access the bridge--is one of the reasons I usually ride in the traffic lane.  Another reason is that the pedestrian path is so narrow--actually, there are signs telling cyclists to walk their bikes across the span--and heavily used by pedestrians (some with dogs), skateboarders, skaters and others, that it's actually easier and safer to ride the traffic line, where visibility is pretty good.


I get the feeling that when the bridge--which connects Long Island City in Queens with Greenpoint in Brooklyn--opened in 1954, nobody anticipated that so many pedestrians and cyclists use it.  As I've mentioned in other posts, I can recall riding over it, and through the neighborhoods it joins, twenty or thirty years ago and not seeing another cyclist.  Then, most of the people who lived on either side of the bridge were longtime blue-collar residents who stopped riding bikes as soon as they got their drivers' licenses--if, indeed, they ever rode bikes in the first place.  Now, of course, Greenpoint and Long Island City--as well as nearby neighborhoods like Astoria (where I live) and Sunnyside in Queens, or Williamsburg and DUMBO in Brooklyn, are full of young people who've discovered that it's OK to ride a bike even though they're old enough to drive.

Someone in the city's Department of Transportation no doubt noticed the changes I've described.  So, that person reasoned, a dedicated bike lane was in order.  A plan to create one was first proposed about four years ago. Then, we were told, it would take about two years to complete.

Now, I understand there were challenges in creating that particular lane.  For one, the bridge carried six lanes of traffic over the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and near entrances to I-278, and is located near industrial areas.  Thus, the bridge receives a fair number of vehicles, some of which are trucks and vans.  Surely, the drivers of those vehicles--who, in some cases, are independent contractors and businesspeople of one sort and another--would not be happy about losing traffic lanes.

Another difficulty in creating the bike lane is that the Pulaski is a drawbridge.  So, anything used to separate the bike lanes from traffic would have to be sturdy enough to do the job yet could be separated when the bridge is opened for a ship. 

Then, of course, there are the usual causes of delays, such as obtaining funds and working with contractors.  Those wrinkles were ironed out and, when I rode down 11th Street the other day, I saw--yes!--cyclists using the lane.  That, even though the path is not officially open:  ribbon cutting is supposed to take place today.

While I am glad for the lane, I think it doesn't resolve one problem of the pedestrian path:  access.  On the Long Island City side, one still has to make awkward turns across lanes of traffic, and on the Brooklyn side, the "merge" with the traffic lane is fairly smooth for cyclists coming off the bridge, but makes it difficult to enter the lane.

So--we got our lane, better late than never.  But, as with too many other bike lanes, the person who planned it probably isn't a cyclist and therefore doesn't realize that simply providing a separate lane for cyclists does not ensure our safety.


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