Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pedestrian Access on the Bridges of Lower Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge, Tillary Street entrance
There are three bridges in lower Manhattan which take you across the East River into Brooklyn: Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge.  Whilst each provides access for pedestrians and bicycles, the experience for walkers/cyclists is vastly different.  Below are my observations for each.

Brooklyn Bridge - Of the three bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge is by far the most popular for tourists.  The pedestrians and bikes share a path down the center of the bridge, separated only by a thick white line (which is often completely ignored by the camera wielding hoards).  The multi-year renovation project is near completion (June 2013) which will allow for almost completely unobstructed views across the entire length.

Nearly unobstructed view from the Brooklyn Bridge
Access from Manhattan is near City Hall, just south of Chinatown on Centre Street.  From Brooklyn there are two access points, one closer to the waterfront (Prospect Street) with stairs and another without stairs, where the cars enter at Tillary Street.

For a leisurely stroll, as stated above, the Brooklyn Bridge is not a pleasant experience.  Similar to the Millennium Bridge in London, unless you hit it on the morning commute, before the tourists arrive, you'll wind up encountering a number of stationary, picture-takers and angry bicycle commuters yelling at said picture-takers to get out of their lane.  Of course, for tourists, with its history, beauty, and nearly unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge is a must-see.  But, please do be aware of path etiquette and stay on the appropriate side.

Manhattan Bridge
Manhattan Bridge - The Manhattan Bridge is the middle of the three bridges, accessed by a grand entrance, reminiscent of the Wellington Arch in London or Arc de Triomphe in Paris, on Canal Street in Manhattan.  The pedestrian access is on the south side and a bit dodgy.  The bicycle entrance is somewhere on the north, I assume, and kept wholly separate from the pedestrians'.  On the Brooklyn side, pedestrian access is very near the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Manhattan Bridge provides for separate paths for pedestrians and bicycles with the pedestrians on the south and the bicycles on the north.  The view, though iconic and, I believe, the one used for the New York, New York hotel and casino in Las Vegas, is marred by a chain link fence the entire length but, with some patience and ingenuity, good pictures can be had.

view through the links of the Manhattan Bridge
Trains, which also use this bridge, are at the same height as the pathways resulting in a loud and intrusive noise every few minutes as they pass.

Williamsburg Bridge, Houston Street
Williamsburg Bridge - The farthest north of the three bridges, the Williamsburg Bridge will take you from Houston Street in Manhattan to the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.  Similar to the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge also has a grand entrance but this one is reserved for the pedestrians/cyclists.

The Williamsburg Bridge shares many traits with the Manhattan Bridge but, in most cases, executed better.  For example, trains also use the Williamsburg Bridge but instead of being at the same level as pedestrians/cyclists they are located lower, changing their presence from one of irritation and nuisance to novelty and joy.  On the Manhattan side, the pedestrians and cyclists share a path upon entry for a bit before separating and continuing as on the Manhattan Bridge, with cyclists on the north and pedestrians on the south.  However, rather than being relegated to that side for the duration, there is a connection in the middle allowing for intermingling of the paths and pausing to take pictures, etc. without becoming an obstacle to others. Similarly, there is a large viewing platform on the Brooklyn side, allowing for pictures of Manhattan without blocking the path.

Williamsburg Bridge
One area for improvement, however, is the type of fencing that is used.  On the Manhattan Bridge it's just normal chain link but on the Williamsburg Bridge it is a heavy duty red fencing which is an eye sore in pictures.

Overall, I think it's lovely that there are three free and convenient methods for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the East River from Lower Manhattan.  Whilst each has their faults, the benefits and value easily outweigh them.  I'm looking forward to experiencing them by bicycle (though I'll probably do an early morning bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge).

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