Volume 74, Number 42 | February 23 - March 01, 2005

A bridge too bumpy: Bike path is called hazardous

By Amanda Kludt

Last week at Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee meeting, the Department of Transportation agreed to consider alternatives to the metal bumps spanning expansion joints on the bike path on the Williamsburg Bridge, should the board pass a resolution recommending it. The 1 1/4-in.-high bumps, of which there are 26, pose a severe hazard to bridge users, according to a survey recently released by Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit advocacy group. Seventy cyclists and several wheelchair-users attended the meeting in order to voice their concerns. The suggested alternative was to place elongated metal plates over the bumps.

T.A. has campaigned against the bumps since the bike path opened in 2002.

The group’s survey results state that one in four bridge-users crashes their bicycle or trips and falls because of the bumps. And recently it has been reported that the city faces $10 million in lawsuits from injured cyclists.

Kay Sarlin, a D.O.T. spokesperson, said, “We’re working with the community. We’ve listened to their concerns.” But she added that cost is definitely a issue for D.O.T. “You have to remember the bridge isn’t just for bikers. It’s for bikers, it’s for walkers, it’s for the subway. We are encouraging bikers to slow down.”

The resolution was brought up at the full board meeting on Tuesday night. David Crane, the Transportation Committee chairperson, said on Tuesday morning, “It almost certainly will be passed tonight,” adding D.O.T. will comply because the board has “a very friendly relationship with D.O.T.” Crane said the board passed a similar resolution in June 2003 but it was directed to the wrong D.O.T. office. Now they hope for serious progress. Crane said of the bridge’s danger, “It’s a booby trap is what it is. It’s not marked. It’s not safe.”

T.A. is also happy that D.O.T. has responded after two years of frustration. Noah Budnick, projects director for T.A., cited the response as “a strong sign of D.O.T.’s willingness to address community concerns.”

The bumps in question were put in place when the new bike path opened in 2002. The Williamsburg Bridge is built in sections because it needs to expand and contract, and the gaps between sections — called expansion joints — have to be covered. While the bumps are painted yellow and look like metal speed bumps, T.A. reports that bikers can easily crash or lose control of their bicycles because of their obtrusive size.

“People have broken ribs, collarbones, arms. One person had to have facial surgery. There have been internal injuries,” said Budnick. Even though D.O.T. has put up signs to warn the bridge-users of the potential hazard, he says it’s not enough. “It’s not really an adequate way to address the safety issue.”

T.A.’s recent survey, performed throughout the summer and fall of 2004, included the responses of 254 users of the Williamsburg Bridge. Ninety percent of the respondents said the bumps make the bridge more dangerous, 32 percent avoid crossing the bridge, 74 percent suffered damages to their bikes and other property and 23 percent of bridge-users have crashed their bicycles.

Leah Rorvig, a spokesperson for Time’s Up, an environmental group involved that publicizes the monthly Critical Mass rides, says the organization is not involved with the initiative, but its members understand the importance of the issue. “They create a real danger for cyclists because if you’re going too fast, if you’re not paying extremely close attention, or if your handlebars are at any angle to the bumps, you can flip your bike over. I know a lot of people who have been injured on those bumps,” said Rorvig

And it’s not only bikers who want to get rid of the bumps. It is almost impossible to cross the bridge in a motorized scooter or wheelchair, according to C.B. 3 members. Harry Wieder of C.B. 3 and Michael Imperiale of Disabled in Action crossed the bridge last Friday on motorized scooters to demonstrate the impassibility of the bridge. Frieda Zames, vice president of Disabled in Action, reported their results. “[Imperiale] told me that the bumps were significant. They were hard to get over. And he has a bigger scooter than me,” she said.

Advocates will still have to wait for any significant change. After the resolution passes, D.O.T. will look into the costs. Crane said he’s confident D.O.T. will seriously consider the resolution, but added: “Will they do anything about it? We’ll have to wait and see.”

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