Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

At left, the old-style raised joint covers on the Williamsburg Bridge. At right, the new, improved joint covers that sit lower to the surface.

Smooth riding on Williamsburg Bridge is the joint

By Anthony Weiss

After two-and-a-half years of complaints about the bumpy old joint plates on the Williamsburg Bridge walkway, the city’s Department of Transportation is replacing the joint plates with new, smoother models. The change comes in response to protests from a number of advocacy groups representing bicyclists, the disabled and members of the communities on either side of the bridge.

“I think it’s great,” says Teresa Toro, chairperson of the Transportation Committee of Community Board 1 in Brooklyn, adding, “I don’t understand why it took so long.”

Like the old joint plates, the new plates are designed to cover joints that allow the bridge to expand and contract as the temperature changes. However, unlike the old plates, the replacements sit virtually flush with the surface of the pathway. The old models projected 2 inches above the path.

The current pathway opened on Dec. 12, 2002, as part of the decade-long rebuilding of the Williamsburg Bridge. Users and community groups praised the path for being wider, smoother and easily accessible, but complained that a series of 26 expansion joints on the Manhattan side of the pathway were dangerously high.

Noah Budnick, a projects director at Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and bicycle advocacy group, says his organization began receiving complaints from bicyclists soon after the path opened.

Harry Wieder, a member of Community Board 3 in Manhattan and advocate for the disabled, says the old joints were “a danger not only to people with disabilities, but mothers with strollers, bicyclists, everyone who uses the walkway on the bridge.”

Wieder and other disability advocates protested that the joints were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kay Sarlin, a D.O.T. spokesperson, said that the new joints would be A.D.A. compliant. She acknowledged that the old joints were not.

In May 2003, D.O.T. painted the joints yellow and installed warning signs. But the complaints continued, from the United Spinal Association, local politicians and Community Boards 3 in Manhattan and 1 in Brooklyn.

And bridge users continued to have problems. In January 2005, Transportation Alternatives published a survey of approximately 250 bridge users, finding that 23 percent of users had either crashed or tripped over the joints. Several bicyclists filed suit against the city for their injuries, citing negligence and claiming that the joints were steeper than was prescribed by federal regulations. Adam White, a lawyer representing six such riders, says his clients injuries included “a broken jaw, broken orbital rim, fractured pelvis, gashes.” According to Budnick, another rider crashed just two weeks ago.

In March 2005, after a meeting with the Transportation Committee of C.B. 3 Manhattan, D.O.T. hired Weidlinger Associates as an engineering consultant to study the joints and propose a solution. Weidlinger designed new plates that cover the joints while sitting flush with the pathway. On Fri., Sept. 16, D.O.T. workmen began prying up the old joint covers and replacing them with the new design. Weidlinger was paid $200,000 for their work, and D.O.T. estimates the repairs themselves will cost $2 million.

Evan Thies, spokesperson for Councilman David Yassky, calls the new plates “a pretty common-sense change. It’s too bad it took so long to fix, but it’s easily done in the end.”

Bicycle riders seem pleased with the progress so far. Megan Thomas, 24, said, “I don’t even notice the flat ones.” As for the old bumps, she said, “Good riddance.”

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