Greenpoint Gazette

Pulling the Pulaski in a New Direction

BY Jeffrey Harmatz

Group Meets to Plan the Future of Burden-Bearing Bridge

What would you like to see done with the Pulaski Bridge crossing at Newtown Creek? That was the question posed to community activists by the Pulaski Bridge Coalition at their inaugural meeting. Held last Tuesday at the Smolenski Democratic Club, the organization was created to address the growing, or rather shrinking problem of the shared pedestrian and bicycle pathway on the Western side of the drawbridge that connects Greenpoint with Long Island City.
The coalition has been working on expanding the bicycle and pedestrian walkways on the Pulaski Bridge for more than a year, although the same problems have plagued Brooklyn and Queens commuters for nearly two decades. As both neighborhoods continue to expand residentially, the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers continues to grow, although the Pulaski Bridge Coalition was quick to point out that industrial shipping has been vastly reduced during the same time period.
The neighbors attending the meeting were clear on their agreement that conditions on the bridge are more crowded than ever before, and that the situation, if not addressed, would only get worse. “We are here to focus on a message that says, ‘there is not enough spalce on the Pulaski Bridge,’” said Tockman.
Though the coalition is initially intent on improving conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, which can currently be described as a four foot shared pathway that has led to dangerous conditions, Gates was quick to point out that the group was not eager to limit bridge access to automobiles. “We want to keep an eye on what makes the bridge functional as it is, and preserve those things about it,” he said. “And though we want to keep it functional for the working communities of our neighborhood, we think that a reduction from six to four driving lanes can be done without much problem.”
While the Pulaski Bridge Coalition’s initial meeting focused on the idea of reducing traffic lanes and creating separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, the organizers were receptive to all points of view. More than a few attendees spoke up for the rights of businesses who use the bridge to ship materials in and out of western Brooklyn and Queens, and the ice-breaking question asked of everyone at the beginning of the meeting, “How do you envision improving the Pulaski Bridge?” led to more than one person hoping that officials finally complete the bridge’s onramp to the Long Island Expressway.
But the vast majority of people who came out to share their opinions on the Pulaski Bridge were interested in expanding options for cyclists and pedestrians. As explained by Gates, “We are here to deal with the problem of not enough space for commuters on the bridge.”
A majority of those in attendance expressed a desire to see separate pathways for pedestrians and cyclists, either through the conversion of traffic lanes into bike paths or the creation of a long discussed new pedestrian only bridge. Tockman laid out one of the groups goals, which is “separating different routes and creating safer, more accessible space for all users.”
The Coalition for the Pulaski Bridge, (which is not the final name for the group,) is led by Tockman, Julie Lawrence, and Moses Gates. At their first public meeting, they gathered concerned neighbors and activists together to brainstorm ideas for both needed improvements to improve the bridge and ways to make the needed changes happen. The coalition leaders took inspiration from a group of neighbors in Downtown Manhattan who were successfully able to turn parts of Allen and Pike Streets into a greenway through years of planning and working with city officials. Though the effort was sustained for nearly a decade before their plan was carried out, the Pulaski Bridge Coalition found hope for major change for the bridge in the implementation of the Manhatan group’s plan. They have also been inspired by recent changes to the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver, Canada, which created protected cycling and pedestrian paths on a similarly sized bridge for $1.4 million.
Among the long term objectives discussed at the meeting were the creation of entirely new pedestrian only bridge crossing the Newtown Creek at a nearby location and the complete retrofitting of the existing bridge with dedicated bike lanes. To accomplish these goals, the Pulaski Bridge Coalition and their allies at the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, Transportation Alternatives, and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, have already begun to work with community boards on both sides of the bridge. Though Tockman said that it is too early to begin a letter writing campaign to elected officials and City agencies, she stressed the importance of organizing with one voice rather than individually bombarding the Department of Transportation with a litany of complaints.
Though many of their goals are long-term, the first meeting of the Pulaski Bridge Coalition decided on a few immediate steps that can be taken to improve the bridge. Though there was no consensus on the type of signage needed along the existing pathway, the group did agree to continue to raise awareness about the growing space problem on the bridge, through both word of mouth and a variety of upcoming events, including an in-planning artwalk.
The group also expressed an interest in holding a charette for the bridge, in which members of the affected Brooklyn and Queens communities would be invited to come together and create their own plans for the bridge, which would then be combined into a preliminary plan to take to the city. The group discussed inviting graduate students who are studying city planning to work on a redesign as well.
“We’re here to say that we want a real solution to the problems facing the Pulaski Bridge,” said Gates.

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