With crowding on the Brooklyn Bridge walking and biking path in a state of near constant low-level emergency, this week NYC DOT announced a feasibility study of widening the bridge’s promenade. A path with sufficient space for the thousands of commuters, exercisers, and tourists who walk and bike across the bridge each day would be an immensely valuable improvement. But what if the same benefits could be derived at less cost by claiming space on the Brooklyn Bridge roadway?
At the heart of the issue is space. If motorists see a big new bike lane on the bridge while they stew in rush-hour traffic, the configuration might not last. Could tolls liberate enough space to turn over a Brooklyn Bridge car lane to bikes?
The answer depends on the toll levels as well as on assumptions about traffic redistribution from equalizing tolls with other crossings nearby, and the degree to which investing toll revenues would lead to improved transit service. Let’s look at some numbers.
The number of motor vehicles on the East River bridges averaged 235,000 per day in each direction in 2014, the last year for which data is available. (It makes more sense to look at the four East River bridges as one entity since they likely would be tolled together.)
Tolling the bridges would reduce that figure in three ways: by pricing some vehicle trips off the roads; by redistributing some trips from the free bridges to the Brooklyn Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels and the Triborough Bridge, which already have tolls; and by expediting transit improvements that would attract some trips in and out of Manhattan that are now made by car.