The Department of Transportation cast blame on one of its staffers Monday, claiming the official “misspoke” when she said the agency was in talks with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office about a potential bike lane on the Brooklyn Bridge’s roadway.
“The DOT employee, who may not have had every detail on this available, misspoke,” said Scott Gastel in a statement on June 22.
When asked about the staffer’s comments at the mayor’s daily press briefing earlier that day, the agency’s commissioner Polly Trottenberg spoke only in vague terms about having discussed in the past the troubles cyclists face when crossing the East River, without providing any specifics on further plans for more space to pedaling across the borough’s namesake bridge.
“It’s been sort of a long-standing question for the East River bridges which are certainly — particularly the Brooklyn and the Queensboro — you know, pinch points for cycling in and out of Manhattan, about whether we can take look at traffic lanes, it’s something the agency’s looked at,” Trottenberg said at the press conference.
However, DOT’s liaison for Downtown Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 previously told its Transportation Committee on June 18 that the agency was in talks with Hizzoner’s office about turning one of the roadways on the iconic span into a bike lane, adding that more information was to come soon.
“DOT is in talks with the mayor’s office and City Hall for conducting a study about the feasibility of a bikeway on the mainline of the Brooklyn Bridge and you may hear about that in the coming weeks,” Emily Riquelme told the civic panel at a virtual hearing last Thursday.
The agency on Monday declined to provide any further details beyond Trottenberg’s comments.
“The Commissioner clarified where things stand,” Gastel said in his statement.
De Blasio said at the morning briefing that he had not heard of the plans, adding his concerns whether the scheme would work because of the heavy car traffic crossing the bridge.
“The Brooklyn Bridge, that one’s a sensitive one, because it’s such a crucial artery,” he said at a daily press briefing June 22. “I had not heard that, I’m not sure how workable that is.”
Trottenberg also clarified that officials had yet to discuss it with Hizzoner directly.
“To be fair to the mayor, I don’t think the discussion has made it to his level yet,” she said.
The agency’s blame on one of its staffers came after Trottenberg tried to discredit this paper’s reporting as inaccurate, despite a full recording of the virtual meeting being readily available online.
“Somehow I think between maybe what the staffer said and what was in that article, it wasn’t quite accurate,” Trottenberg said. “It said that the DOT, we had completed our study of looking at whether the promenade on the bridge could accommodate more space for bikes, but we haven’t, so that part isn’t true.”
But Riquelme had told the committee that the study for the pedestrian walkway was in fact finished and that it found the expansion to be unfeasible.
“There was a study done for a pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge, the feasibility was unfounded,” Emily Riquelme told the civic panel.
The liaison’s statements came in response to a question by board member Sid Meyer, who claimed that DOT told him the report was complete. But, when Meyer asked for a copy of it via a Freedom of Information request, he said the agency denied the query contending it was an “intra-agency report.”
“I was told that the DOT study of adding more space for bicycles was complete and I actually made a FOIL request for a copy of the report that was denied because it was an intra-agency report,” Meyer said at the meeting last week. “But I was told that the initial review by the consultants was in fact complete about being able to add over the roadway, additional space to be able to walk or bike.”
In 2016, the agency hired consulting firm Aecom to do a seven-month, $370,000 engineering study to see how much weight the span can carry and look into ways to expand the existing promenade, by decking over parts of the girders that run above the car lanes, the Times reported at the time.
DOT’s press office declined to provide a more detailed update on the almost four-year-old study.
Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Corey Johnson in February launched a separate design contest together with urban design group Van Allen Institute to revamp the walkway and finalists for that competition were supposed to be announced in May, and that initiative is still moving ahead, according to officials, but jurors are still choosing the finalists and will announce updates “in the coming weeks,” the contest’s website states.