LOWER MANHATTAN — The tourists and cyclists who pack the Brooklyn Bridge every day could soon get some breathing room.
Politicians and transportation advocates unveiled a proposal Tuesday to triple the amount of pedestrian space on the iconic span and to add a separate lane for cyclists. The widened walking and biking paths would sit above the roadway and not reduce the number of driving lanes.
The proposal — which is still in the early planning stages and does not yet have any funding — was sparked by overcrowding on the 129-year-old landmarked bridge and a rise in bike-versus-pedestrian accidents, Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander said.
"It's wonderful that it's being used in greater and greater numbers by tourists and cyclists," Lander said during a press conference at the Manhattan entrance to the bridge Tuesday. "[But] the congestion that causes creates a danger...and it's time to do something about that."
Lander did not have data on accidents, but he, Councilman Stephen Levin and Councilwoman Margaret Chin all said they have received complaints about crowding on the bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge sees 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists on an average day, but during a peak 12-hour period in May 2010, the city counted 15,000 pedestrians making the East River crossing, the politicians said.
"We want to make sure the bridge is safe," Chin said. "Everyone knows it's crowded and congested."
The shared pedestrian and bike path now varies in width from 8 to 16 feet, and cyclists must weave around tourists who stop in groups to take photos along the bridge.
The new 32-foot-wide walkway and bikeway would feature an approximately 24-foot-wide pedestrian path and a separate 8-foot-wide bike path, the politicians said.
Lander said he has not done an engineering study but expects that the bridge will be able to support the additional weight of a widened path.
Lander, Levin and Chin plan to begin working with engineers and architects to develop proposals for the new path, which would have to be approved by city agencies including the Department of Transportation and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The DOT, which oversees the Brooklyn Bridge and is currently managing a $508 million overhaul of the structure, agrees that the bridge's walking and biking paths could use an upgrade.
"We share the interest in enhancing safety and accommodating the growing number of people crossing this iconic transportation hub and tourist destination," a DOT spokesman said in a statement. "The designs that come from this process would be part of a long-term look at improving bridge access and safety."
Lander said it was too soon to say how much the new path would cost, but he hopes it would receive a mix of city, state and federal funding.
The project has already won support from the Transportation Alternatives advocacy group, and some tourists who crossed the bridge Tuesday morning also voiced their approval.
"That's a good idea," said Marlies Fauland, 49, who was visiting from Austria with her family. "It's too crowded for a lot of people."