Perhaps my starry-night runs over the Brooklyn Bridge were so vivid because my senses were heightened as I went over the bridge. New York back then was seen, and no doubt was, a much more dangerous place than now. The bridge after dark was reputed to be an unsafe place, and the only patrol I ever saw on it in those days was a sometimes glimpse of a lone cop on a motor scooter. He seemed unlikely to prevent a mugging or assault except perhaps if it was going to be attempted within a hundred yards of him. The walkway always had some people on it during the day, but after dark the walkway was mainly deserted, and this largely unpeopled space led to me being extra alert. Over the course of my running days, the city generally became safer, and more and more people were on the bridge at all times. After years of feeling a certain daring in running over it at night, the fear, never entirely gone, waned. I still found the winter runs on clear nights thrilling, but, perhaps because I now had seen the above-and-below stars many times, but perhaps also because my senses were not as alert as they had once been, the sight, still spectacular, was less so.
Even during New York’s bad days, I did not feel afraid running over the bridge during the day when it had a steady stream of bike riders and pedestrians. But there was one exception. A hundred yards on to the bridge, I could feel someone on a bike following me. I slowed up; he slowed up. I sped up; he sped up. I went one way around a pillar; he went the other. I stopped out of his sight at one pillar and hoped that he would get in front of me. He did not emerge. I resumed my running; he fell in behind me. My heart was racing from more than the running. At the end of the path, he finally came up alongside me and said that he appreciated my running. He had decided that I was a good runner and wanted to see if he could keep up with me, especially on the uphill part. I thought it a bit bizarre, but I was relieved and bid him a good rest of the day.
The walkway physically changed in the years that I regularly ran the Brooklyn Bridge. In the beginning, the gradient was less steep than now because it was punctuated by a dozen or so steps three or four times in the mile. This didn’t make much of a difference to runners and walkers, but it meant that bikers had to get off and carry the bicycle up or down the steps. It meant that bikers seldom got a head of steam, and I thought that kept everything safer. The walkway, however, was renovated to remove the stairs. That concerned me because I thought that bikes would go too fast once they had an uninterrupted half-mile downhill.
The danger now, however, does not come from the bikers as much as from the pedestrians. Back when I ran over the bridge, few tourists were on it. The walkway was primarily used by a certain type of a dedicated New Yorker. Times have changed as the walkway has become a tourist destination. This has brought a group of vendors who mostly congregate on the Manhattan edge of the bridge. The number of the tourist pedestrians has increased so that walking across the bridge is like walking on a crowded sidewalk. The walkway has a line painted down its middle, and those on foot are supposed to be on one side and bike riders on the other. The number of pedestrians, however, has become so large that they almost always spill over onto the bike lane, and, of course, the tourists are gawking, mostly looking for pictures to take. As they move to get the right background for their selfie (would the world really be worse off if the selfie stick had never been invented?), they often do not pay close attention to where they stand and move into the path of a bike. I have yet to see a collision, but I have seen many close calls. When I ran the bridge, I could run freely without having my strides impeded by others. Today that is impossible.
After I gave up running, I often rode a bike over the Brooklyn Bridge, and that could be done safely. That is no longer true, and savvy bike riders now head to the Manhattan Bridge. That bridge’s two walkways are now open. I don’t like them much. They are narrow and next to the road and subway tracks that go over the bridge, and I find that jarring, but one of the walkways is designated just for bikes, and it is a much safer way for the riders to cross the East River than the Brooklyn Bridge.
The renovation of the walkway that eliminated the steps got me some brief, and quite limited, fame. There was a controversy about how the work was to be undertaken. The city planned to close the walkway during the renovations. I then worked in lower Manhattan, and regularly commuted by running over the bridge. One day, I was stopped on the walkway near Manhattan and asked to sign a petition to keep the walkway open during the work. Unbeknownst to me, a Post or Daily News photographer snapped my picture, and that photograph later appeared accompanying the newspaper story. I did not regularly read that newspaper and had not seen the picture, but the next day, I went into Perry’s, the grocery store a couple of blocks from my home where I often shopped in my running clothes. Stewart, the nice guy who ran the store, said that he had seen my picture in the paper. I said that I did not know what he was talking about, and he pulled out the paper from behind the counter. He was right. I was in the picture. As far as I know, Stewart was the only person who saw that picture and recognized me.