Brooklyn Bridge, circa 1900. Brooklyn Historical Society collection.

Path Location: 9

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

When it opened on May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge became the first structure to physically connect Brooklyn and New York City#. Ever since, billions of people, cars, bikes and even animals have made the breathtaking journey across the bridge.


One method of locomotion — the human foot — has remained a constant. Engineer John Roebling incorporated an elevated boardwalk into the bridge to provide pedestrians with unparalleled views of Brooklyn and New York. On the bridge’s first full day, 150,300 people walked across. “Promenading” quickly became a popular and fashionable activity.

People were not the only ones to walk the bridge. On May 17, 1884, P.T. Barnum’s 21 elephants, including his star, Jumbo#, crossed on foot from Manhattan to a circus showground at Tompkins and Fulton Avenues in Brooklyn.The march of the circus animals across the bridge became an annual springtime ritual, witnessed by hundreds of spectators.

A Tragic Stampede

On May 30, 1883, an unprecedented number of people walked across the bridge. As one crowd of pedestrians descended a narrow flight of stairs on the Manhattan side and another ascended, a stampede broke out.

Horrified New Yorkers—including a young Al Smith#—watched from below the bridge. Twelve people were trampled to death that day, only one week after the bridge opened.


After the bridge was completed, Brooklynites no longer relied solely on water transport to get to their jobs in Manhattan. In September 1883, cable cars began shuttling between terminals at either end of the bridge. Riders paid 5 cents for the trip. By 1885, with the population of Brooklyn still on the rise, “bridge trains” were carrying nearly 20 million passengers a year.

When Brooklyn became part of Greater New York City in 1898, two new transportation# lines began providing service across the bridge: electric trollies and the Kings County Elevated Train line. By 1907, 60 trains were crossing the bridge every hour.

Carts, Bikes, and Cars

Horse-drawn wagons and carriages, freed from the necessity of crossing the East River by ferry, immediately became a staple on the bridge. Two days after the bridge’s opening, 1,800 horse-drawn vehicles crossed. The first two bicyclists crossed the bridge on its first full day in 1883. By 1895, about 200 “wheelmen” used the bridge every weekday, but they had to walk their bicycles and pay a three-cent fare.

By 1901, automobiles were crossing, and by 1903, the first car had broken down on the bridge. In 1950, the 2 three-lane roadways that motorists use today replaced the trolley tracks.

Crossing Today

According to the New York City Department of Transportation, over 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross the elevated boardwalk of the Brooklyn Bridge each day. More than 120,000 vehicles use the bridge’s roadway.