The Short History of Queensboro Bridge Tolls

qborograb.jpgIn 1909, wrote the Times, tolls on the brand new Queensboro Bridge were temporarily suspended for a "touring contest" on Long Island, described as "an enjoyable diversion for a great many New York and Brooklyn motorists."

We learned from yesterday’s Queensboro Bridge centennial commemoration that the toll was 10 cents for car crossings in 1909. But it wasn’t long before motorists were granted the free ride they enjoy to this day. In the midst of the 2002 fight over East River bridge tolls, the Times reported:

All four city bridges had tolls in the early 1900’s, including one for
pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge. But they were abolished in 1911
under Mayor William J. Gaynor, who called them ”inconvenient and
irksome” and declared, ”For my part, I see no more reason for
tollgates on the bridges than for tollgates on Fifth Avenue or
Broadway.”

Gaynor, a one-time Tammany favorite and apparent inspiration to future city leaders, was also opposed to expansion of the subway system, according to his official bio. In 1910, Gaynor was shot in the throat by a disgruntled city employee, an injury that would end his life three years later. Months after the attack, the mayor ordered the East River bridges to go toll-free, recounted Aaron Naparstek in 2006, prompting speculation in local transpo circles of a link between the two incidents:

While "there’s never been a serious connection drawn between the assassination attempt and Gaynor’s tolling policy," says former Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, "I’m suspicious."

Check out Aaron’s full post, written upon the advent of the city’s latest congestion pricing debate, for more on the sordid, sometimes violent, and seemingly interminable struggle to preserve the privileges of New York’s motoring class.

  • Actually at the bridge reenactment as a joke on the podium, Sam did ask Mayor Bloomberg to open a cold case file probing the link between the attack on Mayor Gaynor and the removal of the tolls.

  • I believe Gaynor used to walk to work, from his home in Brooklyn Heights to City Hall.

  • When Jay Gaynor was elected, he lived in Park Slope. He walked from _there_ to work on his first day in office, January 1.

    Or so I read.

  • Ken

    10 cents in 1909 is equivalent to $2.37 today, just so you know.

  • Tomasito

    In the defense of Jay Gaynor, he was very much for expansion of the subway system. It says in there that “As mayor, he railed against efforts to thwart the further development of the New York City subway system,” which is a weird sorta double negative, but means that he was against the opponents of expansion, or for expansion.

  • Glenn

    Anyone remember when the QBB was closed for like 2 years. It was such a blessing. Did the sky fall? Did businesses dry up? Did stores still get their deliveries? And that was when the WHOLE bridge was out. Take back a few lanes for express buses or light rail and you could get a lot more out of that bridge.

    Also, while everyone was standing on the Bridge I hope they realized how ridiculous it was that you can’t take a staircase or elevator down to Roosevelt Island’s lush green areas like it once had.

  • Rebecca Read Shanor’s book “The City That Never Was” described Mayor Gaynor’s intention to carve out a new avenue through Midtown between 5th and 6th Avenues.

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