Eyes on the Street: A Better Queensboro Bridge Approach in Manhattan

A new two-way protected bike lane on First Avenue between 60th and 59th Streets. Photo: Jeremy Lenz

Many commuters on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge this morning noticed new markings going in on First Avenue for a short but critical extension of the protected bike lane between 59th and 61st Streets. The changes, part of a plan supported by Community Boards 6 and 8 last spring, bring safer connections to both First Avenue and 59th Street.

More than 3,400 people crossed the Queensboro Bridge by bike over a 12-hour period during DOT’s August count last year. Now, riders heading south will be able to use First Avenue for a block and turn right on 59th Street, where sharrows and a new contra-flow bike lane link to Second Avenue. Previously, these riders would have had to head north to 61st Street and navigate the often-clogged car and truck entrance to the bridge.

The plan includes a concrete barrier for the new two-way bike lane on First Avenue and a bicycle traffic signal for cyclists turning left from 59th Street to Second Avenue. There will also be new shared lane markings and flexible posts to help cyclists navigate traffic turning from First Avenue to 57th and 59th Streets. Reader Jeremy Lenz sent in some photos of the progress this morning.

First Avenue between 60th and 61st Streets is also receiving a northbound protected bike lane and two pedestrian refuge islands, connecting with a lane that already extends to 125th Street. Farther north on First Avenue, DOT is wrapping a repaving project between 72nd and 125th Streets, smoothing the concrete street with a new layer of asphalt.

Plus: Clarence snapped a photo of markings recently striped on the repaved Queensboro Bridge path, restoring the configuration that directs pedestrians to the north side and cyclists to the south side of the shared path.

The new northbound protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on First Avenue between 60th and 61st Streets. Photo: Jeremy Lenz
DOT is also adding back markings to the Queensboro Bridge after it was repaved, restoring the configuration that puts pedestrians and cyclists on opposite sides of the path. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know if they’re keeping the left turn onto 61st Street from 1st Avenue? I’ve always had issues with cars trying to pass me on the right and turn in front of me there.

  • Clarke

    If nobody in charge of those markings on the QBB doesn’t realize that’s not enough room for all of those things, I just give up.

  • Clarke

    Just still have to survive the sharrow deathway meatgrinder on 1st Ave above 49th St to get there…

  • UES

    Really wish there were bike lanes fully running up and down 1st and 2nd Ave on the UES. The 49th to 59th corridor on 1st is terrifying (and there’s no East River Greenway there). And biking 2nd Ave above 59th is impossible for inexperienced cyclists too. Why bother putting protected bike lanes above 60th running North if cyclists can’t go South back safely?

  • dwrz

    Configuration of QBB markings needs to be rethought. At the very least, they need to find a way to cover the grates on the south side of the path.

  • Anonymous

    If the QBB is ever tolled, there would be plenty of room to take away a car lane. Although they would keep all those underused lanes if past experience is any indicator. The HHB has plenty of room for a fabulous two-way bike lane, but TBTA says they need all those lanes for cars. Ridiculous.

  • Ben Kintisch

    You are correct. And now the good advocates with Manhattan TA are fighting doggedly to get one piece upgraded at a time.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Great improvement for this critical juncture. Agreed with many comments that there is still a ways to go. Keep on improving keep on keep on.

  • Angela

    My daily commute takes me from Astoria to the UWS, and the new protected bike lane connection on 1st Ave coming off the bridge is terrific–thank you TA Manhattan for pushing this!! I only wish my commute home were just as smooth–at rush hour it is suicidal to ride down 2nd Ave to the bridge. My “best” solution so far is Park Ave, as crazy as that sounds, but the last stretch is still the insane 2nd Ave. With this victory in hand, it’s time to expand the “Safe Access to the 59th Street Bridge” campaign north.

  • Rode the brooklyn bridge on a bike for the first time.

    How is it legal?

    Was like 5 feet for two way bike traffic with thousands of peds inches away.

  • Bronxite

    Area is in serious need of traffic calming.

  • Bronxite

    Judging by the first photo, yes. However, there will most likely be new signaling for turning vehicles which is common at other left turn bays along that route.

  • Bronxite
  • Drew

    …and now there are three people on the Manhattan side entrance to the bike path being paid to literally stand there and block the sidewalk, forcing people off the 50 foot piece of sidewalk and into the more dangerous option of having to navigate across two bridge ramps.

  • Drew

    …I must be riding at the wrong times, 9AM and 6PM, because the path in the photo above has been blocked/inaccessible every time.

  • Right, the Brooklyn Bridge is usually a very uncomfortable ride because of the huge number of pedestrians — which I can understand, as it’s a world-famous landmark and a tourist attraction. But it’s also kind of a shame, as that’s the only bridge on which the bikes and pedestrians have the privileged view. Ultimately, I rarely even bother with that bridge, unless it’s very late night or very early morning. If I’m around there at any other time of day, I just use the Manhattan Bridge.

  • Ian Turner

    Southbound cyclists can take the East River esplanade down to 59th st.

  • SteveF

    Time to turn the south outer roadway of the QBB over to non-motorized traffic.

    Either make the south lane one way towards Queens for both bike and ped traffic and the north to Manhattan; or make it primarily ped and the north side primarily bike, as the Manhattan Bridge is now.

  • TomG

    Park is doable, yes, but if you want to be safe and dont mind going an extra block East, you can take the East River Promenade.

  • Anonymous

    I think we will need to wait until the 2nd ave. subway construction is finished and then they will likely put in bike lanes on that strength of 2nd ave.

  • Steve

    How can people walk and bike together in such a narrow lane?

  • Miles Bader

    How can people walk and bike together in such a narrow lane?

    … by being careful and going slowly.

    Pedestrians and bicyclists are not really all that incompatible when they use some common sense and show a bit of consideration.

    If the lane were really small (this one is not), e.g., 0.7m across, bikes and peds together would be a real issue, but there’s plenty of room here as long as both sides show some consideration, and the bicyclists slow down appropriately and accept that for the relatively short distance across the bridge, they’re gonna have to put their dreams of winning the time-trial on hold.

    For long distances, speed is more of an issue, but this is a bridge and it’s not going to be more than half a kilometer long (if that). There are tons of places in a busy city which are busy and require some more care and slower speeds, and this seems to be one of them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d far prefer they get rid of a car lane and dedicate it to cyclists—but it’s hardly the case that the current situation is unworkable or dangerous.

    tl;dr: It’s only a few hundred meters. Slow down.

  • Joe R.

    I’m kind of on the fence on this one. On the one hand, yes, it’s certainly possible for bikes and pedestrians to safely share space, and for that reason I wish there wasn’t a blanket prohibition against sidewalk riding in NYC. There are certainly some instances where the sidewalk is a more attractive option, provided you’re not barreling along like you’re in a Tour de France peleton.

    On the other hand, in this case we have a huge problem which makes shared space dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians-namely a rather steep downgrade. Riding the brake to keep speed in check on a long downgrade is dangerous. You can overheat your rim and get a blowout. Putting that aside, most cyclists are going to at least freewheel down. Some will even power on the way down. Add in a tailwind, and you could see very high speeds on the order of 50 to 60 mph (I clocked 61 mph with a strong tailwind descending into Queens the one time I rode over the QBB in 1985 but I was in a car lane, not the outer roadway). . I should point out that even very moderate descent speeds of 15 to 20 mph start to get dangerous when pedestrians are in the mix. So no, in this case shared space is a horrible idea. There’s no reason why the south roadway can’t be ped only, and the north roadway bike only (or vice versa). Failing that, make the north roadway ped only, and get rid of a car lane as you suggest. My suggestion though would be to take half a car lane going in each direction, and use it for bikes going the same way as cars. Again, the reasoning is the steep downgrade. I don’t feel a bidirectional bike lane is safe at the speed differentials you’re likely to see given the downgrade.

  • Sarah

    Any other runners or walkers out there fear for your life every time you go over the QB Bridge? I swear, there are too many bikers on speed hauling to get over and completely unaware that pedestrians hold the outside HALF of the lane and bikers stay to the inside. I’ve almost been hit multiple times now and it’s really starting to irritate me…

  • Sarah

    Miles – you say it’s not dangerous but have you ever tried walking or running the bridge? Too many bikers can’t read the signs and with blinders on, come daringly close to pedestrians all to often.

  • Ian Turner

    On the QBB I’m mainly irritated by cyclists who cross the bridge at night without light. You should shout at them (I do).

  • The problem of bikes on the wrong side is caused by the road markings at the new Queens approach. That approach is beautiful — but it has markings that conflict with the markings on the bridge itself.

    As you approach the bridge, the markings hold Manhattan-bound bicyclists to the right, and Queens-bound bicyclists to the opposite side. The pedestrian path is separate, off to the right (as you approach the bridge) of the bike path.

    But, once you get on the bridge, the markings put all bicyclists (both directions) on the left, and all pedestrians (both directions) on the right.

    Also, the markings on the bridge are very faded; so it is not surprising that bicyclists don’t notice them, and continue riding on the right-hand side, per the bright and new markings they have just seen.

    Furthermore, as of the last time I was on that bridge, which was about a month or two ago, I saw that there are no markings whatsoever in the middle section. We really need a complete re-paint of that bridge’s bike/pedestrian path in order to make it clear where everyone is supposed to be.

  • Miles Bader

    I haven’t used this particular bridge. :]

    It’s certainly possible that this particular location makes a shared path like this a bad idea, either due to the physical layout (as Joe R talks about), the amount of traffic (at some point, there are so many users that problems become very hard to avoid), or “social” issues due to the behavior of its regular users (people that use excessive speed for the situation).

    I’m merely saying that there’s no inherent reason why such a shared configuration can’t work, and that in my experience, even much narrower shared paths over bridges can work fine (of course the narrower they are, the more limited the capacity). The tone of the message to which I replied seemed to be “How can such a think ever work?!”

    I would argue that if the problems are social ones, e.g. bicycle riders going way too fast despite the obvious potential for problems, or pedestrians wandering randomly around with their eyes closed, etc., that this probably represents something that should be addressed. As bicycle traffic expands—as it certainly seems to be doing in NYC—the potential for conflict increases, and you can’t address everything by building dedicated infrastructure. At some there needs to be more attention paid to simply being more aware and considerate of other users (whether the same mode or other ones).

  • JoeShmoe

    50 -60mph???? You are living in la la land my friend. 35-40mph maybe if you are really pushing it.

  • Joe R.

    As I said, I had a strong tailwind. You’re right, normally you wouldn’t get much past 40 mph powering down that grade but that day I must have had a 25 mph tailwind. Winds of 15-20 mph aren’t that uncommon in this location, especially during the colder months. I also hit 65 mph during a descent once in NJ, also with a strong tailwind, but the gradient was much steeper than the one on the Queensboro Bridge.

  • JoeShmoe

    So according to your math you were going 40 mph and the tailwind was 25 mph thus propelling you to the speed of 60 mph…. Professionals do up to 70 mph going down a mountain is true, but this bridge doesn’t have a steep descent. I race on a consistent basis and can tell you that i have not topped 45-50 mph going down this bridge and i can safely say neither have you. Look this is a silly argument, you have no idea what you are talking about so lets end it on that.

  • Joe R.

    Plug in some numbers here:

    http://www.kreuzotter.de/english/espeed.htm

    If you use a racing bike, hands on the drops, -25 mph for wind speed, -4% for the gradient, and 300 watts for power, you come up with 56.3 mph. I was riding in a center section with motor traffic so there was undoubtedly some help from the vehicles ahead of me breaking my wind. As I recall I was past 40 mph not long after the climb leveled out, and started picking up speed from there on the down grade. 4% is roughly the gradient there. At the time (1985), the bridge surface consisted of a metal grate instead of asphalt. This had notable less rolling resistance compared to asphalt.

    I’ve also (very rarely) gone past 40 mph on level streets when I’ve had a good tail wind, and/or was able to draft large vehicles.

  • appili joe

    can someone tell me some of the entrances to 59th street bridge

  • bikeronqueensboro

    the current imposed flow of traffic on the bridge does not make any logical sense due to lack of space and is very very dangerous. it is an outrage. clearly the person who came up with this have NEVER been on the bridge, walking it or biking it. i do not know who to complain to…..

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