Heads Up: MTA Fining People for Biking on the Triboro Bridge Car-Free Path

One user reports that officers with MTA Bridges and Tunnels have been making life harder for people biking on the bridge's car-free path since cashless tolling went live.

The MTA is insisting that people walk their bikes across the Triboro Bridge car-free path, which can add 30 minutes to a trip. Photo: Google Street View/Samuel Baumel
The MTA is insisting that people walk their bikes across the Triboro Bridge car-free path, which can add 30 minutes to a trip. Photo: Google Street View/Samuel Baumel

Last Wednesday, Astoria resident Erin Horanzy was biking on the Triboro Bridge to her job in the West Bronx, as she does every weekday, when two police officers from MTA Bridges and Tunnels stopped her and told her to dismount. She’d seen more officers patrolling the bridge path since the MTA removed the toll booths and implemented cashless tolling, but had yet to get a hard time from them.

“I’ve just always smiled at them and said good morning,” she said. “There’s been no requirement to dismount or anything from them.”

Horanzy dismounted and kept walking, and when the officers were out of sight, she got back on her bike. There was no way she’d get to work on time if she didn’t. “It takes a solid 30 minutes longer to cross that bridge if you’re walking,” she said.

Someone must have radioed ahead, because another officer was waiting for Horanzy when she got to the other side of the bridge. He issued two tickets: one for biking in a dismount zone and the other for “failure to comply with a verbal order.” She’s still waiting to find out from the MTA how much the fines will set her back.

The fines surprised Horanzy. Other people who bike on the bridge path also report evidence that the MTA is cracking down on biking on the Triboro. Commenters on Reddit last month noted the recent installation of “bicycle riders prohibited” signs on the path.

The MTA has a longstanding policy of hostility toward people who try to bike across its bridges. The car-free paths tend to be much tighter than the ones on NYC DOT-owned crossings like the Williamsburg Bridge or Queensboro Bridge, and the agency seems to prefer making biking as inconvenient and financially risky as possible.

Even though people with bikes have a narrower profile when they are mounted than when they dismount, official MTA policy is to require people to walk their bikes across these paths. The narrow car-free path on the Henry Hudson Bridge wasn’t widened during a recent rehab, and biking is still banned on the path.

On a long bridge like the Triboro, enforcing the rule effectively eliminates the bridge as a useful bike travel option. But the MTA always has the discretion not to fine people for biking on its paths. (Enforcement is typically more common on the bridges to the Rockaways, which tend to be more crowded than the Triboro.)

The MTA said nothing has changed on the Triboro.

“As part of MTA Bridges and Tunnels rules and regulations, bicyclists must walk their bikes via the pedestrian walkway across the RFK Bridge,” an agency spokesperson said. “Signs at the facility are not new and this is regulation is enforced to ensure safety. Bridge and Tunnel Officers can issue a summons for this violation, but it’s at the discretion of the Officers to give a warning in lieu of a summons.”

So until something changes, this is how the MTA says it’s going to be: To cross the only direct bicycle connection between Queens and the Bronx, you’ll have to walk your bike or risk a ticket.

  • Joe R.

    Interestingly, as a society we’re doing that experiment on a grand scale for many decades. The guy in the white lab coat is the automobile companies telling people to buy cars with commercials showing dangerous, irresponsible driving. The teachers are millions of drivers. The learners are anyone who gets in their way. The public is so conditioned to people dying as a result of this that they call such things “accidents” to distance themselves from the fact they killed another human being. Those in charge want it this way because cars, fuel, hospital admissions are all big business.

    Make no mistake, we’re living in a real-life Milgram experiment. Can’t think of any other reason why we as a society have been so numbed to the deaths of millions annually worldwide, sacrificed on the alter of mass motoring.

  • djx

    This.

  • Geck

    Also both TBTA bridges to and from the Rockaways.

  • Philip

    If you plan on riding always good to ask riders coming the opposite way if they saw any cops. Likewise it would be good if riders volunteered that info.

  • Elizabeth F

    So… do we have a proposal on how to advocate for this issue? My thoughts are:

    1. This is one for Transportation Alternatives. Does anyone want to spearhead this project with them? (Preferably someone who lives in NYC, especially Queens).

    2. We should make it clear that real people use this bridge for commuting. Many people don’t seem to understand that about bicycles. Spending 30 minutes walking might be acceptable if you’re heading to Randall’s Island to bike around and get some exercise for the afternoon. It’s NOT acceptable if you actually have somewhere to go.

    3. The officials claim “safety” as the main reason. But they haven’t enforced the dismount thing for years, and we can assume that most bikers have been riding over the bridge. In that time, can officials cite any statistics or incidents that would show that there is a safety issue here? If they cannot show that riding is unsafe, what basis do they have to prohibit riding bikes over this bridge?

    4. We can suggest alternative regulations. For example, maybe riders should be required to slow to a crawl / dismount when passing pedestrians. This would still give cops an opportunity to ticket bikers who fail to dismount when passing them; while mostly solving the problem for anyone actually trying to get somewhere.

    5. If riding bikes across the Triboro bridge is simply not allowed, then that link needs to be removed from the official NYC bike map. As others have pointed out, it is WAY to long to walk your bike.

  • That is a good point. The signs on the 102nd Street Bridge don’t seem to indicate that walking is required, unlike the signs on the Triboro Bridge.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7864206,-73.9393397,3a,40.3y,11.98h,94.5t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sdEEr6iBz2rpB4G7gVYwm1Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

    So the cops were probably making shit up. Yet I saw them several times ordering people off their bikes all during last summer. (I haven’t been there this summer.)

  • That is a good point. The signs on the 102nd Street Bridge don’t seem to indicate that walking is required, unlike the signs on the Triboro Bridge.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7864206,-73.9393397,3a,40.3y,11.98h,94.5t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sdEEr6iBz2rpB4G7gVYwm1Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f3a41243d2dc25ddabd1af666bc1cc4fc803fa817e6c79cb201178a2f523f9ab.jpg

    So the cops were probably making shit up. Yet I saw them several times ordering people off their bikes all during last summer. (I haven’t been there this summer.)

  • Setty/Steven

    It’s infuriating that an unaccountable administrative body like the MTA can impose criminal penalties on people for an unlicensed activity (cycling) with no evidence of harm or other rationale beyond “because we say so.” If this is constitutional, it shouldn’t be. It’s especially bad for the people who live or work on Randall Island.

  • Setty/Steven

    It’s much more dangerous to deal with a dismounted cyclist.

  • All of those are good points. There is no legitimate “safety” concern on account of the paucity of pedestrians. The rules should state that bicyclists are required to defer to pedestrians when passing (either overtaking in the same direction, or passing in the opposite direction). The city of Hoboken allows riding on the sidewalk if bicyclists ride at “walking speed”; that same language should be employed here.

    However, on the last point, I would mention that the official bike map shows the Triboro as a span over which bikes must be walked. This is indicated by a light green line; this light green line is found on all three sections of the Triboro connecting to Randall’s Island (the Bronx one having been made unnecessary by the new connector just to the east of it).

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d7f57444de6b3c1e8592069fd6d0d789c403958d7335edafae7ec019b367be72.png

    (Though let’s note that the 102nd Street bridge is shown with a dark green line; so riding should be allowed on that bridge, even though I have on several occasions seen police officers there ordering cyclists to dismount.)

  • Elizabeth F

    I looked up the 102 St bridge (actually 103 St; Ward’s Island Bridge). I could find no mention of dismount regulations on that bridge. Of course cops make up their own bike rules all the time. Does anyone know the actual regulations on this bridge?

  • MatthewEH

    Nobody lives on Randall’s Island, excepting the homeless shelter.

  • Setty/Steven

    According to the 2010 census, 1,648 people lived in NY County census tract 240, which is Randall Island. There are people without permanent homes who live at the shelter and there is a huge psych hospital. There may also be people sleeping outdoors on the island. These sorts of vulnerable people have an exceptional need for access to free, human-powered transportation and are especially at risk when being hassled by police.

  • MatthewEH

    Ugh.

    The real test of a rule is how it mediates between competing interests. The example I usually use is the dog rules in most city parks, which require dogs to be on-leash between 9 AM and 9 PM, and in some designated areas at all hours. (Usually close to a dog run.) Other times and places, dogs can be off-leash. This is a reasonable compromise between dog owners who want to let their dogs run around unconstrained and others who find dealing with offleash dogs inconvenient.

    So…

    Do the pedestrians who do use the bridge (in relatively low numbers) have an interest in not getting buzzed by riders going by at speed on a super-narrow path? Sure. (And it is super-narrow. There’s barely enough room for two cyclists going in opposite directions to pass each other without grazing each other.)

    OTOH, cyclists who use the path have an interest in traversing the path efficiently, especially as the distance to cover and isolation of the paths make walking the whole thing prohibitively inconvenient. Which is why there are so few bona-fide pedestrians on the path to begin with.

    A rule that says “no cycling on the bridge, ever” clearly fails to balance competing interests. And with the bridge path absolutely empty so often — the only other time I’ve ever seen a soul on the Queens->Wards Island segment has been on summer weekends — it’s absolutely no wonder such a rule would be observed only in the breach. The TBTA cops should be ashamed of themselves for hassling anyone about this.

  • MatthewEH

    Hoisting some discussion up of the E 102nd Street bridge:

    My wife was injured pretty badly a little over a year ago when we were trying to cycle over it. A child walking westward — we were cycling eastward! — wasn’t paying attention and walked into her from the side, knocking her over. (Sum of the injury: ruptured right-knee ACL, some bone-to-bone bruising.)

    The cops that came over to help were generally useful (and appreciated), but they did start imagining that cycling was prohibited on the bridge and started yelling at the frequent passing cyclists to dismount. I confirmed clearly that there is “Bike Route” signage at both ends of the bridge. Nothing that says anything about cycling being prohibited on the bike route.

    Although, given the severity of the injury — and the bridge was a little crowded that day, though other than J. Random Child, not that chaotic 🙁 — I could see it being reasonable to require riders to walk this bridge during peak times. I think this bridge is under Parks jurisdiction? I know Parks doesn’t like to have rules be conditional on time of day or time of year, though.

  • Roads are for Mobile Thrones leads elitists by the nose. peace Officers a part of the conspiracy. May want to blame the ancestors, but this generation of privilege will be cited most conceited.

  • FivePoint

    Lo siento pero what??

  • AMH

    Don’t know why we have such a dismount fetish in this city. A walked bike takes twice the width as a ridden one. It’s also harder to control, the pedals are more likely to clip people walking. Really, it’s embarrassing people in charge can be this stupid.

    You hit the nail on the head. I always say that what passes for bike planning in this city is simply requiring cyclists to dismount as much as possible. That’s not what a city does that wants to make cycling serious, fast and convenient. It’s not safer, it’s incredibly inconvenient, and it drives backlash when cyclists inevitably break the rule.

  • Joe R.

    I look at things the same way. In places where pedestrians are the majority users rules should primarily benefit them even if they inconvenience cyclists. In places where cyclists are in the majority the reverse should be true, to the point that some parts of places like the Hudson River Greenway should require pedestrians to yield to cyclists before crossing. In this case it’s pretty clear cyclists are the majority user by far. Having to walk your bike all the time based on the very low chance you might encounter a pedestrian at some point in the crossing makes zero sense. A simple rule like “slow to walking speed when near pedestrians” is all we need here. That nicely takes care of competing interests without undue inconvenience to anyone.

  • KeNYC2030

    Government spent millions of dollars a few years ago on a wide, beautiful access ramp to the bridge, and then they ban cycling across the bridge itself? There is an equal protection case here: if cars and trucks can use the bridge, cyclists must be given a way to cross it as well, and if that means taking a lane away from motor vehicles, so be it. But that’s totally unnecessary given the low numbers of peds using the current path.

  • Richard Conroy

    Stereotype much? I can’t think of a single League Cycling Instructor who would teach or suggest that.

  • Richard Conroy

    So here’s the thing: practically all bridges in NYC with “side paths” (aka “bike paths, I refuse to call them sidewalks for legal reasons that should be obvious) have restrictions on actually riding a bike across using the side path. It is legal to ride on the roadway, but since most of these are lengthy, they become race tracks (when they aren’t tightly confined traffic jams). The exceptions are the major East River Bridges (Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridges), and the George Washington. Read the fine print on the NYC bike map: most DOT-owned bridges crossing the Harlem River say “walk your bike”. So do the bridges crossing into the Rockaways. The bridges you CAN ride across on the bike paths are actually a minority. I’m almost certain that the last time NYC DOT submitted its Bicycle Friendly Community application to the LAB, that it was panned over the anti-bike regulations and signage on bridge crossings, including and especially DOT-owned bridges, nearly all of which have wider paths than the Triboro. You can’t be a water-bound city dependent on bridges, and claim to be bike friendly while forcing cyclists to take some major hikes across most bridges. The anti-bike regulations on most of our bridges have been a huge advocacy whiff. If you ignore it because it’s not being enforced, it becomes a huge problem when someone decides to enforce it. There’s been excessive focus on on street bike lanes to the detriment of the bottlenecks across our waterways, the legal regime of which mostly bans cycling. Also: Hi Clarence.

  • Hello Richard!!

  • Erin

    I can’t agree with you more – and I’m the one who was ticketed. In my experience, bicyclists do treat pedestrians with a certain modicum of respect, because we all know there’s not enough space. I certainly slow to a crawl, make eye contact, say “excuse me,” etc etc because I know it’s not fun to cross that bridge. And cyclists who don’t behave respectfully should be ticketed. But the cops aren’t interested in patrolling at time when there’s the most pedestrians, which is concert and summer weekends. Never seen them then.

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