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Ben Kallos

Streetfilms: Yes, the Bike/Ped Situation on the Queensboro Bridge Is That Bad!

9:36 AM EDT on October 2, 2019

Pedestrians and cyclists going east and west on the Queensboro Bridge share a narrow path. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

We covered last week's renewed call for pedestrian and bike safety fixes on the dangerous Queensboro Bridge, but you have to see Clarence Eckerson's latest Streetfilms video to really understand the situation.

Eckerson's film comes as City Council members on both sides of the bridge — Ben Kallos on the East Side and Jimmy Van Bramer in Queens — have demanded that the Department of Transportation provide more space for cyclists and pedestrians by opening up the bridge's southernmost lane for walkers and setting aside the bridge's existing bike and pedestrian path for cyclists only.

The pols said last week that the city's failure to do that is based solely on a fealty to car traffic — even though bikes and walkers sometimes outnumber drivers on the bridge.

"Clearly, having pedestrians and cyclists share the North Outer Roadway is creating unnecessary conflicts," Kallos told Streetsblog, which has reported on the dangers — and on how cyclists and pedestrians sometimes outnumber drivers on the bridge. "They should open the South Outer Roadway to pedestrians now. There is no reason to wait. Vision Zero dictates that we're supposed to be making more space for pedestrians and cyclists at the expense of public space for cars."

The DOT's own Cycling in the City report shows that cycling traffic is increasing on the Queensboro Bridge. Source: DOT
The DOT's own Cycling in the City report shows that cycling traffic is increasing on the Queensboro Bridge. Source: DOT
The DOT's own Cycling in the City report shows that cycling traffic is increasing on the Queensboro Bridge. Source: DOT

Kallos and Van Bramer rallied last Friday with activists and commuters at the Manhattan entrance to the South Outer Roadway of the bridge, whose bike commuting is up 19 percent since 2013 (chart left).

The Department of Transportation claims that it can’t change anything until 2022, when it will complete its reconstruction of the bridge’s upper roadway. Until then, it says, the South Outer Roadway must compensate for lost vehicular capacity on the span, which currently has five outbound lanes all day.

Kallos wasn't buying what the DOT is selling.

"We'd like to see some proof," he said. "This is an outgoing lane only, so during the morning rush hour, a pedestrian path would have no impact. And congestion pricing will add a toll to the 59th Street Bridge [starting in January, 2021], so they need to show data why one outbound lane would have such drastic implications that they can't just do this now."

Van Bramer also doesn't believe the DOT explanation — but went further to say that he no longer believes the mayor cares about his own Vision Zero initiative.

"There is no question in my mind that if there was a will to get it done, it would be done," he said. "It’s a stall tactic. It’s nonsense. It’s a smokescreen."

Kallos and Van Bramer are the latest to call for more pedestrian space on the Queensboro Bridge. Transportation Alternatives has been petitioning on the issue for more than a year, and Bike NY is also agitating.

"The shared path on the north side is insufficient for the growing numbers of pedestrians and cyclists," those groups said a statement. "Transitioning away from cars requires more space for sustainable transportation."

Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Zumhagen provided the following statement, which only confirmed the agency's 2022 timeline:

We still consider the South Outer Roadway as essential during the reconstruction. However, as we have said in the past, we are evaluating different lane scenarios to understand the impacts and modifications that would be required to convert the SOR to a pedestrian path and use the North Outer Roadway as an exclusive bicycle facility. If found to be feasible, this conversion could be timed to coincide with the completion of the construction work.

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