Queensboro Bridge Bike and Pedestrian Improvements Delayed a Full Year

Congestion on the Queensboro Bridge's lone cyclist and pedestrian path  is especially egregious given how much space the city allocates for cars on the same span. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Congestion on the Queensboro Bridge's lone cyclist and pedestrian path is especially egregious given how much space the city allocates for cars on the same span. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Cyclists and pedestrians will still have to share a single, narrow, two-way lane on the Queensboro Bridge for another two years, thanks to a delay in a larger bridge renovation project by the Department of Transportation, Streetsblog has learned.

The DOT quietly released the news — namely, that the agency needs until the end of 2023 to complete a bridge redecking — in a letter to some stakeholders, prompting immediate outrage from those very stakeholders, who had long been promised by the prior de Blasio administration that the work to create dedicated pedestrian space on the bridge’s south outer roadway would begin in late 2021 and be completed by the end of 2022. At that point, cyclists would get the currently shared north outer roadway all to themselves, although that roadway is also extremely narrow for two-way riding.

“We are concerned about the timeline of the newly proposed Department of Transportation plans to renovate the bridge and are writing to request a meeting with you to discuss this further,” Council Members Julie Menin (D-Manhattan) and Julie Won (D-Queens) wrote to DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez this morning. “This prolonged construction … means that pedestrians and bikes will have to continue to share space on the north outer roadway to cross the bridge until at least 2024.

“At least two more years of a shared pedestrian and bike path is not the best outcome for our constituents,” they said.

This delay on the bridge is particularly troubling because the span experienced the largest increase in daily cyclists during the pandemic, adding an estimated 425,000 trips, a 35-percent increase, during the months of May-December from its previous peak in 2019, as Streetsblog reported.

“This rapid growth aligns with the City’s goals to promote alternative transportation methods to make our streets safer and create a more environmentally friendly transit landscape,” the Council members added.

And also a safer landscape. The shared two-way bike and pedestrian path is the site of many crashes and near-misses between bike riders and walkers, thanks to sheer volume of users, as well as a recent influx of faster mopeds, which are illegal on the path, but whose riders choose the path because it is safer for them than the bridge’s car lanes, which are alternatively congested or so uncongested that they become a speedway.

On Thursday afternoon, DOT Commissioner Rodriguez offered the following statement: “I am absolutely committed to putting a new and separate pedestrian path on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and bringing the span into a state of good repair. This project is a priority for me, and I know New Yorkers are excited about it, so we are going to get it done properly and safely.”

The agency did not explain why the work on the bridge had been delayed, beyond saying that it related to fabrication of the new deck. It is also unclear whether Rodriguez instructed his agency’s controversial bridge unit to remove a lane of car traffic from the bridge for pedestrians, as promised, despite the ongoing work.

There is likely to be a great feeling that cyclists and pedestrians have been tricked; several years ago, the agency said it could not create a pedestrian walkway on the South Outer Roadway of the bridge because that roadway would be needed for drivers during the extent of the larger bridge reconstruction project.

“We want to first get through our project,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told Streetsblog in 2019. “Obviously we’re planning that, thinking as soon as that [bridge renovation] project is done what we can do to make the bridge bike friendly.” That was the agency’s line through 2020, as well, even as cyclists and pedestrians pointed out that they got one-half lane on a bridge that still has nine lanes for car traffic.

But then-Mayor de Blasio suddenly announced in his State of the City address in January, 2021 that cyclists and pedestrians would get their own space — and the South Outer Roadway would commence being converted to a pedestrian path by late 2021, with a completion set for sometime this year.

Now the bridge work won’t be completed until December 2023 at the earliest, and DOT says it needs the South Outer Roadway throughout that time to handle car traffic.

“South Outer Roadway open to [car] traffic until 1 a.m. during construction,” the DOT fact-sheet now states.

A similar construction timeline from May, 2021 stated clearly that the bridge reconstruction would be done by “late 2022” and the South Outer Roadway would be open “to pedestrian traffic” on the same timeline.

Reaction to the delay was swift and filled with requisite opprobrium:

“Everything about the delay is a pretext,” said Steven Bodzin, the co-chair of Transportation Alternatives’s Queensboro Bridge volunteer committee, who ticked off a list of the DOT’s prior reasons for delay. “They say we need to wait for a fence, but they won’t tell us why. The current railing is higher than railings on many other pedestrian and bike bridges in New York City. Then say they need the road for traffic diversions. This is also BS. This is New York City, we don’t divert cars onto the sidewalk every time a crew needs to close a lane on the street.

“Cyclists and pedestrians have had their hands crushed and have been knocked out cold in head-on collisions on this bridge because everyone is being squeezed into a single tiny path,” he added. “With the city’s increased reliance on high-power electric scooters, now there are more and more of those on the mixed-use path as well. Everyone knows we need more space for non-car transportation on the bridge. Every week they delay, they are putting people at risk, unnecessarily.”

Laura Shepard, the Queens organizer for TA, urged people to attend an unrelated Queens community board meeting on Thursday night to complain:

“This delay is unacceptable,” she said. “New Yorkers who walk, bike, and get around without cars deserve equitable space on our bridges and safe commutes. Biking is booming and there is no excuse for maintaining the dangerous status quo on the shared path while prioritizing the convenience of drivers — who have nine lanes devoted to them on the Queensboro Bridge. Advocates have been demanding action for years and we need a plan that opens up more space for pedestrians and cyclists without any more delays.”

Jon Orcutt, a former city transportation official who now runs the advocacy shop for Bike New York, was more concise: “Looks like a case of the de Blasio City Hall writing checks that DOT wasn’t in a position to cash.”

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