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Buried Highways

Queens Pol: DOT’s Excuses for Queensboro Bridge Safety Delays Are ‘Garbage’

Council Member Julie Won confronts DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez last year with just how little space is afforded cyclists and pedestrians, who share just one lane for bi-directional travel. File Photo: CM Won’s office

A Queens Council member who has long championed the creation of more pedestrian and cyclist space on the jam-packed Queensboro Bridge said she is outraged at the excuses being peddled by the Department of Transportation for why the agency pushed back by at least a year its timetable for adding a pedestrian-only lane on the span.

Julie Won
Queens Council Member Julie Won
Julie Won

Council Member Julie Won, whose district comprises the eastern approaches to the 113-year-old bridge, criticized the agency after participating in a walkthrough with DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez and staffers from the offices of Council Members Julie Menin (D-Upper East Side) and Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Queens), who heads the Council's Transportation Committee.

Won specifically said she was appalled that Rodriguez and other DOT officials continued to argue that the agency needed to stall its conversion of the south outer roadway from a car lane to a dedicated pedestrian lane because ongoing renovation work on the bridge requires all available lower levels for inbound and outbound cars.

"It was like talking to a wall," Won told Streetsblog. "They kept saying they can't give the south outer roadway to pedestrians because there would be traffic. Well, I don't care about the congestion! In fact, congestion is the point. If we want climate justice, we need to redesign the infrastructure to make it harder to drive in the city, especially in the most transit rich areas. Take the train! Take the bus! Ride a bicycle! Walk! Rollerblade! These are sustainable ways — ways that Mayor Adams is always touting."

Won said she reiterated to Rodriguez her and others' frustration that the agency has not provided a good reason for why it pushed back by a year then-Mayor de Blasio's 2021 promised that the creation of dedicated pedestrian space would be completed by the end of 2022.

"They made the promise when this reconstruction of the bridge was already in the pipline, so they knew it was happening," Won said. "Why did they say 2022, then? Their answer? 'Well, those politicians made a promise that was not realistic.'"

Cyclist use of the narrow path on the Queensboro Bridge is booming, as the DOT's own website shows. Chart: DOT
Cyclist use of the narrow path on the Queensboro Bridge is booming, as the DOT's own website shows. Chart: DOT
Cyclist use of the narrow path on the Queensboro Bridge is booming, as the DOT's own website shows. Chart: DOT

Won said that during the site visit on Monday, she asked Rodriguez to stand in the existing two-way pedestrian space on the bridge — which consists of one half of the single-lane north outer roadway that also carries the narrow and very popular two-way bike lane. The bike lane is so narrow that the agency's own painted "bike lane" silhouettes are crashing into each other. The lane is narrower than the lowest NACTO recommendation for the width of two-way bike lanes. Crashes are common.

"I made the commissioner stand in the pedestrian lane and as a grown man, he can barely stand here without worrying about being hit," Won said. "And there is no room for two cyclists to go head to head. It makes no sense. The agency says, 'Well, that's a standard bike-lane width.' Well, if that's standard, then the standards are garbage. We have complaints on a weekly basis of crashes that can easily be avoided with the promised redesign."

Both Won and Menin's Chief of Staff Jonathan Szott, who was also on the noon walkthrough, said the DOT told them it is considering repainting the lines on the north outer roadway to give cyclists a bit more than the current 50 percent of the space. Won said shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic is "missing the point."

Szott confirmed that walking on the bridge is currently a scary proposition when cyclists have to pass each other.

"We kept reminding them that at some point in history, the south outer roadway was for pedestrians ... until it was given to cars," Szott said. "You say that to them and they just nod their heads."

Szott also confirmed that DOT officials claim the de Blasio administration's promise was made under false pretenses; the agency says that timeline was never realistic.

The walkthrough ended with the DOT promising to provide the lawmakers with data to back up their contention that the bridge needs all of the current five lower-level lanes for cars until the upper deck renovation project is done. But Won doesn't need the data to know cyclists and pedestrians are being squeezed.

"I told them they all look like liars," she said. "We have to keep the focus that the south outer roadway must open on the timeline they gave us. I don't have forever. I don't want to be 75 years old when this opens." (Won is 32.)

After the walkthrough, DOT spokesman Vin Barone told Streetsblog, "“We remain committed to expanding cycling and pedestrian space, while also acknowledging need to complete the bridge’s absolutely critical deck replacement project. DOT was happy to host this meeting to discuss the project and future plans.”

We asked Barone a series of follow-ups related to Won's narrative, but the agency declined to comment.

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