Cyclists and pedestrians will have to fend for space for a year longer than expected on the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge’s dangerously-tight shared path because the city decided to postpone giving walkers their own lane until the end of next year.
The bridge’s south outer roadway was supposed to be dedicated to foot traffic by late 2022, but the Department of Transportation pushed that deadline back to December 2023, when the agency wraps up a 20-month construction project on the upper deck of the span, according to a notice DOT sent to local stakeholders Thursday morning.
Currently, cyclists and pedestrians have to share the notoriously-narrow northern outer roadway, while vehicle traffic takes up nine lanes across two levels of the bridge.
The plan announced by former Mayor Bill de Blasio a year ago was to give the southern outer roadway to pedestrians and make the northern one bikes-only, mirroring the setup on the Manhattan Bridge.
But DOT wants to leave the southernmost lane open to cars 24/7 while other lanes are closed for the rehabilitation of the top level in order to to avoid traffic jams during the project, and local councilmembers representing both ends of the bridge, Julie Menin (D–Manhattan) and Julie Won (D–Queens), urged the agency’s new Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez to speed things up.
“This current situation is quite treacherous already as pedestrians and bikes cross the bridge together in a narrow space on the north outer roadway,” the pols wrote in a Feb. 3 letter. “It is urgent that the City convert the south outer roadway into a pedestrian-only path and the north outer roadway into a bicycle-only path to create more space and remedy the safety concern.”
DOT’s contract for the work was already “well out the door” before the then-mayor’s announcement, an agency rep revealed to local Queens Community Board 2 in November, and officials want to first finish the repairs first, which begin this month and last until the end of next year.
DOT has since bundled the bike and pedestrian revamp into the same project, according to the agency.
The overhaul will extend the upper deck’s lifespan by between 50-75 years after more than a century of wear and tear since it opened in June 1909.
During the repairs, one lane on the upper deck will be closed at all times and another one will be out during off-peak travel times, leaving the bridge with seven or eight lanes for cars, depending on the time of day.
One Queens cycling advocate slammed the city’s delay, saying the agency should not prioritize the comfort of drivers over the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.
“It’s an unacceptable delay, we need more space now, we’ve needed it for years,” said Woodside resident Laura Shepard, who is also an organizer with the group Transportation Alternatives. “The convenience of car drivers cannot be prioritized, it’s 2022, we need to recognize that a lot of people are walking and biking.”
Agency reps have described the 112-year-old Queensboro as the “workhorse” of its four East River bridges, carrying around 89,000 cars a day, compared to 51,000 on the Brooklyn Bridge, according to April figures.
In their Thursday letter, both politicians agreed with DOT’s assessment that six lanes were not enough for cars and that the southern path must remain reserved for vehicles during the rehab, but at the same time lamented the yearlong setback.
“It is infeasible to remove cars from the south outer roadway until the construction is finished given the lane closures required. At least two more years of a shared pedestrian and bike path is not the best outcome for our constituents,” they wrote.
Nearly 175,000 cyclists crossed the span in August, or more than 5,600 a day, the most recent agency counts show, but the steep and confined space along with a hairpin turn on the Manhattan end make for a daunting trip, according to Shepard.
“A lot of people are afraid to take it, whether walking or biking just because it’s so chaotic and cramped,” she said. “That really shouldn’t be the case at the time when we want to encourage more people to walk and bike.”
DOT reps said there were delays in building the new deck, but Commissioner Rodriguez vowed to finish the overhaul quickly.
“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,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “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.”