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Fences on outer roadway of Queensborough Bridge too low for anything but cars: DOT

The city’s Department of Transportation nixed Transportation Alternatives’ call to close the eastbound outer roadway of the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge to vehicular traffic — at least for now.

Transportation Alternatives wants that the roadway, dubbed the South Outer Roadway because its on the south side of the bridge, reserved only for pedestrians and cyclists, but the DOT maintains that now is not the time — largely due to the roadway’s fencing.

Not only does the agency plan to prioritize vehicular traffic until work on the upper roadway is complete in 2022, but a spokesman says the fencing is only half the height deemed safe for foot traffic over a bridge; eight feet.

The advocates, citing reduced use of the bridge and a boom in cycling as the pandemic still looms in the minds of New Yorkers, seemed to anticipate this response in the letter claiming that while the reasoning was sound, the current climate of health safety should shift their priorities.

“Between 2006 and 2016, vehicle traffic on the Queensboro Bridge fell 8.5%, while bike trips doubled and pedestrian trips tripled. Due to concerns from COVID-19, millions of New Yorkers remain wary of returning to the subway and bus system and are increasingly turning to bikes, scooters, and their own two feet as their main form of transportation,” the Transportation Alternatives letter to the DOT reads. “The DOT has cited reasons for inaction, such as using the outer roadway to stage construction equipment for bridge repairs, and the lack of barrier fencing. These considerations are important, but they cannot prevent the city from rising to the challenge and finding ways to prioritize the creation of more space for the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who need it in this crucial moment. Emergency street redesigns, such as open streets and ‘pop-up’ bike lanes, have been successfully implemented in quick response to the growing demand for space to walk, bike, and social distance.”

While work goes on on the upper roadway, DOT says they lack the resources to mend fences, making them high enough to prevent them from being scaled.

On Aug. 5, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg with other transit leaders said that their funding, due to the pandemic and the city $15 billion deficit, has been slashed by 12% this year. But during the height of the pandemic in New York, a 90% reduction of vehicle traffic was clearly seen and CitiBike ridership has hit new heights, she acknowledged.

“DOT has examined the modifications that would be necessary to convert the South Outer Roadway to a pedestrian path and the North Outer Roadway to exclusive bicycle use,” a DOT spokesman said in response to the letter. “However, due to ongoing work on the Queensboro Bridge Upper Roadway, the South Outer Roadway will be needed for vehicle diversions through the end of construction in the fall of 2022. In addition, even for temporary use during this crisis, the South Outer Roadway’s current level of fencing is not safe for pedestrian or cyclist use, as the existing railing is scalable and only about half the standard height for bike and pedestrian paths on NYC Bridges. Moreover, installing the necessary safety fencing would be difficult to accomplish while our resources are limited.”

Proposals to convert the roadway have been passed nearly unanimously by community boards on both sides of the East River as both cyclists and pedestrians struggle for a piece of the current foot path just nine feet wide.

Over 3,500 have signed the petition coupled with the letter also signed by Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos.

 

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