RFK Bridge un-bikeable, Queens politicians claim

To cross the RFK Bridge (or, Triborough, if you like), cyclists currently need to dismount and walk their bikes over the 1.25-mile long stretch.
To cross the RFK Bridge (or, Triborough, if you like), cyclists currently need to dismount and walk their bikes over the 1.25-mile long stretch. Photo Credit: Julia Larsen Maher

Queens politicians are pushing to make The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge bikeable.

City Councilman Costas Constantinides and State Sen. Michael Gianaris rallied near the span in Astoria on Thursday to call on the MTA to do whatever it takes to reopen a closed pathway allowing for separate bicycle and pedestrian access to the bridge.

“The Triborough Bridge has not been a welcoming place for cyclists or pedestrians. We lost the southern pathway years ago and it’s made for a more cramped experience on this particular pathway,” said Constantinides, insisting on using the bridge’s old name. “In the 21st century we need to start thinking about multimodal transportation; how we are going to move them out of cars.”

Cyclists must currently dismount and walk their bikes over the 1.25-mile-long bridge, because the path — at five feet wide — is too narrow for bikers and walkers to safely share, according to the MTA, which oversees the structure.

“Our infrastructure, both controlled by the city and the state, is far too focused on accommodating cars and vehicles and far too laxed on protecting pedestrians and cyclists,” said Gianaris, “And nowhere is that more evident than right here on the Triborough Bridge.”

Bikers face fines if they’re caught riding over the RFK. But it’s still a common occurrence to see cyclists rolling because of how expedient riding is, according to Juan Restrepo, the Queens organizer at the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

Both Restrepo and representatives at Bike New York endorsed the reopening of the southern span and believed cycling should be legalized on the bridge as it’s structured now — something cyclists have desired for years.

“To demand of [cyclists] … that they need to go out of their way take another bridge instead of one that’s most convenient — no one is going to listen to that,” Restrepo said, noting that Queens residents already have among the farthest commutes in the country.

Constantinides’ office said it also endorsed legalizing cycling over the bridge — but only if that came with taller fencing on the path, not only to protect bikers but also as a measure of suicide prevention.

While the southern span still exists, there’s no way to access it. Both of its approaches were closed off roughly 20 years ago to accommodate additional room for cars, according to the MTA.

Constantinides had penned a letter dated Aug. 30 to the MTA, calling for the reopening of the southern span. But the MTA hasn’t responded or taken any considerable steps since.

“Providing a safe environment on and around our facilities is an essential priority at MTA Bridges and Tunnels," said MTA spokesman Chris McKniff. "As we constantly review our practices and procedures, we appreciate the Council Member’s concerns and will review the proposals he has put forth.”