Thousands of New Yorkers bike, walk, and run over the Queensboro Bridge each day. The bridge has nine lanes for car traffic, yet only a narrow path along the northern edge of the bridge is open to cyclists and pedestrians, causing conflicts, congestion, and in the age of COVID, dangerous crowding. As the Queens and Manhattan council members whose districts border the bridge, and whose constituents depend on this critical inter-borough connection, we are calling on the city to open the South Outer Roadway to pedestrians.
The DOT’s current plans call vaguely for this new pedestrian path to open “sometime in 2022,” but New Yorkers can’t wait. In recent years, bike networks in our boroughs have expanded and bike commuting has ballooned. From 2013 to 2018, two-wheeled traffic on the bridge increased by 18%, higher than any East River crossing. And as we recover from the pandemic, many are still opting off of mass transit to commute by bike, e-scooter, or foot, and many others have found biking a viable replacement to remain healthy when our workout facilities are closed. In June and July, there were 20% more cyclists using bridge crossings than in the same period last year.
The conditions on the bridge are dangerous, plain and simple. As cyclists and pedestrians jockey for space on a path as narrow as nine feet, there have been frequent crashes, including some serious injuries. We have both heard from seniors and parents of young children in our districts who avoid the bridge entirely. And we know that New Yorkers who don’t feel safe crossing the East River by subway, bike, or foot will turn to cars. Many already have. This is leading to gridlocked streets, polluted air, and crashes.
We know the South Outer Roadway could be opened to foot traffic because it already was, during the 1980s and 1990s, before it was returned to cars. We know its reopening will require some immediate safety improvements, and we’re here to advocate for them. In fact, we’ve pledged to use some of our discretionary capital funding to help install fencing along a new South Outer Sidewalk. All we need is for the City to respond to our determination with their own.
In this moment we’ve seen that the city can expedite changes. But so far we’ve only heard why it can’t be done. To that we say: we cannot continue to wait.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby that “the city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” We still believe that, and we believe that all users of the bridge should have the opportunity to enjoy the bridge to the fullest. Let’s build a bridge that future generations will use not just for commuting, but to stop and take in the view of Queens, Manhattan and the rest of our city.