Sept, 15, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
Councilmember Julie Won has called on the DOT to immediately implement its plan of converting a car lane on the Queensboro Bridge into a pedestrian pathway, citing ongoing safety concerns.
The DOT plan, which continues to face long delays, calls for repurposing a car lane on the southern outer roadway into a pedestrian pathway in order to free up space on the northern outer roadway of the bridge for bikes only.
The narrow northern outer roadway is currently shared by pedestrians and cyclists but safety advocates, including Won, say the strip is dangerous for users in its current format.
The DOT’s plan was initially expected to go into operation this year, but it has been delayed until at least 2024 while the DOT replaces the bridge’s upper deck. The agency says it needs to keep the southern outer roadway open to vehicular traffic during repairs.
However, Won says the delays are unacceptable and is calling on the agency to implement its plan straight away.
She toured the bridge Monday with DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez and other DOT officials.
“The last 8 months, residents have called our office to report violent crashes on the north outer roadway,” Won tweeted late on Monday.
“The city MUST open the south outer roadway now to make the bridge safer for our neighbors.”
— Council Member Julie Won (@CMJulieWon) September 12, 2022
Won also tweeted that the northern outer roadway is overcrowded, and its bike lane is not wide enough for two cyclists to pass one another when going in opposite directions. The strip’s layout consists of a two-way bike lane and a two-way pedestrian strip.
Won, who represents western Queens, was joined on Monday’s walking tour with representatives from Councilmember Julie Menin of Manhattan. Both lawmakers’ districts are served by the bridge.
The Queens lawmaker said she was not satisfied with the DOT’s explanation for delaying the plan.
The DOT has said it needs to keep the southern outer roadway open to vehicular traffic during construction to ease congestion since at least one car lane on the upper deck has to be closed at all times to store construction materials and equipment. Additionally, the bridge has two traffic lanes closed during off-peak periods.
“It was like talking to a wall,” Won told Streetsblog after touring the bridge and speaking to the DOT. “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,” Won told the outlet. “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.”
On Wednesday, Won penned a letter to DOT Deputy Commissioner of Bridges Paul Schwartz and Rodriquez asking for a detailed explanation as to why the DOT was delaying the plan. The letter was also signed by Menin and Queens Councilmember Selvena Brooks-Powers, who is chair of the Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“The Department of Transportation must share their justification for prioritizing one of the multiple motor vehicle lanes over the lives and bodies of our constituents,” the letter reads.
The lawmakers wrote that usership of the northern outer roadway is up 35 percent since pre-pandemic levels which, given the tight nature of the strip, puts users in harm’s way.
“Constituent complaints indicate a growing number of increasingly bloody crashes as more people and faster vehicles try to use the exceptionally narrow bike lane,” the letter reads.
“The current situation puts people walking and on bikes in real danger,” they wrote.
The Queens Post reached out to the DOT for comment on the letter but has yet to receive a response.
Unlike Won’s tweet on Monday, the letter did not call for an immediate implementation of the city’s repurposing plan.
However, the lawmakers called for the DOT to provide a timeline as to when the conversion of the southern outer roadway will commence and when it will open to the public.
Furthermore, the narrow width of the current two-way bike lane is understood not to meet the 12 feet wide minimum recommended by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a coalition of Departments of Transportation bodies from across north American cities.
The legislators asked the DOT to explain whether the bike lane was granted an exemption from the national minimum standards for a two-way lane.
Pedestrian & bike traffic has boomed on the Queensboro Brdg, leading to violent crashes on the narrow shared path. Yet @NYC_DOT delayed the new pedestrian walkway to the end of 2023. @JulieMenin @Powers4Queens & I are requesting a thorough explanation for this dangerous inaction. pic.twitter.com/2zts3pIo8u
— Council Member Julie Won (@CMJulieWon) September 14, 2022