With cyclists, pedestrians and joggers already sharing the northernmost section of the lower deck on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, activists and supporters long have discussed the possibility of removing cars from the southernmost lane, which now takes cars from Manhattan into Long Island City at Queens Plaza.
But it will not be, at least not in the next few years, according to the city’s Department of Transportation.
“It came up at our last meeting,” said Richard Khuzami, president of the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association. “The idea is to make the one lane for two-wheeled vehicles like bicycles and scooters.”
That would leave the other side to pedestrians, who now share the northern lanes with cyclers. While there is a distinct line as well as pavement markers delineating which side is for bikers and which for hikers, many cyclists take it as a mere suggestion.
While Khuzami said he is open to the idea, a DOT spokesman told the Chronicle in an email that it won’t be happening any time soon.
“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,” he said. “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, he added, even for temporary use, such as accommodating people who would prefer to walk or bike to and from Manhattan during the COVID-19 crisis, a different safety matter would come into play.
“[T]he 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,” the spokesman wrote. “Moreover, installing the necessary safety fencing would be difficult to accomplish while our resources are limited.”
Juan Restrepo of Transportation Alternatives has heard the arguments before. He believes it could be done if the city and the DOT were to make it a priority.
“I think Queens is the red-headed stepchild of all the boroughs,” he said. “The Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges all have lanes for cyclists and pedestrians — though Brooklyn can get crowded.”
He said car traffic on the bridge is down approximately eight percent in the last five years, while cycling and pedestrian activity are in the rise.
He said at any time during rush hour, the available space on the Queensboro is jammed to capacity, often creating bottlenecks.
“That’s when you have crashes,” he said. And added to that, at least for the near future, is the COVID-19 outbreak.
“At rush hour it can be just impossible to maintain six feet of distance on that bridge.”
He said community boards 6 and 8 in Manhattan and 1 and 2 in Queens have passed resolutions supporting the idea.