Cyclists and pedestrians seek their own paths on the Queensboro Bridge

Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

By Jose MartinezTHE CITY

This story was originally published on April 25, 2019 by THE CITY.

The Queensboro Bridge path shared by thousands of cyclists and pedestrians is a lot like the rest of the city: very cramped.

Joshua Arfield, a legal assistant, found that out the hard way earlier this month. The 49-year-old Jackson Heights man broke his right clavicle and elbow after losing control of his bicycle while trying to pass a person walking and avoid an oncoming cyclist on the approximately 12-foot-wide path.

“On nice spring and summer days, you’ve got tons of pedestrians and tons of bicycles going over the bridge,” Arfield said. “The path is not wide enough for two bikes and a pedestrian or two pedestrians and a bike. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Cycling advocates are pushing the city to convert the path on the bridge’s north outer roadway into a bike-only space, arguing the strip’s too narrow to be shared with pedestrians.

They also want the south outer roadway, now used only by cars, to be turned over to foot traffic — predicting the arrival of congestion pricingeventually will drive a major decrease in vehicular use.

The advocacy group Bike New York sent a letter to Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg calling for change on the bridge. Bicyclists and pedestrians found common ground over the two-pronged proposal, which is also supported by Transportation Alternatives.

Miguel Torres, 61, said he thinks there should be separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on the Queensboro Bridge, April, 24, 2019.
Miguel Torres, 61, said he thinks there should be separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on the Queensboro Bridge, April, 24, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg /THE CITY

“It would be good to not have to watch out for the bicycles,” said Miguel Torres, 61, who frequently walks into Manhattan on the shared path. “You gotta watch out because those bikes come fast.”

“There’s no room for error,” said Laura Shepard of Bike New York, who pedals across the bridge daily from Woodside to Morningside Heights.

More than 5,400 cyclists crossed the Queensboro Bridge daily in 2017, according to the latest figures from the DOT – a 35% jump from five years earlier.

But as cycling has surged, the number of motorized vehicles plying the bridge – the most heavily used of the city’s four East River crossings – fell to 170,277 daily vehicles in 2016. That marked a drop of more than 4,000 from the previous year.

A DOT spokesperson said upcoming work on the bridge will require drivers to be diverted on to the south outer roadway, but added the agency will study “different lane scenarios” to see if it can eventually be converted to a pedestrian path.

“If found to be feasible, this conversion could be timed to coincide with the completion of the construction,” the DOT said in a statement.

Absent separate paths, cyclists and pedestrians said they will try to coexist uneasily on one side of the bridge.

Meanwhile, Transportation Alternatives is collecting reports of collisions and near-misses on the path.

“It’s a squeeze,” said Jon Orcutt of Bike New York. “And it’s unsafe.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.