March/April 1999, p.3

Publisher's Letter: My Grand Canyon

It took 20 years of epic struggle and involved generations of T.A. activists, but the end of the QBB Campaign is finally in sight. The North Outer Roadway will become the bridge's long-sought car-free path in September. None of us could possibly name all of the talented, spirited folk who spent countless volunteer hours on the bridge, shivering on winter nights and boiling on summer afternoons. These good citizens deserve our gratitude for all their work: counting cars and bikes, handing out postcards, organizing demonstrations, writing letters to public officials, attending public hearings, crafting lawsuits, painting banners and placards and, on occasion, getting arrested.

Of course, it should not have taken a Herculean effort simply to restore a dedicated space for bicyclists and pedestrians on the City's busiest bridge. That's right, restore. When the bridge opened way back in 1903, bicyclists, pedestrians and street cars - "light rail" in modern lingo - had the QBB's entire upper level. But like so many other changes wrought by the internal combustion engine, the bridge was altered to accommodate only motor vehicles. No doubt the permanent north side path is welcome news, but I can't help but think of the spectacular view from the old, interim path on the South Outer Roadway. The vastness of the East River reflecting the Manhattan skyline is a spectacular sight. It evokes the Grand Canyon in its majesty and magic. As an urban environmentalist, the Queensboro Bridge bike path was my Grand Canyon - a singular thing threatened by vast and destructive mechanized forces.

Fortunately, so many others felt the same way. Back in the late 70s and early 80s Charlie McCorkell and his merry band pressed the Department of Transportation for a permanent path. They won temporary use of the South Outer Roadway, whose broken lights and potholes were diligently reported by Mary Ellen Schrock to the city. In 1991 a new generation of T.A. activists emerged. Among them were journalists, bike messengers, college students, bankers and janitors. They pressured the City with more than 30 car-blocking demonstrations and the reams of news coverage they generated. Then there were the pro bono lawyers. In 1992, Ron McGuire forged new ground in NY State civil disobedience law when he successfully defended the "QB 6" in the precedent-setting "People vs. Gray." In 1997, T.A. attorney Rick Muller sued to stop the City after it broke written promises to keep the interim bridge path car-free.
Thank you also goes to DOT Commissioner Wilbur Chapman, who did the right thing when so many other City officials over the years chose to treat the cyclists and walkers who use the bridge with contempt. We appreciate his decision.

John Kaehny
Executive Director

P.S. Last issue in "Speed Hump Deep Freeze" (Pg. 10, Jan/Feb 99), T.A. made a harsh and overly broad criticism of community boards and borough presidents for opposing speed humps. The truth is, some of the 52 community boards have supported the humps, as have most of the borough presidents - especially The Bronx Borough President's office, which was an early and vocal proponent of the humps. We apologize to speed hump supporters, but stick by the article's contention that on the whole, neighborhood groups - not community boards and borough presidents - have led the fight for traffic calming in New York City.