March/April 1999, p.16

The "Peoples Roadway" Makes Full-Time Return to the Queensboro Bridge

Read the latest news on this issue.

The Department of Transportation has officially announced that beginning in September 1999 the North Outer Roadway of the Queensboro Bridge will be dedicated solely to bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters and other non-motorized travelers. The car-free path is a huge win for bridge users and Transportation Alternatives, and comes after decades of struggle and broken promises. For T.A., the realization of a dedicated bike/walkway closes our longest running advocacy campaign. Spanning an era over more than twenty years, hundreds, perhaps thousands of activists banded together for a single cause.

The most recent chapter in this epic opened in November 1996 when the city opened the bike/ped path to Manhattan bound traffic. Cyclists and peds using the bridge were forced to board a shuttle bus or van during the weekday evening rush, (2:30-7:30pm). Bike traffic on the bridge has plummeted 80% since the change. The DOT's action was precipitated by a traffic routing fiasco at the Manhattan entrance to the bridge that outraged area residents and left politicians scrambling. Since then anything to do with bridge has remained politically red-hot.

The Queensboro Bridge is by far the busiest of the East River bridges, carrying more than 200,000 motor vehicles a day versus 150,000 on the Brooklyn and 100,000 on the Williamsburg. In comparison, about a thousand bicyclists and pedestrians use the Queensboro bike/ped path on an average spring day. The City has long pointed to this disparity as a reason for allowing cars on the bike path during rush hours. Yet, this is the same faulty logic invoked when new roads are built in order to ease traffic congestion. Ultimately, it is pretty simple-if the City seriously wants fewer people driving and more cycling it must encourage cycling and discourage driving.

The City faces additional considerations on path issues. First is the Surface Transportation Act of 1980 and subsequently ISTEA and TEA-21, which require that Federally funded bridge projects cannot sever existing bike/ped "access." This law has guaranteed at least some kind of bridge path. However, "access" has been interpreted elsewhere to mean a bus shuttle service at certain times of day. With the completion of construction, the City can no longer cite allowing cars on the path as a temporary measure. Whatever the reason, T.A. welcomes the new path and the City's Department of Transportation's
commitment to it.

The Peoples Roadway - 1978

One bright summer day in 1978, a group of cyclists, in defiance of New York traffic laws, rode their bicycles across an outer lane of the Queensboro Bridge and hung a banner that read, 'Peoples Roadway.' About a year later, the Koch administration opened a lane on the bridge that was reminiscent of 1909 when the span was new and its pedestrian promenade was a major feature. Next month, however, a new phase of rehabilitation will begin on the Queensboro, and the outer lane now used by bikes and joggers will revert to automobile use."

"It's discriminatory. Somehow if you are an automobile driver you have more rights. The city's attitude, you don't count, we can't be bothered, take the subway. Well, why not say that to the drivers," said Janet Weinberg of Transportation Alternatives.
-The New York Times, June 10, 1983

(Above) A huge banner hangs from the bridge during a 1991 demonstration.
(Left) Demonstrators attended weekly protests to take back the bike lane in 1991.
(Right) In 1996, a T.A. demo after the lane was taken for rush hour traffic met with hundreds of NYPD riot officers, who kept demonstrators off the bridge.

"Sec. 4. The said bridge, when completed, shall be and become a public highway for the purpose of rendering travel between the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens safe and certain at all times." From the City Record, Wednesday, January 3, 1900, p. 28 . . .