Foot and bicycle access to New York City's East River Bridges has hit an all-time low, say pedestrian and cycling advocates. The recent closing of the Williamsburg Bridge walkway, combined with the City's policy of turning the Queensboro Bridge's bike and foot path over to auto traffic every week-night, is thwarting non-motorized passage to Manhattan to the worst extent in recent memory, according to Transportation Alternatives, a 1500-member NYC bicycling-pedestrian advocacy group.
In response, activists from Transportation Alternatives will block autos from the Queensboro Bridge bike and walking lane from 5-7 PM, on Wednesday, July 31. The protestors will gather at the bridge entrance on 59th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. In Williamsburg, citizens have formed Williamsburg Organized for the Walkway to work for the restoration of the pedestrian- and bike-way on that bridge. They will hold an inaugural meeting Tuesday, August 6, at 7:30 PM, at the Williamsburg tavern The Right Bank, at Kent Avenue and Broadway. The group has vowed to march over the bridge roadway if the City does not immediately begin work on a new pathway.
The Williamsburg Bridge walkway was shut down in late June as pieces of the decking began to crumble and fall. Although the NYC Department of Transportation has developed plans for a temporary bike and foot span, the City refuses to say when work on it will be completed, or even when it will begin. A source within the DoT -- who insisted on remaining anonymous -- told Williamsburg activists that the DoT was considering leaving the walkway closed until comprehensive renovations begin on the Williamsburg Bridge late in the decade. The reason given was the perception in DoT that the walkway was little used.
"The path would certainly have had a lot more traffic if it had been maintained and kept safe," said Williamsburg Organized for the Walkway founder Anna West. "The surface of the path was dangerous to thin-tired bikes, and even to some types of shoes. That's not to mention the muggers. Complete absence of maintenance is also what caused the path to fall."
"The low priority accorded bicyclists and pedestrians by City transportation officials has grown worse under present DoT leadership," said Jon Orcutt, director of Transportation Alternatives. "With partial closure of the Queensboro and no secure plans to restore access to the Williamsburg, bicycling is suffering more under the Dinkins Administration even than under bike-banning Mayor Koch."
The example of the Manhattan Bridge is especially troubling to cycling and pedestrian advocates. The walkway there was dismantled in the 1960's for reasons similar to those leading to the closure of the Williamsburg path, but never rebuilt.
DoT's disregard of regard of foot and bike access to East River bridges comes when air pollution in NYC is again worsening, after improving through the 1970's and early 1980's.