This spring, as the pandemic brought the city to a halt, subway and bus ridership dropped, Lyft and Uber banned their cheaper ride sharing option to encourage social distancing, and the hum of cyclists and pedestrians reclaimed the right of way.
New York City officials were pressed to quickly step up efforts to make NYC, which has a reputation for being a dangerous city for cyclists, safe enough for the population to get around on two wheels. Since then, the mayor has mandated more than 40 miles of open streets for pedestrians and cyclists (some of which may become permanent after the city reopens.) Roads adjacent to parks are open for miles and miles of protected bike lanes.
But beyond the pandemic, urban planners, transportation groups and engineers are looking to the future of transportation. Their plans foresee the surge in bicycling as a trend in NYC that’s here to stay forever.
One new proposal, Queens Ribbon, is calling for the city to provide New York with its first ever car-free bridge. The slender and flexible bridge, would be designated for cyclists and pedestrians only, connecting Midtown Manhattan to Long Island City in Queens.
The bridge proposal was developed by a group of transportation engineers led by transit consultant and former New York City traffic commissioner Samuel Schwartz.
"For years we’ve been seeing a big increase in biking in walking," says Schwartz. "This is particularly true in the millennial generation. They enjoy incorporating physical activity into their commute. Really this made sense before Covid-19, it makes sense to move forward in the future."
The aptly named Queens Ribbon would use engineering technology called stress ribbon design. It would be built 20-feet-wide, with half that width meant for cyclists and the other half for pedestrians.
Schwartz says that even though opening streets is a start to better incorporating biking into urban landscape, New York needs an accessible biking and walking bridge in order for the city to continue to grow and travel efficiently.
"We already need additional capacity across the East River, were already at capacity at the Brooklyn and Queens borough bridges, and soon, we’ll hit capacity at the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges," says Schwartz.
World cities include London, Paris and Singapore have already recognized biking and walking as important parts of their transportation systems, Schwartz adds. New York, once the bridge-building capital of the world, "has lagged behind on this one."
The car-free bridge is estimated to cost $100 million.
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