MONEY TALKS: City is Moving Ahead on Queensboro Bridge Ped Path — But Also Left Two Lawmakers Miffed

Hundreds of people walked the Queensboro Bridge south outer roadway in 2020 to demand more space for people like them. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Hundreds of people walked the Queensboro Bridge south outer roadway in 2020 to demand more space for people like them. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Put your money where our mouth is.

The Department of Transportation has quietly reached out to Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos — plus Manhattan and Queens borough presidents Gale Brewer and Donovan Richards — to ask them to make good on their promise to fund a security fence to make the Queensboro Bridge’s south outer roadway safe for pedestrians — a $500,000 request to each of the lawmakers, even though the mayor announced the plan as his own bold initiative during his State of the City address in January.

The request came in the form of the agency’s standard annual pitch to lawmakers, who typically receive a customized list of projects that the DOT would like to undertake in the coming year. But it was specifically made to Van Bramer, Kallos and Brewer because (at the prompting of Streetsblog) they committed to put up the money for a security fence after the DOT claimed that the lack of fencing prevented the agency from converting the southernmost roadway lane to a dedicated pedestrian path.

What these things look like.
What these things look like.

“[Capital] funding is a critical piece of funding projects to improve safety and livability in communities throughout your district,” the DOT wrote to Van Bramer, right (though Kallos received a similar pitch). “As we work towards the next fiscal year, DOT is seeking your help with obtaining funding for the Vision Zero and High Priority projects throughout your district.” The top project on that list? “Queensboro Bridge South Outer Roadway Fencing — $500,000.”

Van Bramer immediately committed the money upon receiving the letter — though he admitted he was miffed that DOT is still asking for the cash given that the mayor presented the plan as his own (and not the result of many years of activism by volunteers in Queens; the famed QB6; Transportation Alternatives; Bike New York; and even Streetsblog; plus the promised cash from Van Bramer and Kallos).

“Do I think that the mayor and the DOT should fund this? Yes, absolutely. Do I think they should have done it a long time ago? Absolutely,” Van Bramer said. “But I am not going to fuck around with safety for the people of Queens and the city of New York. This will save people’s lives, so I will do what I told people I would do, which is to fund it. I won’t pass the buck. I told DOT, ‘You put a price on it and I will fund it.’ So they finally asked for the money, so I will do this.”

The $500,000 ask represents 10 percent of the council members’ entire discretionary capital budget for the year, meaning some other neighborhood desires won’t be met (but then again, both Van Bramer and Kallos are term-limited and running for their respective borough presidencies).

Kallos was sharper of tongue when told by Streetsblog that he was about to be hit with the bill (he had not received official notification from DOT when he spoke to this outlet on Thursday).

“The way he announced this, he should cover the cost, so that we can use our capital money to pay for other traffic improvements that he wouldn’t otherwise do,” said Kallos, who remains in a longstanding beef with City Hall over its refusal to take more than $150,000 that he offered for the purchase of two Multihog snow plows so the First and Second avenue bike lanes can be cleared after storms. (City Hall has said it can’t buy the Multihogs with Kallos’s capital funding because each plow includes a $30,000 attachment — and attachments are allegedly barred from capital expenditures.)

“He’s asking for us to pay for something he announced as his initiative, without mentioning the community that’s been fighting for it, and then he won’t spend $30,000 on a fucking snowplow so people can walk and bike safely once they get over the bridge,” Kallos said, adding that his use of the expletive was “on the record.” “So, yeah, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when he comes to us for the money.”

Like Van Bramer, Kallos said he definitely would allocate the cash, though.

“I said I would put my money where my mouth was, and the mayor did the right thing, albeit in the wrong way,” Kallos said. “But if it costs a million to get him to get up there to announce it in his State of the City, I’ll take it.”

The Department of Transportation pushed back on some of the council members’ pique.

“It is normal practice to ask local electeds if they want to contribute — especially since they’ve all been supportive of the project,” said agency spokesman Brian Zumhagen. “The project will be funded one way or the other.”

Zumhagen added that the request for funding from the lawmakers keeps the project on the timeline that de Blasio mentioned in January: work will begin this year, but it will not be finished until next year.

The DOT still claims that the cost of the security fence — which will match the protective screen that keeps cyclists and pedestrians from jumping or throwing stuff from the north side of the bridge — will cost $4 million to $12 million, an amount that the agency initially floated as a way of saying the project was too expensive.

It remains unclear where the DOT came up with that $4-12 million figure. Last year, Streetsblog filed an historic Freedom of Information Law request for budget documents of the north side fencing, which was installed more than a decade ago.

Only last month did we receive the heavily redacted paperwork (embedded below). The 2008 budget document priced the fence at $2.031 million, or the equivalent of $2.48 million today. It is unclear if that 2008 figure included labor (supplemental documents were not provided).

DOT Security Fence FOIL by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd