State to City: The Time Has Come to Install the Addabbo Bridge Protected Bike Lane

Is someone gonna do something this year or what? File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Is someone gonna do something this year or what? File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Study hall is over.

Just as the summer heat hits, the state Department Transportation said that it has finished studying a proposal for a bike lane on the Addabbo Bridge that the city Department of Transportation sent it — and that the city is now free to go ahead and install the bike lane on connection between Rockaway and mainland Queens.

“The New York State Department of Transportation has completed its review of the proposed bike lane for the Addabbo Bridge and we have communicated our willingness to have the project proceed to the New York City DOT,” said state DOT spokesperson Diane Park. “Further inquiries should be directed to the NYC DOT, as they are the lead agency for this project.”

The statement on the project may read as a bloodless bureaucratic punt, but the state’s “willingness to have the project proceed” is the most forward momentum the long-stalled project to finally protect cyclists on the bridge has ever had. For years, the question of whether the city DOT, which controls city streets and city street policy, or the state DOT, which through a quirk of history has the Addabbo Bridge in its portfolio of bridges it manages, has slowed down all efforts to turned the harrowing bike lane on the bridge into something with protection from car- and psychotic Mister Softee drivers whizzing.

The current design on the bridge gives southbound drivers two lanes between a wide shoulder and a painted bike lane next to a pedestrian walkway which is protected with an actual concrete barrier. On the northbound side of the bridge, there are three lanes next to the same setup of a painted bike lane next to a concrete-protected pedestrian path.

Since the painted bike lane on the Addabbo Bridge at its best is a strip of paint next to cars that routinely speed over the bridge at 40 to 50 miles per hour and at its worst is blocked by psychotic ice cream truck drivers, advocates were overjoyed by the news that the city now has the green light to fix the situation and urged the DOT to do just that.

“This is an urgent and long-overdue development,” said Transportation Alternatives Queens Organizer Laura Shepard. “This bridge has been harrowing and dangerous for cyclists for too long and the city DOT needs to move on this as soon as possible. As we face Vision Zero highs for cyclist fatalities, the city should be doing everything in its power to protect bike riders.”

With the ball in the city’s court now, the DOT has the chance to get the Addabbo Bridge caught up to standards that are being established in other pieces of the stretch between Howard Beach and Rockaway. In 2021, the city installed a protected bike lane on 165th Avenue, a quiet street that leads directly to Cross Bay Boulevard and the southbound entrance of the bridge.

Further south, the DOT installed a protected bike lane on a stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard between E. First Road and E. Sixth Road in 2020 after cyclist Bogdan Darmetko was killed on that speedway stretch of road the year before. At the southern edge of Broad Channel, even the MTA, which previously saw cyclists as bothersome gnats to be ignored, opened the Cross Bay Bridge to legal cycling and plans to replace the steep Rockaway-side ramp with an ADA-compliant ramp. Advocates saw the state endorsement of the protected bike lane plan as part of a larger but still somewhat bumpy road towards actually making a full citywide greenway.

“There’s a lot of tangible movement in the direction of major greenway expansion these days,” said Brooklyn Greenway Initiative Advocacy and Greenway Projects Coordinator Brian Hedden. “The Harlem River Greenway study was just greenlit, and we’re expecting several more later this year. Getting all of these greenways connected to one another is always a major challenge, and it will be hard to do it without the state DOT and the MTA. They’ve been inconsistent partners in the past, but … this is a great step forward in connecting the Rockaways to existing greenways in Brooklyn and Queens, and hopefully more to come.”

In theory, the state DOT saying it was finished with the review of the city plan should be the end of the Addabbo Bridge’s own “cable inspection” problem, a bureaucratic mire in which all possible progress is stuck. Park, the state DOT spokesperson, did not respond to a follow-up question on what the state was studying exactly, a question that’s gone unanswered since the state said it began a review last year.

But even finishing the study is a huge step forward. Previously, the question of what to do about the Addabbo’s reviled “murder strip” was caught in a game of hot potato between the city and state agency, who each used Twitter to say the other party was responsible for the bridge.

Outside of the Twitter War, the city and state both have claimed the need for various studies before the bridge could be made more safe. New York State at one point said a 2019 traffic study would determine how to upgrade the bridge, before filing the idea away for a lack of secured funding. New York City has said it had to do an engineering study to determine if the existing jersey barriers that double-protect the walkway can be moved one lane over (it’s unclear if that study ever happened). But by 2022, the city and state were kind of on the same page. Last year, the state began a review of a city plan to finally protect cyclists on the bridge, one that city sources said was similar to a 2018 pitch to put a two-way protected bike lane on the southbound side of the bridge.

The idea guiding the city DOT's plan for the Addabbo Bridge. Graphic: DOT
The idea guiding the city DOT’s plan for the Addabbo Bridge. Graphic: DOT (city DOT)

The city won’t say what it’s planning, or when any work on the bridge might start. DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno merely said, “We’ll have more to share on this soon.”

But since the span serves as an entrance to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and the gateway to the beach, Queens greenway advocates urged the city to get a move on.

“With plans now approved by the state, we call on NYC DOT to take swift action to close this gap in the Jamaica Bay Greenway, safely connecting people to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Rockaway Beach, Shirley Chisholm State Park, and numerous communities around the Bay,” said Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy Executive Director Terri Carta.

Plus, given that the jersey barriers are already on the bridge, simply moving them one lane to the east would be an easy way to bank 3/4 of a mile to the city’s requirement to build 50 miles of protected bike lanes this year.