Engineers are proposing a new car-free bridge that would be the first new bridge into lower Manhattan in more than 100 years

Cycling has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent months, and cities across the US have moved rapidly to absorb the flood of new riders by designating temporary bike lanes, slowing speed limits, and closing off streets to traffic. But a new proposal for New York City seeks to make some grander and more permanent bike-friendly changes. 

The plan — which comes from a consortium of engineers led by transit consultant and former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz — calls for New York to construct a new bike- and pedestrian-only bridge connecting Long Island City in Queens to Midtown Manhattan. It would be the first new bridge to the city's central business district in more than a century.

Dubbed the Queens Ribbon, the bridge would be a relatively slender 20 feet wide, with half that width reserved for cyclists and the other half for pedestrians. It would be able to carry roughly 20,000 people daily, according to the proposal coauthored by Sam Schwartz Engineering, the engineering firm T.Y. Lin International, and New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. 

A rendering of the Queens Ribbon bridge. T.Y. Lin International

The project would not only create additional safe bikeways for more normal times, the proposal says, it would also "provide a lifeline in future crises" that might upend people's normal transportation routines. In addition, the bridge would alleviate congestion on city streets in a time when traffic may reach new heights, as commuters shy away from public transit and flock to the relative safety of personal cars and bikes. 

"The Queens Ribbon will offer tremendous value in so many ways – from an environmental perspective, an aesthetic perspective, and a health perspective," Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, a professor of engineering at New York University involved in the proposal, said in a press release. 

According to the proposal, the infrastructure project would cost an estimated $100 million, no small sum for a city reeling from the financial impact of a pandemic. But its backers argue that the bridge would pay for itself in terms of reduced traffic and pollution. 

City officials, for their part, told Business Insider they will review the proposal and said that they have made cycling and mobility a priority. "We appreciate the engineers' hard work in crafting a proposal to reimagine mobility in our city – especially on our East River Bridges, which are more than 100 years old and not easy to retrofit," a spokesperson for the mayor's office said in an email.  

The consortium of engineers is also planning two additional pedestrian-bicycle bridges into lower Manhattan, one from New Jersey and one from Brooklyn. All together, the proposal claims, these three bridges could accommodate the equivalent of 50,000 cars or 60 packed subway trains daily. 

"The urban travel mode of the future won't be flying cars, or robo-cars or even cars," Schwartz said in a press release. "It will be shoes and bikes."