Next year, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will mark its 50th anniversary. Although the structure was designed to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle paths, they were never included. Now, advocates are hoping a renewed push can close the gap in what they’re calling the Harbor Ring, a 50-mile loop around Upper New York Bay. This week, the initiative launched an online petition to Governor Cuomo, asking him to support the plan and move it forward.
The petition is part of a renewed effort to build a path across the bridge after previous attempts stalled out. In 1997, the Department of City Planning commissioned a feasibility study by Ammann & Whitney, the bridge’s architect, to examine installing paths on the bridge. In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed support for the plan. But a decade later, there are still only two times each year when New Yorkers can cross the span under their own power: the New York City Marathon, held every November, and the Five Boro Bike Tour each May.
Dave “Paco” Abraham, a Harbor Ring advocate, will be guiding Five Boro Bike Tour riders as they cross the bridge this year. “Every year I’ve done the Five Boro bike ride,” he said, “Everybody stops on that bridge and takes a photo. It’s breathtaking. It’s why people go to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s why the Walkway Over the Hudson [a rails-to-trails project in Poughkeepsie] opened.”
The same types of tourism, health, and transportation benefits those projects bring to San Francisco and Poughkeepsie make the project costs on the Verrazano worth the investment, said Abraham. “We’re in the scale of tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions,” he said.
There are two MTA capital projects that could affect the path’s prospects. One is replacing and widening the upper deck to accommodate a bus and carpool lane; the other is the relocation ramps on the Brooklyn side between the bridge and the Belt Parkway. “If they can take any way to incorporate [the path] into their capital projects one way or another, that would be wonderful,” said Meredith Sladek of Transportation Alternatives. A few weeks ago, a coalition of organizations including TA and the Regional Plan Association sent a letter to the MTA asking the agency to consider the path in its planning process.
Advocates see the petition, which as of this afternoon has nearly 750 signatures, as an important part of their strategy to show the concept’s broad appeal. “It’s a way to demonstrate support to a wide range of elected officials,” Sladek said.
The pending reactivation of South Ferry station is testament to Staten Island’s power at the MTA when the borough’s political leadership leadership is behind a cause. “With the right pressure from Board members and politicians, the MTA reconstructed South Ferry in a few months,” Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas noted. “Everything else seems to take forever.”
The Harbor Ring effort already has the support of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and State Senator Marty Golden, but is opposed by Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. Over the past two years, advocates have been making their case to MTA Board members, City Council members, and state legislators.
In December, a coalition of groups backing the effort sent a letter to Cuomo, but did not receive a response from the governor. At a February City Council hearing on the MTA’s response to Hurricane Sandy, they testified about the role a path could play during emergencies.
“It just doesn’t make sense to isolate people,” Abraham said. “Putting a pathway over the Verrazano is a very practical ask.”