Verrazano Bridge Path Advocates Release Map, Ask MTA to Commit to Study

The Harbor Ring Committee, a coalition working to complete the missing link in a route around New York Harbor with a bicycle and pedestrian path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, has released a map of the bike route, a 50-mile loop across four boroughs and Hudson County, New Jersey. Meanwhile, advocates are trying to get the MTA to firmly commit to a feasibility study they hope could pave the way for building the bridge path.

Advocates for a biking and walking path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge have released a map for the Harbor Loop, a 50-mile route with a key missing link. Image: ##http://harborring.org/harbor-ring-map/map-2/##Harbor Loop Committee##

In the spring, advocates circulated a petition calling on Governor Cuomo to support a bridge path. While the governor hasn’t come out with an endorsement, it did get the attention of MTA Bridges and Tunnels. “A feasibility study, addressing a host of issues including cost, structural issues, operational issues and impact on the surrounding neighborhoods would have to be conducted,” spokesperson Judie Glave said, adding that the agency “is considering studying this issue as part of a future reconstruction project” that would not begin until 2014 or later.

Advocates, who have been in touch with MTA Bridges and Tunnels President James Ferrara, say they hope the planned relocation of ramps on the Brooklyn side between the bridge and the Belt Parkway will include a path feasibility study. A separate ongoing capital project that could affect plans for a bike/ped path involves replacing and widening the upper deck to accommodate a bus and carpool lane.

“Honestly, this study I think would be a formality,” Harbor Ring Committee member David Wenger told Streetsblog. The bridge, designed by architects Ammann & Whitney, includes space for paths, but they were never built. In 1997, the same firm prepared a feasibility study for the Department of City Planning, including a preferred option for a path design that was similar to the path on the George Washington Bridge, another Amman & Whitney project.

The new feasibility study would likely update the old one, including more information about security and how the ramp would interact with reconfigured Brooklyn-side ramps. “There should be no reason why this should not be feasible,” Wenger said.

As advocates push for a study next year, the online petition has gathered more than 2,000 signatures, plus about 500 signatures on paper. Comments from petition signers have been very helpful in convincing elected officials and the MTA of the path’s value, Wenger said. Nearly a quarter of all commenters say they would use the path as part of their daily commute.

In the meantime, the effort continues to rack up endorsements from elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Marty Golden, and City Council members Deborah Rose and Vincent Gentile. Democratic City Council nominee John Mancuso has also endorsed the plan. The Harbor Ring Committee will soon reach out to borough president candidates, as well as more state legislators in both Staten Island and Brooklyn, Meredith Sladek of Transportation Alternatives said.

With the completion of a multi-use path on the new Goethals Bridge scheduled for 2017, Sladek said that the group might look at extending the loop route to include more of New Jersey, as well as the George Washington Bridge.

For those who can’t wait until a bridge path is built, the committee has already organized rides on the route and will soon print up to 5,000 copies of its newly-released Harbor Ring map for distribution to local bike shops. The map includes detailed information about the route, local bike shops, and transit. There’s just one pesky gap.

  • Anonymous

    This would really link Staten Island to Brooklyn in a very meaningful way. It would allow a free way to connect to another borough. Joggers, cyclists, could get some of the best views of the harbor. Citibike could make this even more of a transportation connection for anyone.

  • Anonymous

    As an interim solution, could the local bus routes crossing the Verrazano be prioritized for vehicle-mounted bicycle racks found on almost every non-MTA North American transit vehicle?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t understand why, when the MTA rebuilt the Marine Parkway (Gil Hodges) bridge, it didn’t add another path. There is only one, it is narrow and crowded with fishermen, and officially bicycles have to be walked the entire length.

  • Guest

    Also, I think this would help local SI businesses. Cyclists get hungry and thirsty a lot! I personally would love to spend some of the money I currently leave around Brooklyn and Queens (when cycling there) in SI instead, getting to know that borough. Alas, it’s hard to get to from Brooklyn.

  • Anonymous

    All due respect, I have a hard time thinking that this is a good use of scarce money and attention for these sorts of projects. Maybe if it could have been built at the same time the bridge was, when capital projects like this cost less and construction wouldn’t have had to work around the more-or-less continuous operation of the bridge.

    Any one of the three bike/ped-only bridges that Sam Schwartz proposed as part of his Fair Toll plan seems like it would see a lot more use, and actually, you know, connect job centers to residential districts. A bike/ped connection between Bay Ridge and Fort Wadsworth just isn’t as useful in comparison.

  • Steve Faust, AICP

    To MatthewEH, The VNB was engineered for the paths, by the same man who designed the GWB. The paths fit into the same place. It’s almost plug and play easy. The path was estimated to add $2 million to the cost in 1963, when the bridge cost $200 million – or about 1 percent, and would have carried at least 1 percent of the bridge’s traffic. Not a bad ratio of cost to benefit.

    Today, based on the 1997 Ammann and Whitney estimate, the paths would cost about $35 to $55 million to install. As the current replacement cost of the VNB is well north of $3 Billion, retrofitting the path would cost in the 2 percent range. With the growth in bicycle travel, more runners and walkers, and a world class tourist view, the bridge paths should be carrying well over a million non-motorized crossings per year.

    Yes, costs have gone up. Replacing the upper level main roadway deck – just on the suspension section, is costing about $300 million – work is underway now. If TBTA had included installing prefabricated path sections, in light weight fiber reinforced plastic, along with the deck replacement work, they could have swung the new path sections into place using the same machines, workers and traffic closing time as needed for the roadway deck project. Could be saving millions over an independent installation. The approach and Belt Parkway ramps will be renovated next, and the MTA is now considering the feasibility of actually including the bike path into this work in a new RFP.

    The two paths would go on without removing any car lanes, and if planned correctly, can be installed in conjunction with roadway rehab work that will be closing the outside lanes for sufficient hours to install the paths and fix the roadway. Win-win.

    Sam’s bridges will cost far more per linear foot of path than the VNB paths, because these bridges will have to be built up from scratch and fully support themselves. The VNB paths will sit on the main span under the suspender ropes in a space ready to support them – little more than the prefab path sections are needed. On the approaches, cantilever brackets will be fastened to the outer sides of the roadways, see the new path on the RFK-TriBoro from Queens, on the section down to Wards Island for, a somewhat similar treatment. Again, the prefab path sections get lifted up and clamped to the brackets. The VNB paths are supported by the existing strength of the VNB, not with a whole new bridge. Sam may be asking for a bridge too far right now.
    The VNB path is both (relatively) cheap and easy to install and meets a totally unmet need. It’s 50 years overdue.

  • Steve Faust, AICP

    It possible that center lift span cannot be balanced with a second pathway hanging from it. If this were a fixed bridge, the path should work easily, but a lift span is a lot harder to deal with. However, the current path was built from traditional steel and concrete – very heavy. State of the art is FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) structures that weigh as little as 1/3 of steel and concrete. FRP has been used for motor lanes as well as bike/ped bridges and is beyond the experimental stage. FRP costs more up front, but it has outstanding features: weighing less, it can be installed much easier – flown in by helicopter in deep woods, and long spans lifted by ordinary cranes; weighing less, it needs fewer and smaller support columns, and puts much less load on existing bridges. This weight savings might allow two FRP paths to be loaded onto the lift span in place of the current single steel and concrete.
    Finally, FRP does not corrode or rust or deteriorate anywhere near the rate of steel and concrete. I trust you have noticed that bike/ped paths and roadway decks of the major bridges only last some 50 years before they are totally replaced. FRP is expected to last far longer, with less ongoing maintenance. This can be a great long term life cycle cost savings in maintenance and capital replacement.

    So the extra up front cost of FRP can be justified.

  • Steve Faust, AICP

    A Peak Capacity Problem. Bus racks now carry 3 bikes, but there are at most 12 bikes each way in the peak hour – for 36 bikes per hour maximum. Some hours there may be few cyclists, but even a small group will need 2 or more bus loads to cross. Bus racks might just meet weekday commuter peaks, but there are fewer buses on weekends and more riders. Won’t fit.

    A possible solution is to allow bikes INSIDE the buses on a Last-On First-Off basis, just across the bridge. If there is space, the driver would allow cyclists to board the bus for the bridge crossing, but they can’t stay inside any further than the first stop on the other side. If a bike rack space opens up, the bike can be transferred outside if the rider wants to stay on the bus – mostly for traveling across Staten Island.

    Bit of history, there was a VNB Bike Bus the summer of 1977. The MTA tried out running exclusive bike shuttle buses on weekends, from 8 AM to 4 PM that summer. The hours were too short and particularly ended too early in the day. Still, the buses carried about 1800 cyclists that lifted their own bikes on and off the buses. No bikes, no riders nor the buses were damaged by this. The buses carried about 1/10th the number of cyclists carried on the SI Ferry for the same days. The ferry was well known, the bus had limited advertising, and the ferry ran 24 hours a day, the bus only ran for 8 hours.

    The MTA decided that the bike bus shuttle couldn’t be run at a profit, so they stopped it. Of course, none of the other bus services actually run at profit, so this may not be a fair argument.
    Overall, the bike bus shuttle was a technical success but a financial failure.

  • ruby soho

    The thing with Sam Schwartz’s bike bridges is that they all serve places that already have viable bike/ped connections, sometimes several. You think there aren’t job centers and residential districts in deep BK or mid-island? In fact, the largest employer on SI is SI Univ Hospital, which is just a few blocks from the bridge, and the College of SI has a large student commuter population from Brooklyn. SI does not have a walkable, bikeable connection to the rest of NYC. You’re fortunate enough to not know how infuriating it is to look at Bay Ridge or Red Hook from SI and know that it would take about 2+ hours to get there by bike, instead of 20 minutes over the bridge. The Verrazano is a public amenity funded by state dollars that feasibly can–and ought to — be available to every mode.

  • Anonymous

    All fair points, but I just have a hard time believing these paths would carry 1% of bridge traffic. Per Wikipedia, daily vehicle volume on the Verrazano in 2008 was 190,000. Even making the super-conservative assumption that each of those vehicles represented 1 traveler only, would average volume on this path really hit 1,900, day in, day out? I’d honestly be a little surprised if the census even on the GWB is that high — I’m having trouble finding this specific number, alas — and that’s a bridge that, you know, is much shorter and connects to a pretty dense part of Manhattan on one side and a moderately dense part of Jersey on the other. Not to mention being the gateway to the major road biking routes on the west side of the Hudson.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d absolutely use this bridge 2-3 times a year — I love riding on bridges, and in fact I sorta collect them — but I have reservations whether there are enough day-trippers like me, or more relevantly daily commuters, to really make the case for cost-effectiveness.

    The tourism angle is interesting, though. The whole thing would still be notably less costly than the High Line, right? 😉

  • Anonymous

    Not to be too nitpicky, but there’s no real bike-ped alternative from Jersey City to midtown or lower Manhattan. Not unless you count the extremely costly NY Waterway ferries. PATH certainly doesn’t count; no bikes aboard during rush hour.

    So, cycling up to the GWB and back down squares pretty much precisely with the 2-hour ferry-plus-ride figure you cite.

  • Anonymous

    The Golden Gate Bridge is also a bit removed from the dense parts of its city and yet is a worldwide famous tourist destination. Very few people outside NYC, and even some in NYC, have even heard of the Verrazano Bridge. The Verrazano Bridge is longer than the Golden Gate Bridge and is nice looking too, IMHO. So I wonder if one part of the reason that few people have heard of it is that it is not accessible to tourists on foot (and on bike)? (Another reason might be that it is newer, and bridges of that size were less of a novelty when the Verrazano was built, even though it was the longest suspension bridge in the world for almost two decades. Yet another might be that it goes to Staten Island. 😉

    We’ll know that the Verrazano Bridge has “made it” when we see it being destroyed by giant monsters or aliens in the movies with some frequency…

  • Anonymous

    If the GGB is “a bit removed” from the dense parts of the city, the VNB is a lot removed. The GGB touches down in the city proper, and is a scant 5.2 mile drive from, say, San Francisco Union Square, going through a well-known national park with many amenities in its own right towards the end of the route. It’s still accessible to tourists who are not in a private car — by taxi, even, and is certainly a stop on tour bus itineraries.

    The Brooklyn end of the VNB, in contrast, is >11 miles from NY Union Square by car, barely accessible to tourists that don’t have their own car, and the route uses one of the ugliest stretches of elevated highway in the region, which cuts through a far-from-fashionable section of Brooklyn.

    There’s really not much comparison.

  • Anonymous

    You are right that it’s farther, and I may be grasping at straws. Still, I think that bridge buffs at least would be willing to make the 11-mile trek to the longest suspension bridge in America if it were made more of a destination. In addition to making it pedestrian accessible, there would have to be some sort of visitor center and better transportation options. Hey, one can dream!

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