Tomorrow: Rally for a Verrazano-Narrows Path, Now a Real Possibility

A preliminary report from the MTA shows new bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are feasible. Advocates want to work with the MTA on the details. Image: WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for MTA [PDF]
A preliminary report from the MTA shows new bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are feasible. Advocates say they want to work with the MTA on the details. Image: WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for MTA [PDF]
Supporters of building a bicycle and walking path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are gathering tomorrow in Bay Ridge to rally for the project. The MTA released a preliminary report this week evaluating the prospects for a path, and it depicts a more complex undertaking than many advocates expected. The advocates working for walking and biking access on the bridge aren’t deterred and say the fact that the MTA is taking the idea seriously is a major step in the right direction.

The Verrazano Bridge opened in 1964 without bicycle and pedestrian access, an oversight that advocates have been trying to correct for a long time. In 1997, the Department of City Planning hired Ammann & Whitney, the firm that designed the bridge, to study the feasibility of adding a bikeway [PDF]. Since the bridge is controlled by the MTA, the city’s report largely sat on a shelf since its release nearly two decades ago.

More recently, a coalition of advocates renewed the push for a Verrazano-Narrows path under the banner of the “Harbor Ring,” a loop of connected bike paths around Upper New York Bay.

After advocates earned endorsements from elected officials, last year the MTA hired consultant WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for its own feasibility analysis. On Tuesday, the authority briefed advocates and the press on the preliminary results of the study [PDF].

The document examines three options: Building paths on each side of the bridge’s lower deck, a similar plan on both sides of the upper deck, and a new, lower crossing parallel to the existing bridge. The new span would have a vertical lift to allow ships to enter the harbor.

The most complex part of the project is on the Brooklyn side, where the bridge paths would descend to ground level and connect with the popular greenway in Shore Park. The bicycle path, on the north side of the bridge, would follow a long, swooping switchback ramp over John Paul Jones Park. The pedestrian path on the southern side would be accessed via a stacked series of ramps closer to the water’s edge.

The complicated engineering contributes to the project’s cost estimates, which consultants put at between $300 million and $400 million. MTA board member Allen Cappelli told the Advance the cost was “very difficult to justify.” Council Member Debi Rose said it was “daunting,” and Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis also said cost could be an obstacle.

The numbers may seem big compared to the estimates in DCP’s 1997 report, which said a new bike path could cost an inflation-adjusted $60 million. That plan proposed adding paths between the bridge’s suspender cables, which consultants told the Advance is not a realistic option.

Advocates are looking to work with the MTA on the project’s details, including modifying the design for ramps on either side of the bridge. “[The Harbor Ring] urges their engineers to also add a more robust range of possibilities,” said Harbor Ring committee member Dave ‘Paco’ Abraham. “These include potentially converting an existing vehicular lane as well as crafting more direct approaches to a pathway which could mimic the existing roadbed rather than building brand new ramps from the greenway below.”

Removing a lane of car traffic on the bridge might be less expensive, but could face challenges from traffic engineers and local politicians who otherwise support biking and walking access on the bridge.

One of the reasons the MTA decided to do the feasibility study now is because the agency will be taking on a major reconstruction of the lower level, which hasn’t been rebuilt since it opened in 1969. Replacing the existing structure with modern, lighter materials could make it feasible to add new paths on either side of the lower level. To accommodate the paths, consultants say the lower deck will have to shed approximately 12,000 tons of weight.

The upper deck is currently being reconstructed with newer, lighter materials and will accommodate a new high-occupancy vehicle and bus lane, slated to open in 2017.

“Though pathways’ implementation is already long overdue, such serious deliberation has never before been put into this already widely popular concept,” Abraham said. “While all details to better connect the boroughs are extremely preliminary, it is most certainly in the city’s best interests to ensure valuable public resources bring the structure into the 21st Century.”

The rally begins at noon tomorrow on Shore Parkway at the end of Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The final feasibility report, part of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Master Plan, is expected sometime next year.

  • Avi

    Might as well send the R over there while rebuilding it…

  • dave “paco” abraham

    that would quickly become a billion dollar project I bet. Though it could also be entirely worth it.

  • Avi

    Cuomo would probably come up with an “estimate” of around $2 trillion just to nix it. It might be worth it politically to get Staten Island politicians invested in transit? It’d also be a good excuse to start charging a swipe for the ferry again.

  • sbauman

    How did the Ammann-Whitney (AW) 1992 proposal for a $41.5 million life time cost morph into the Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) plan for $400 million? Even quadrupling the AW estimate would result in less than half the cost of the PB plan.

    The PB and AW plans differ in two significant ways.

    The PB plan uses a cantilevered path that extends outboard of the bridge. The AW plan supports the path on existing structural beams between the vertical suspender cables. The AW path is 10 ft wide and interrupted by the vertical suspender cables This is similar to the path on the GWB. The PB path is 14 feet wide and not interrupted by suspender cables. Both plans call for dual paths that would segregate pedestrians and bikers like the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridge paths. Use determines whether such segregation is necessary.

    The PB paths are attached to the bridge only between the anchorages. The approaches to the anchorages are completely new structures. The new approaches have a combined length of approximately 13,000 feet or a nearly 400 feet greater length of the VZ from 92nd St Bklyn to Lily Pond Road in SI.

    The AW plan attaches the path outboard to the anchorages and uses the existing approaches. Less than 1000 feet of new structure is required. The AW approaches are only 7 feet wide. This constraint us due to the use of the existing Upper Level (UL) approach sidewalk. These could be widened in conjuction with reconstruction of the UL approach at some future time.

    It’s difficult to compare plan costs because the PB document does not mention them. It’s basically a PowerPoint presentation. AW’s plan is an engineering document. The costs for the various options are itemized.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They’ve got 12 general traffic lanes on that bridge. How many on the connecting roads?

    They just need to repurpose a lane on the upper deck for a shared path.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    less than 180,000 vehicles per day

  • sbauman

    The lower level would be much easier and less expensive because of how the approaches are designed.

  • Miles Bader

    So the cost of the bike/ped addition is “very difficult to justify,” but of course the cost of completely rebuilding the upper and lower decks for cars (which is almost certainly far more expensive) is no problem at all… ><

    [BTW, PB is famous for milking the system as far as it can be milked…]

  • neroden

    Yep, looks like a case of PB attempting to milk the taxpayers. Sommoene should go back to Ammann-Whitney.

  • ahwr

    Rebuilding the decks for autos costs more, but provides far more transportation value and ensures a continued cash cow that helps support the transit network after covering the costs of the bridge rebuilding. Instead of supporting the transit network some want to build what will mostly be a recreational bike/walk path that would see minimal transportation use. The MTA isn’t exactly flush with cash, and the recently agreed to funding of the capital plan includes ~6 billion in bonds (I think?) and minimal system expansion. Unless a new revenue stream shows up paying for this path means a 0.3-0.4% fare hike system wide. That should be hard to justify. And if a new revenue stream did magically appear there would be far better uses of the dollars.

  • Daniel

    This $400 million dollar estimate is a ‘kill the idea’ estimate. It’s like the multi-billion dollar estimates the state DOT came up with for dedicating some of the excess capacity on the new Tappan Zee bridges to buses. You can build a pedestrian and bicycle path for the cost of the approaches by simply taking a lane or two away from cars, you could even build a shared path on the lower level with stairs to allow conversion to a dedicated walking path on the upper level if use levels justify it.

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