Bike Racks on Buses Are Nice, But the Verrazano Really Needs a Bike Path

A preliminary MTA report pegged the cost of building bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano Bridge at $300 to $400 million. Image: MTA [PDF]
A preliminary MTA report pegged the cost of building bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano Bridge at $300 to $400 million. Advocates say it doesn’t have to cost that much. Image: MTA [PDF]
Later this year, the MTA will release a master plan for the Verrazano Bridge that’s expected to include the possibility of a bike and pedestrian path, but advocates worry the agency is needlessly driving up the cost of the project.

The Verrazano was built at the tail end of the Robert Moses era, and it infamously provides no way for people to cross by walking or biking. Recently, advocates under the banner of the Harbor Ring Committee have pressed the MTA to rectify that mistake, and their momentum is building: A path has the support of nearly every elected official on both the Brooklyn and Staten Island sides of the bridge.

The MTA has installed bike racks on some of the buses that cross the bridge each day, but while popular, the program is no substitute for a path. Each bus can only hold two bikes at a time.

On Saturday, advocates organized a direct action at the last Brooklyn bus stop before the bridge. To call attention to the limitations of the racks, activists lined up with their bikes at the S53 bus stop and asked the bus driver if they could put their bikes on the rack and board.

“We had a line down the block,” said Mike Lydon, who lives in Brooklyn and who serves on the leadership of the Harbor Ring Committee. “It was a real mix between locals in the neighborhood, cycling activists from across Brooklyn, and we certainly had a number of people from Staten Island.”

Proponents of a Verrazano Bridge biking and walking paths line up to put their bikes on MTA buses, which only hold two bikes at a time. at 4th Avenue and 86th Street in Bay Ridge on Saturday to put their bikes on bus racks (two per bus).
Proponents of Verrazano Bridge biking and walking paths line up in Bay Ridge to put their bikes on MTA buses headed to Staten Island, which only hold two bikes at a time. Photo: Greg Mihailovich

While the final master plan has not been released, a preliminary report published last year by the MTA and Parsons Brinckerhoff pegged the cost of building bicycle and pedestrian paths at $300 to $400 million [PDF]. That’s significantly higher than the inflation-adjusted $60 million that the Department of City Planning estimated the project would cost in 1997. (That plan proposed placing the paths between the bridge’s suspender cables, which consultants said would not be feasible.)

The MTA could shave off a big chunk of the cost by simplifying the design of the approach on the Brooklyn side, according to Greg Mihailovich, Transportation Alternatives’ Staten Island organizer. “There are definitely ways to keep the cost down,” he said. “There’s a practical aspect to it. If you can build a useful path for half that then that’s something you have to consider.”

Mihailovich and Lydon are skeptical that the MTA will release its plan before 2017, but MTA spokesperson Ortiz told AMNY last week that the end-of-year deadline had not changed.

“We’re in a holding pattern waiting to see how seriously they’re approaching a multi-use path on the bridge,” Mihailovich said. “We’re waiting for clarity on a lot of these questions of cost… then it’s a question of hopefully convincing [MTA and elected officials] that this is worthwhile endeavor, because there certainly are people who need to use this path.”

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    Take one of the 12 lanes and convert it into a bike/ped path. It’s not ideal, but it would cost a lot less than what’s been put forth so far: blog.tstc.org/2015/10/20/theres-another-way-to-accommodate-bicyclists-and-pedestrians-on-the-verrazano-narrows-bridge/

  • Joe Enoch

    Seriously, this is all that needs to be done. Riding amongst the exhaust of staten islander cars would by no means be a nice ride but this would cost almost nothing to put up permanent bollards and some paint.

  • snrvlakk

    OK, or choose & widen slightly TWO of the current auto lanes, one on the south side of the bridge, eastbound (into Brooklyn), and one on the north side, westbound (into Staten Island). Separate each of these 2 lanes from the next lane with permanent, bounce-back bollards, and stripe & mark BOTH of those new, slightly wider lanes for east-bound bikes, west-bound bikes, and pedestrians/runners (so each traffic lane is sub-divided into 3 lanes). Then, using traffic signals & cones, alternate the bike/ped lanes so that during the morning rush the previously westbound auto lane is used for bikes/pedestrians, and the previously east-bound lane is used by cars and/or buses heading into Brooklyn; at noon or 1 PM, change the signalization & cones so the previously westbound lane is opened to cars (to help in the evening rush), while the previously eastbound lane becomes the bike/ped lane. It would require a very tiny–really negligible– increase in duties for Bridge personnel, but it would never approach $300 million.

  • Transportation Alternatives and @TheHarborRing have a petition, 3,493 of a needed 5,000 currently.

    https://campaigns.transalt.org/harborring

  • ahwr

    If you rearrange the bridge to have 8 general traffic lanes, 2 transit lanes, and 2 lanes for walking and biking, is the bridge the bottleneck? I’d assume it would still be the roads on either side except possibly if half the bridge is closed for maintenance.

  • ahwr

    cost almost nothing to put up permanent bollards and some paint.

    How much of the 300 million price tag is to strengthen the bridge to support the extra weight of the new paths? It might cost more than you think (though less than 300 million) to put in barriers that would offer protection from drivers. I assume you would want more than plastic flexposts.

  • Joe Enoch

    ZERO chance a permanent concrete barrier weighs more than a lane of traffic filled with cars and trucks.

  • ahwr

    Per linear foot jersey barriers are something like 400-600 pounds. Not all that different from a traffic lane. People are heavy. Do you have a way to make sure the lane is never heavily used?

  • Joe Enoch

    I can’t believe someone on Streetsblog is arguing with me about this, but I looked it up and a 10′ jersey barrier weighs less than 5,000 pounds. Nose to nose traffic, especially if there’s one fully loaded semi or garbage truck or Chevy Tahoe in the mix, is far more weight than the combined weight of the jersey barriers plus the max number of pedestrians and bicyclists on the protected path.

  • This sounds similar to DRPA replacing stairs with a bike/ped ramp on the Ben Franklin Bridge (which features two beautiful elevated walkways). Designers estimated the ramp at $3 or 4 million. Construction bids came in at $8 to 10 million. Perhaps they should value-engineer out or postpone the iron work railings.

  • JoeyJoeJoeShabadoo

    With the amount of money that bridge rakes in in tolls the path should be gilded.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Do you have a way to make sure the lane is never heavily used?

    Yeah, make one end of it in Staten Island. 😛

    Kidding aside, there’s zero need to armchair engineer this. It’s certainly a viable idea that could be examined by people with the proper qualifications. They’re doing pretty much the exact same thing in the Bay Area on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and its estimated to cost $25 million. The Bay Area is nearly as overpriced a construction market as NYC. http://mtc.ca.gov/our-work/plans-projects/bicycle-pedestrian-planning/richmond-san-rafael-bridge-bike-pedestrian-path

  • One idea for the Verrazano side path is to use a fiberglass deck instead of concrete. This would significantly reduce the weight (and increase the durability of) the new pathway structure.

  • ahwr

    Nose to nose traffic,

    Never happens. There are gaps between cars. A typical car weighs 3000 pounds and is 15 feet long, add five feet until the car in front and you have 200 pounds per linear foot. SUVs are a bit heavier per foot. Live load for lanes that have trucks is higher, and will vary based on the type of truck, 460-660 pounds/foot if I remember right. Jersey barrier weight varies based on what it’s supposed to stop. 4500-6000 pounds for a ten foot barrier is typical. Load standards for pedestrian bridges are ~75 lbs/square foot, more than for general traffic lanes. If the lane was empty it would be fine.

  • ahwr

    Jersey barriers don’t cost 25 million. What are they doing on that bridge that’s so complicated?

  • Joe R.

    If weight is really a concern, a steel fence along the lines of a guard rail will be much lighter than a jersey barrier. Concrete-filled bollards spaced ~5 feet apart would probably work also.

  • bolwerk

    Not that anyone’s paying attention, but the fact that something like BQX is being planned and is not being considered to cross the VZB deserves a pretty high spot on the “planning WTFs” list for this city. Instead of having to use a rack, you could bring your bike on the transit vehicle. And SI needs transit egresses off the island pronto.

  • Miles Bader

    Bike Racks on Buses Are Nice

    I suppose bike racks on buses are nice as a cheap symbolic gesture (“we don’t hate you totally“), but that’s pretty much it. They are not really a useful part of a transportation system.

  • Have a transit lane be the traffic buffer for the bike lane.

  • snrvlakk

    THIS IS IN RESPONSE TO MILES BADER ON BIKE RACKS. SORRY IT’S IN THE WRONG PLACE.

    Putting a rack for 2 bikes on SOME of the buses going over a bridge or 2 is indeed not a significant part of a transit system. HOWEVER, putting a rack on every bus in the system can be a game changer. In Honolulu, every bus has a rack, people know they can rely on its being there, and so it is widely used, both for commutes and for getting to your recreation destination. Who would ever have thought bikeshare would become an integral part of NY’s transit system?

    Now, it is true that TA & MTA buses are stored overnight in lots they totally fill up, with no room to spare; and putting a rack that, folded, adds a foot to the length of each bus would exacerbate the storage space crunch. That’s a legit issue that needs to be resolved. That’s why we pay public sector planners & engineers the big bux.

  • AnoNYC

    Not sure if that’s politically feasible.

  • Miles Bader

    Sure, having bus bike racks is better than not having them, and no doubt have helped lots of people, but they aren’t something you can rely on, even when every bus has them. Bus bike-racks scale very badly: the number of racks on a bus is a tiny fraction of the number of riders, and it’s very difficult to add more.

    So if you ride your bike to the bus stop planning to continue on the bus, it’s always a gamble as to whether there’s any rack space left, and a bike+bus rider always has to have a backup plan in case he can’t get on the bus. For a commuter, this typically means biking is only really practical if biking the entire route is practical, with the bus treated as a sort of optional bonus.

    This problem very quickly gets much worse as the system gets more popular, so you could almost it’s destined to fail.

    [Note this is very different than things like bike parking facilities, which are vastly easier and more practical to expand to meet demand.]

  • Martijn

    Till the bridge is sorted out:

  • Joe R.

    I think I would die of astonishment if I ever saw anything that well organized in NYC. Those ferries literally run like clockwork.

  • Bernard Finucane

    A row of steel posts would provide adequate protection, and be much lighter.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Seems like a low priority to me, considering how many streets in NYC are unridable.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Totally different agencies and funding involved though.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m not sure they’d need two paths, separate for walkers and bike riders, on the VZ. At least not initially.

    I am sure they ought to have two on the Gill Hodges/Marine Parkway bridge, which many people fish off of and more and more people are using to ride to the beach.

  • bolwerk

    Doesn’t actually seem like a case where a walking path is necessarily needed. A bike-only path would make sense on the VZB too, it seems to me.

  • knisa

    Any proposal for rapid transit in Staten Island should be tied to a drastic upzoning of single-family detached housing areas within walking distance of transit stations. You can’t demand expensive rapid transit for a place with densities unable to sustain rapid transit service.

  • bolwerk

    I agree, but BQX is not rapid transit service. Four figure/km^2 density is probably quite adequate to support it, and it would be a useful tie-in to SIRT (which is rapid transit).

  • Tyler

    I absolutely support having bike access to this bridge. However, this bridge is a HUGE hill that goes up for almost 2 miles. It will either take *forever* to cross (for the average rider) or used only for the fittest… probably for exercise/training, rather than commuting or transportation.

    And hour-long, 3-mile stroll with high winds? I’d do it once.

    So, yes. It’s silly to not have a pedestrian / bike option on this bridge. But don’t expect to find this full of crowds.

  • kevd

    agreed. what volume of cyclists / peds do they expect on this?
    it there were 1000/day I’d be shocked.
    And, since its an MTA bridge, can we assume that no matter what happens on the VZ, there will be big “For Everyone’s safety, including yours, Cyclists MUST dismount AND WALK BIKE ACROSS BRIDGE”?

    Fuckin’ MTA

  • AMH

    Or a steel deck (already used to replace concrete on several bridges)

  • Jeffrey Baker

    You could say the same things about the bike path on the new Bay Bridge in Oakland. It’s 4 miles, uphill, windy and wet and cold, and the traffic is very loud. But they built it anyway, for whatever reason.

  • That too, althoggh fiberglass is lighter and corrosion resistant.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    The contractor recently hired for a study of a Western Span bike path estimated that 10,000 people might bike the full bridge per day if it were possible.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    How about having “portable” dedicated existing roadway pedestrian and bike lanes only on weekends and holidays? Isn’t that when most folks would be using them? The bus bike racks should handle any daily commuters.

  • Aron

    They’re massively overcrowded though. We’re actually looking into building a bridge.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

MTA Tests Bike Racks on Bus Across Verrazano

|
An anonymously-sourced New York Post story yesterday might leave readers with the impression that new bike racks on the front of Staten Island buses will lead to late trips and a liability nightmare for the MTA. The MTA, however, says it’s still studying the racks — a tried-and-true amenity in every other big American city […]

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

|
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 […]

Advocates Call on Cuomo to Support Path on Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

|
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 […]