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 an online petition to Governor Cuomo, asking him to support the plan and move it forward.

Plans for a path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge have been idle for years. A ## petition## asks Governor Cuomo to take action. Image: Ammann & Whitney, Department of City Planning

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.”

  • Ben Kintisch

    The first time I heard this idea, I thought, “What a crazy idea!” Then I thought, “Why not?” And now I’m thinking, “Let’s get a move on!”

  • Anonymous

    “Bicyclists are just going to have to get over it.”
    said former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota last December.

    That’s just what we want to do: Get Over It!
    I’ve gotten over the Verrazano by bike about 65 times so far since 1964, but I would like every cyclist to be able to get over it, every day, any time they want to, not just at special events.

    There appear to be Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority staff who still claim that the bridge cannot support the bicycle/pedestrian paths, and so (mis)informed the MTA Chair. These TBTA staff deny the existence of the 1997 Amman & Whitney study that confirms that the Verrazano can support two paths, and that the paths can be installed without taking away any roadway lanes.

    The MTA has to get beyond path denial, and accept that there are no engineering impediments to installing the paths. Then we can have the serious discussion about how much the paths are needed, and how much they will cost. In other words, the question is not “can we build them at all?” but “should we build them now?”

    Let’s all just get over it, now!

  • Bolwerk

    With luck, Lhota will be wondering why he gave up his MTA gig in a few months.

  • Guest

    As much as I want a connection, I find it hard to support the Ammann and Whitney scheme. It’s very expensive for a grossly substandard greenway.

    There has to be another choice between nothing and very costly for something that is horrifically inadequate…

    It would replicate a lot of the problems with the George Washington Bridge. Specifically, in 1997, they were proposing a path with a width of only 7’11” between the suspender ropes. Take away at least another 6″ today as a result of the security wrapping around the suspender ropes, you’re now left with an effective width of 7’5″ or less. That’s tight for two-way bicycle traffic, assuming you entirely ban pedestrians (it would be attractive to runners, after all).

    The Department of City Planning study didn’t elaborate on the alignment at the towers, but if it requires a set of 90-degree turns like the George Washington Bridge, that is another real problem.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Can someone show me a design? Just from having driven over the bridge, I can’t see it., but I wouldn’t say that a width of 7’5″ and a couple of turns would be a problem, because I don’t expect traffic would be that heavy.

    It would be a long walk over that bridge, and a long bike ride to a destination.

    Meanwhile, there was a big missed opportunity then the MTA rebuilt the Marine Parkway Bridge. There is only a path on one side, you are officially supposed to walk your bike, and you need to do so for at least part of the ride on a beach day, because the path is crowded with people fishing.

  • Anonymous

    Larry – the 2 VNB paths would be at least 10 feet wide, same as the GWB. Except at the suspender rope cables – 50 feet apart.
    For plans see:
    and drill down for both the City Planning summary report and the A&W engineering design report. Two path cross section plans are below: from 1976 and from 1997.

    As to total bridge travel length, the VNB is under 2 miles, street to street. By comparison, the Brooklyn Bridge path is about 1-1/2 miles from Tillary Street to City Hall curb. Not all that different, surprisingly.

  • Yes, the 2 VNB paths would look like the GWB’s; which is not surprising,
    since Othmar Ammann designed both bridges.

    Disclaimer, the City Planning 1997 A&W report was based on my 1976 analysis of the bridge paths, so I have an interest in their findings.

    The VNB proposal is for TWO paths, the SI bound side dedicated to pedestrians and foot traffic including runners. This north side has the World Class View of NY Harbor and a shorter route. Cyclists would get the Bklyn bound path. The bike side has a slightly longer access routing and a nice ocean view, but it should not be as attractive to foot traffic. By the way,
    the GWB is supposed to have both path open to split foot from bike traffic. Take that up with Port Authority.

    The VNB and GWB paths are 10 feet, not 7 feet wide, for the bulk of their length, except at the suspender cables, spaced every 49 1/2 feet along the main span.

    A bridge is a machine to move people and goods across the river. The VNB adds staggeringly attractive views, but it is still a slender space in the air that has to be built and maintained. There are practical constraints.

    Please Guest, if you have a better suggestion about how to install a better path, please share it with us.

    We just have to get over it!

  • Guest

    Build it outboard of the suspender ropes.

    You can maintain a full effective width and minimize the geometric problems with the towers. Penetrating the path with the suspender ropes provides opportunities for all sorts of “security” issues (real or imagined) that might limit public access, and probably makes for maintenance problems as well.

    The GWB just is not so great for bikes or peds, and I would hope we could learn from the mistakes. If we’re going to talk about spending on this magnitude, we should make sure we actually get something good.

  • An outboard cantilevered path would operate better than an exclusively inboard path, but it will be heavier, present more wind resistance, and cost significantly more. The inboard path under the main cables can use the existing stiffening truss as its support, the path can be lightweight prefab fiber reenforced plastic. An outboard path need new steel support brackets sticking out every 50 feet and the path has to be structurally self supporting between the cross trusses. Probably much heavier and much more expensive.

    Still, it would be interesting to see the engineering estimates for the feasibility and cost of an outboard path, if i could get them tomorrow. But it’s not useful if starting a new study means more years of delay, versus getting a perfectly adequate inboard path installed along with the current redecking and ramp reconstruction cycle. It’s still possible to include the inboard path with this work.

    Side point, the inboard path could always be built several feet wider than the outsides of the suspender ropes. It could 12 to 14 feet, rather than 10, there really are no hard outside limits. The path around the towers can have wider curved pathways for less congestion. The new bridge at Charleston, SC does these tower transitions well.

    For the last 50 years we have had zero access, so don’t let perfect get in the way of more than good enough.

    Let’s just get over it.

  • Joe R.

    I agree. The path could always be widened later if bike traffic justifies it. For now it’ll be nice just to get a path across the bridge. I don’t know how much or even if I’ll actually ever use it, given that it’s ~20 miles away and I really have no reason to go to Staten Island, but it’ll complete a much need piece of cycling infrastructure.

  • Guest

    Yes, let’s just get over it.

    We can do that by building it right. And we are more likely to do that by advocating for a solution that the MTA might actually be willing to accept.

    It baffles me that we are picking a larger fight with the MTA than necessary to build something substandard that future generations would complain about.

    Way back in 1997, the MTA didn’t want to add anything, but was recommending the outboard scheme as preferable. According to DCP’s report: “The MTA recommends another scheme located outboard of the bridge’s lower level. The MTA prefers this scheme costing $40 million, maintaining that a continuous 10-foot path is safer, easier to maintain, and a reduced security risk to the facility.”

    What has changed since 1997? Security concerns have grown, and the path would be even narrower between the suspender ropes. So why are we advocating for something we don’t really want, when the better option is actually more likely to be acceptable to the MTA?

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    I like the idea of the Harbor Ring very much, but going off of my experience of the MTA’s own Triborough Bridge, I can imagine that a Verrazano-Narrows bicycle crossing would be a white elephant.

    First, anyone crossing an MTA bridge has seen those signs citing the rules on its books about not riding bikes over its bridges. That’s a disincentive for casual riders right there.

    Second, the Triborough crossings from Manhattan and the Bronx have extremely poor sight lines and trash builds up in the corners of the path.

    Third, there are no wayfinding signs anywhere, telling cyclists (or pedestrians) where exactly in the borough they are going.

    Fourth, it’s difficult to get around on Randalls Island (though this is the Parks Department’s fault).

    Fifth, the flights of stairs on the Queens span.

    Sixth, the Manhattan and Queens path entrances are in inconvenient locations: on the east side of 2d Ave in Manhattan, and on the south side of Hoyt Ave N in Queens. The Bronx entrance is also inconvenient to get to, but at least it’s not surrounded by busy boulevards.

    I would like the MTA to show that they could fix these simple problems, some of which I worry would pop up again on a Verrazano crossing.

  • Olivia Heartelly

    Here’s to its golden age… Cheers! xoxo ^_^

  • al

    ” the Department of City Planning commissioned a feasibility study by Ammann & Whitney, the bridge’s architect”

    Othmar Ammann of Ammann & Whitney was the Chief Engineer of the Bridge. Ammann &Whitney was the AE firm. They did the structural engineering too. To ignore that is to ignore the work that allows the bridge to work and exist.

    PS Ammann was the an important engineer of many of the NYC bridges and tunnels built after WW1. He is arguably as important to NYC as The Roeblings of the Brooklyn Bridge fame.


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