Cyclists push for Verrazano bike lane

Cyclists push for Verrazano bike lane
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Getting to Staten Island won’t require as many wheels as it used to if a group of cycling advocates gets its way.

Pedal-pushers are pushing to add a bike and pedestrian path to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a vital motorist-only connection between Brooklyn and Staten Island that currently boasts 12 lanes for cars and none for velocipedes.

“Support of the path would provide a much needed toll-free option that would benefit the health, emergency access, and economic viability of neighboring communities,” activists wrote on a Change.org petition put up by a steering committee for Harbor Ring, a proposed 50-mile route for walkers and bicyclists that would connect the waterfronts encircling New York Harbor.

More than 28 miles of the route is already in place due to existing paths and bikeways, but one critical missing link is the 49-year-old bridge, claim advocates who believe a Verrazano path is a much-needed connection between the two boroughs.

“We are well past the notion that cars are the only way to get around,” said Harbor Ring committee member and Cobble Hill resident Dave Paco Abraham. “It’s a matter of fairness to the people who either can’t afford a car or simply do not have a car.”

The bike boosters — backed by cycling advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and Regional Plan Association — are calling on Gov. Cuomo to hop onboard their proposal for a lane running across the 4,260-foot span.

They’re not the first people to call for a bike path across the bridge: the Department of City Planning commissioned a 1997 feasibility study by Verrazano engineers Ammann & Whitney, who determined that a route could be built without removing a single lane of automotive traffic.

But building a platform between the suspension cables — not unlike the Brooklyn Bridge’s bustling pedestrian and cycling area — wouldn’t be cheap. The study estimated a total build-out at $26.5 million.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the agency that operates the Verrazano — said a cycling route was never part of the original plan for the bridge, despite rumors of the contrary, and noted that transit planners are considering conducting their own feasibility study, which would not begin until 2014 or later.

“MTA Bridges and Tunnels is considering this issue as part of a future Belt Parkway ramp reconstruction project,” said spokeswoman Judie Glave.

The bridge is only open to bikers and bipeds twice per year: once for the Five Boro Bike Tour and again during the New York City Marathon.

Abraham, who savors crossing the bridge on his two-wheeler during the bike tour, said that he can tell from the way photo-snapping cyclists react when they hit the bridge that a year-round pathway would be a big attraction.

“This could be a huge boost to New York City on a tourism level,” said the avid bike rider. “You can see sweeping views of all of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, of Brooklyn, of New Jersey — it’s really just breathtaking.”

Bike backers gathered 924 signatures as press time, but not everyone is gung-ho for a walking and biking route over the Narrows.

“It’s sheer unadulterated idiocy,” said Community Board 10 member and driving advocate Allen Bortnik, who fears car lanes would be affected. “There are certain places bike lanes do not belong — it is a major thoroughfare.”

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Photo by Stefano Giovannini