Fixed gear: New bus racks let cyclists take bikes over Verrazano for first time

Fixed gear: New bus racks let cyclists take bikes over Verrazano for first time
Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Soon, straphangers will be able to do what only car owners previously could — get a bicycle over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is piloting a program to let cyclists strap their bikes to the front of buses crossing the half-century-old span connecting Brooklyn and bucolic Staten Island starting Sept. 6.

Pedestrians and cyclists are not allowed to cross the bridge, meaning only drivers with bike racks could get a two-wheeler from Bay Ridge to Staten Island. Bicycle advocates such as Transportation Alternatives are excited about the news, but say the authority still has a long road to travel before the bridge is truly accessible for everyone.

“We consider this a first step, but its not a replacement for pedestrian and bike access,” said Greg Mihailovich, the pro-peddling group’s Staten Island organizer. “MTA is acknowledging a growing need for bike consideration, especially because New York City is the largest city not to have this consideration. It’s great that New York is finally catching up.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is outfitting 38 buses on the S53 and S93 lines — which connect Bay Ridge and the rugged shores of Shaolin via the bridge — with bicycle racks that can ferry two cycles per trip over the Narrows. The racks will be free to use for any fare-paying rider, according to a statement from the authority.

If the project is a success, the transportation authority will expand it to other bridges, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority higher-up said.

“A future expansion will depend on results of this pilot and will most likely focus on routes that cross bridges,” said Darryl C. Irick, who heads the authority’s bus division.

Helping bikers over rivers is key, but transit advocates would like to see the racks come to all city busses if the authority can swing it, Mihailovich said.

“Spans are the pressing issue, but this works in other cities having racks on the entire fleet,” Mihailovich said. “But I understand there’s logistical considerations.”

Advocates have been pushing for pedestrian and bike access to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge practically since it was built.

The initial plans for the cross-Narrows span actually included a bike path, according to Gay Talese — the journalist who literally wrote the book on the bridge — but urban planning juggernaut Robert Moses put the kibosh on that idea.

Activists renewed their efforts in the 1990s, spurring the Department of City Planning to conduct a 1997 study that found a bike and pedestrian pathway was not only feasible — it wouldn’t displace any traffic lanes.

But just getting onto the bridge presents its own hurdle. A tangle of approach ramps that the bridge’s own engineering firm described as a “spaghetti pile” doesn’t present an easy ascent for cyclists.

For now, Staten Islanders — whose borough boasts the fewest miles bike lanes — are gearing up to take advantage of Brooklyn’s extensive bicycle network while they soak in some local flavor, said one resident of the Rock.

“I, for one, cannot wait to visit Bay Ridge as soon as possible,” said cyclist and Staten Islander Meredith Sladek. “I’d love to get the Brooklynite’s view of Staten Island and ride along the Greenway. There’s a pub called the Bean Post that I like in particular.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.