While some Brooklynites may have felt shut out of celebrating the Verrazano Bridge’s 50th anniversary, with the main event taking place across the Narrows, Bay Ridge held its own party at the Yellow Hook Grille on Thursday, November 20, just one day before the MTA hosted its ceremony in Staten Island.
The party was hosted by The Harbor Ring, an organization that is working for a recreational route around the New York harbor, together with the Merchants of Third Avenue. Along with celebrating the bridge, the purpose of the event was also to advocate for a bicycle and pedestrian path for the span.
“We wanted to hold a birthday celebration in honor of the golden anniversary as well as draw attention to the issue,” said Meredith Sladek, vice chair of development at The Harbor Ring. “The celebration of the bridge is about both boroughs. We’re especially excited to have this event in Bay Ridge. We held a rally in Staten Island and we wanted to give something special to the Bay Ridge community as well.”
Councilmember Vincent Gentile made an appearance and addressed attendees. “I want to thank Harbor Ring for bringing the birthday party to Bay Ridge because we got shut out of the celebration by the MTA,” he said. “They did all of their celebrating on the Staten Island end, forgetting that the bridge has two sides.”
Gentile also discussed what many elected officials have had an issue with: fare increases. “Then (the MTA) went ahead, and the same week they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the bridge, they threw a wet towel on their celebration by announcing a toll hike.”
A cake was later presented, followed by attendees, some of whom donned birthday hats, singing Happy Birthday to the bridge.
But, the up-to-now-non-existent bike and pedestrian path took center stage for many attendees. “Since the day this bridge opened, people have been asking for this pathway. It’s been going on for years, and it’s not going to go away until they do it,” said Paul Gertner, chair of The Harbor Ring, who seems optimistic about the plan’s future. “MTA is doing a study, which is major. A contract to conduct it was put out in December 2013.”
Linda Faust, widow of Steve Faust, longtime bicycling advocate, discussed her late husband’s legacy. “He had been very passionate about the Verrazano pedestrian and bike paths,” she said. “He spent many hours working on it. He knew as much about the bridge as anyone.”
Faust stressed the urgency of enacting this plan. “We’ve had three major disasters, in the last few years and out of all of them, nobody was able to walk or bike over the bridge,” she said. That, she emphasized, has got to change.