Bike lanes possible during revamp of Verrazano

No promises were made, but as it continues work on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, MTA Bridges and Tunnels is seriously looking into adding bike and pedestrian lanes to the span.

At a special press briefing held on Tuesday, October 6 on the master plan for the 50-year-old structure, it was revealed that daily bridge users can expect an expanded lifespan for the bridge, enhanced functionality with the addition of lanes and possible pedestrian and bicycle paths that, while still in the feasibility stages, would add a substantial travel corridor for New York’s non-drivers.

Executive Vice President of Transportation and Infrastructure at Parsons Brinckerhoff, WSP—the consulting engineers behind the master plan—Bernard Kalus led the afternoon’s presentation and touched on the MTA’s goals, plans and important strategic changes for the bridge.

According to the consulting firm, the master plan—made up of projects that come with a total price tag of $1.5 billion—involves two main parts. One involves keeping the span in a state of good repair, including operational improvements to the bridge and its access ramp. The other encompasses continued feasibility testing and studies for the shared-use bike path—a process which will include speaking with stakeholders and creating focus groups and surveys regarding the path.

“We are getting feedback from outside agencies, the New York City DOT and the New York State DOT,” explained Kalus. “We want to incorporate that feedback into the findings that we have for the master plan. Then, we’ll make adjustments to try to accommodate and alleviate concerns.”

About a year and a half in the making, the master plan will first tackle concerns on the Staten Island side of the bridge, starting with improvements to the westbound Lily Pond Avenue exit and reconstructing the upper level approaches and anchorage spans.

In Brooklyn, plans will focus on the replacement and rehabilitation of the east and westbound upper level approaches to the span, as well as traffic improvements that would optimize vehicle flow such as improving the merges at the connections to the Belt Parkway and the Gowanus Expressway, and the elimination of the bridge’s left hand, upper level exit to the Belt Parkway, replacing it with a conventional right hand exit.

“Evaluating the structural needs of the bridge, maintaining [it] in a state of good repair and making sure the bridge remains open, [was] really the first thing that was identified,” said Kalus. “We did extensive traffic and accident studies, and we looked at accident data on the entire facility and the adjoining stretches so we could document it.

“We did traffic models, traffic simulations, accident investigations and safety studies,” he continued. “Then, with that as a background, almost as a baseline of what needs to be done, we looked at what types of projects are needed to address those needs and once we had the projects, [we needed to figure out a] sequencing of the projects that made sense.”

In terms of the proposed bike and pedestrian paths, public input and feasibility of the plan are at the forefront of the idea.

One of the more feasible options, according to Parsons Brinckerhoff, would be to construct the bike and pedestrian paths along the outside of the bridge’s lower level. While working on the lower level might pose some construction hiccups, constructing on the lower level would create an opportunity to lighten the bridge by 12,000 tons, which would be necessary  for the lanes to happen. The work would involve replacing the current concrete deck with a stronger, lighter steel option.

Wind speeds, heightened weather concerns and an overall 25-foot higher lane are a few of the reasons constructing the lanes on the upper level might pose problems. The bike/pedestrian lane project options are in the $300 to $400 million range, according to the consulting firm.

Additionally, for these lanes to happen, the MTA would need to build access paths for them on land that is owned by the New York City Parks Department or other entities on both sides of the bridge.

“The primary challenge is the additional weight that is added to the structure and the need to balance that with the existing weight of the structure,” said Kalus, citing also “the wind effects of having new structural elements on the suspension portion of the bridge, and the access on either side.”

The master plan is set for completion sometime in 2016, and Kalus expects most aspects of the feasibility testing to be complete with further investigations taking place.

“I think that work would have to continue,” he said, “but, what the master plan would do is lay out a road map to identify the issues and what are the steps to further that evaluation.”

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