BAY RIDGE — A group of cyclists, runners and transit advocates came together at Bay Ridge’s Cannonball Park on Sunday to renew their call for a bike and pedestrian lane on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge during the summer season.
The group contends that the addition would better connect Brooklyn and Staten Island — the two boroughs are the only ones that lack an eco- and cost-friendly link, they argue — while also helping to complete the Harbor Ring, a 50-mile recreational route around the New York Harbor.
“People have been talking about having this kind of access since before the bridge opened,” Bike South Brooklyn Co-Founder Brian Hedden said at the rally. “All of the other agencies that operate bridges in this region have gotten with the times and are now offering bicycle and pedestrian access.”
Bridges with both a pedestrian and bike lane include — but are not limited to — the George Washington Bridge, the Goethals Bridge and even the brand new Kosciuszko Bridge, Hedden said. “I don’t recall anyone asking for that,” he joked of the latter.
Hedden was joined by members of Transportation Alternatives, Get Women Cycling and Ridge Runners — all of whom spoke in support of Verrazano Summer Streets, a proposed pilot program that would swap out one of the 13 lanes on the bridge for a bike and pedestrian path for a select time during the summer.
The pilot, Hedden said, is a spin-off of the Department of Transportation’s annual Summer Streets program, during which select thoroughfares go car-free for set times in the summer.
“A lot of the talk over the years has been about building this separate super-structure for bikes and pedestrians which, for the long term, can absolutely, positively be the future for access on this bridge,” he said.
“But we want to emphasize that there are already 13 lanes on this bridge, and there is more than enough room for cars to be able to get across and to be able to share that space with bikes and pedestrians — especially over the summer.”
The group’s current proposal would see one lane of traffic — preferably the right-most lane on the lower deck heading towards Staten Island — repurposed with two bike lanes bikes and a pedestrian walkway. That specific lane, Hedden said, has the easiest access on either end.
Rose Uscianowski, Staten Island organizer at Transportation Alternatives, encouraged advocates to think beyond the bridge.
“Getting access to the bridge is just one part of a greater plan that we call the Harbor Ring,” she said. “The Harbor Ring is the idea that, if we got bike-and-pedestrian access to the Verrazzano Bridge, then it would bring us one step closer to getting a 50-mile-long bike and pedestrian trail going all the way around New York Harbor. The idea is that we can connect almost all of New York City by trail.”
“This one bridge is the link that stands in the way,” Uscianowski added. “And it’s stood in the way for too long.”
The MTA hit the brakes on this specific proposal in March of this year. A spokesperson doubled down on the agency’s denial Monday.
“It would not be safe to have cyclists and pedestrians in a lane next to two lanes of traffic only separated by portable/temporary barriers,” MTA Bridges and Tunnels Spokesperson Christopher McKniff told the Brooklyn Eagle via email.
On summer weekends, the Verrazzano averages approximately 200,000 crossings per day, and year-over-year traffic is steadily increasing, the rep said. Eliminating a lane, he added, would adversely affect the MTA’s ability to respond to and clear incidents.
“At this time there are no plans to add a permanent bike/pedestrian shared path at the Verrazzano Bridge,” McKniff said.
Still, advocates say they’ll continue petitioning for the lane change — both online and in person — in hopes of garnering the same sense of unity they hope the pilot program would foster.
“Our political district here, both on a state and federal level, includes both Bay Ridge and Staten Island — and this is the only place that I can think of where it’s one political district and there’s no way to walk or bike between the two parts of it,” Bike South Brooklyn member Brian Fulton-Howard said. “We should be together. We should really be able to be really, truly one district instead of two separate groups of people.”
Congressional District 11 — represented by U.S. Rep Max Rose — and Assembly District 64 — represented by Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis — encompass neighborhoods on both sides of the bridge. While those electeds did not send reps on Sunday, two other local elected officials — State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus — did lend their support to the push by sending staff members.