Bay Ridge

Mixed feelings over Verrazano Bridge anniversary celebrations

November 21, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Harbor Ring Committee members Linda Faust, Meredith Sladek, and Paul Gertner and Merchants of Third Avenue Executive Secretary Charles Otey (left to right) hosted a party to mark the bridge’s anniversary. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

Party held in Bay Ridge; BP Adams and Staten Island pols boycott celebrations

Brooklyn residents had their chance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at a party held in Bay Ridge Thursday night that featured all of the things one may associate with a birthday party — a cake adorned with candles, funny hats, streamers, gift bags and plenty of finger food.

The birthday bash, co-hosted by the Harbor Ring Committee and the Merchants of Third Avenue, took place at the Yellow Hook Grille on the eve of the actual anniversary of the bridge. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, one of master urban planner Robert Moses’ last great creations, opened on Nov. 21, 1964, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Moses was also responsible for the construction of the Triborough Bridge (now called the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge), the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (now know as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel), and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, among many other feats of traffic engineering. Moses also planned both the 1939 and 1964 World Fair events in New York.

While some celebrated the bridge’s anniversary, The Staten Island Advance reported that the borough’s 11 elected officials, as well as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, boycotted anniversary celebrations on Friday due to proposed toll hikes announced earlier this week.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has proposed raising the one-way cash toll for cars by $1 to $16. Toll increases also would be applied across all major MTA bridge and tunnel crossings.

The original toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was 50 cents. At the time it opened, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The span is named after Giovanni da Verrazzano, a 16th Century Italian explorer. The Narrows part of the name is derived from the fact that the bridge spans over the Narrows.

Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), a guest at the party, said it was important for Brooklyn residents to get the chance to celebrate the bridge’s anniversary. Gentile said he thought the official celebrations planned by the MTA were centered too much on Staten Island at the expense of Brooklyn. “We get that [the]  bridge has two sides, right?” he asked at the party.

The party had another purpose, aside from marking the bridge’s birthday, according to the organizers.

In addition to blowing out candles on a layer cake, the party’s hosts also took the opportunity to repeat their calls for the MTA to install a bike-pedestrian path on the bridge.

Charles Otey, executive secretary of the Merchants, has been advocating for a pedestrian pathway, which he calls a Lifeway, for 20 years and said a petition he circulated has 10,000 signatures.

“There is a lot of support for the Lifeway out there. People really want it,” Otey said.

The Harbor Ring Committee, which formed several years ago, is seeking to install a bike-pedestrian path on the bridge to make the bridge part of a ring of connecting bike paths around New York Harbor. Meredith Sladek, vice chair of the Harbor Ring Committee, said the group’s petition, which can be found at www.harborring.org/petition, had garnered 3,744 signatures as of Nov. 20.

The bridge has never had a walkway, but leaders of the Harbor Ring Committee and the Merchants said there is enough room for it. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge has a design similar to the George Washington Bridge and the latter has a bike-pedestrian path, members of the Harbor Ring Committee said.

It was entirely appropriate for a Verrazano-Narrows Bridge anniversary party to be held in Bay Ridge, said Paul Gertner, chair of the Harbor Ring Committee.

“In a way, this is where it all began,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle, referring to the effort to get a bike-pedestrian path on the bridge. “On the day the bridge opened, teenagers were picketing. They wanted a walkway,” he said.

The MTA said in a statement the agency regretted that the Staten Island’s elected representatives would not be attending Friday’s celebrations. It says Staten Islanders can significantly lower their rates by using E-ZPass electronic tolling and taking advantage of resident discounts.

-Additional reporting by The Associated Press