Bay Ridge

Bike bummer: MTA dismisses Verrazzano Bridge bike proposal

March 22, 2019 Paul Stremple
Under the current system, which has been in place since 1986, the toll, now $19, is collected from motorists driving toward Staten Island. Motorists heading toward Brooklyn drive for free. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
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Southern Brooklyn cyclists debuted a plan this week for a seasonal bike and pedestrian path across the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge, but the MTA quickly hit the brakes on the proposal.

The plan would open one of the lower Staten Island-bound lanes of the bridge for bicycle and pedestrian access on weekends in July and August, said Brian Hedden of Bike South Brooklyn, the group behind the proposal.

The idea garnered attention online and brought positive responses from elected officials. The MTA, however, is not on board. When the Brooklyn Eagle reached out to the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division, which oversees the bridge, the department was unequivocal in their rejection.

“The ‘Summer Streets’ proposal on the bridge is not feasible as it presents numerous safety and operational issues,” said an MTA spokesperson in an email.

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According to the agency, it would be unsafe “to have cyclists and pedestrians in a lane next to two lanes of traffic only separated by portable/temporary barriers.” Though many bike lanes in the city use only paint or plastic bollards to separate cyclists from cars, the MTA expressed concern about adequate protection from “high-speed” vehicles on the bridge, where the speed limit is 45 mph.

That wasn’t the only point in the agency’s exhaustive list of reasons not to indulge the program.

Citing 200,000 crossings per day, the spokesperson said there is no room to reduce capacity without disrupting traffic flow, which would in turn “severely inconvenience [the] customers who are paying to use the facility.” On March 31, the toll to take the bridge into Staten Island will be $19, which cyclists wouldn’t be expected to pay.

Diagram via Bike South Brooklyn
Diagram via Bike South Brooklyn

A pedestrian and bike lane would also hinder the MTA’s ability to respond to and clear incidents, the spokesperson said.

The MTA outlined the year-over-year record numbers for capacity on the bridge and the peak traffic months of summer as additional reasons not to move forward with a temporary project.

Still, the “Summer Streets Verrazzano” plan was mainly intended to restart the conversation about a permanent addition, Hedden said.

Studies and proposals have been made in the past, but were dismissed as too costly. A 1997 study by the engineering firm Ammann & Whitney suggested building elevated paths between the suspender cables adjacent to the roadway, creating a floating slab pathway that would cost about $60 million.

The more recent Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Master Plan, produced by Streetsblog, proposed building new outboard shared-use paths on either the upper or lower levels of the bridge. That proposal also included a massive, multi-story access ramp connecting the bridge to the Shore Park path on the Brooklyn side, with an estimated project cost of $400 million.

When asked if there was any talk of permanent additions to pedestrian or bike access to the bridge, the MTA gave a clear answer.

“At this time there are no plans to add a permanent bike/pedestrian shared path at the Verrazzano Bridge,” they said.

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