Brooklyn Boro

A bridge too far?

April 9, 2021 William A. Gralnick
The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is so pretty in the March sunshine. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
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Everyone from greater New York knows that there are four boroughs and one never to go to. That fifth is the Charlie Brown of the Boroughs, Staten Island, though the Sopranos did give it some cache. One went to Staten Island from the other Boroughs because you were headed south on the Jersey Turnpike. It was a long, aggravating drive. Then came the Verrazzano Bridge.

As a kid, it looked like something out of a post-modern comic book. Early on, my parents, both experienced drivers, got the willys as they paid the fifty-cent toll (now nine and a half dollars) and begin their climb higher and higher over of the Narrows discovered by Giovanni da Verrazano who every Columbus Day whose name starts heated discussions over whether he or Columbus should have the celebratory day. No big deal to me. Italian is Italian. If one guy had been named Schwartz or O’Reilly I could see the argument, but I digress.

If one had to choose a word to describe the bridge it would be the word “big.” Until the Brits outdid it, the Verrazzano was the biggest in the world. It is still the biggest in the Americas. Before I get too much further along, let me explain to you why suddenly I’m writing about a bridge. In a recent edition of the venerable Brooklyn Eagle, it was announced that a pedestrian walkway is being built on the bridge.   (‘not for the faint of heart.)

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

For those who follow my writing, you’ve read about my driven-by-puppy-love bike ride from Flatbush Brooklyn to Bell Harbor, Queens. It was mostly a flat ride on well-marked streets, and once in hailing distance there were plenty of signs pointing one in the right direction. There were one or two obstacles en route. One was Floyd Bennett Field where a F-86 Saber Jet taking off seemed so low that it offered a crew-cut as it went by. The other was the Marine Parkway Bridge, now more honorably named after the Brooklyn Dodgers famed first baseman, Gil Hodges. 

The Bridge itself posed a few problems. First its roadway was slated steel grates because it was a cantilever bridge and when it swung wide and then closed things had to fit. The other was remembering not to look down. Down were the swirling waters of the Rockaway jetties; a long way down, long enough that if, though impossible, one was to slip through it would be goodbye Charlie once you hit the water. I’m not a good enough physics student to know if the bike or the rider would make the first splash. (Feel free to let me know.) Now mind you the MPB was no slouch. It is 540 feet long and 55 feet high. A vertical lift bridge, it can rise to 150 high, but compare that to Mr. V’s bridge. The bridge is 13 thousand seven hundred (13,700) feet long. It is two hundred and fifty- two ft (252 ft) high. The steel in the bridge measures in weight 3 times the weight of the steel used to build the Empire State Building! The beloved Brooklyn Bridge is a mere 6016 feet long and the one named after the father of our county, a paltry 4760 ft. long? Brooklyn’s Bridge is a hair over 6,000 ft long and George’s runs the tape to 4,760. To paraphrase an old Alka Seltzer Commercial, “Mama Mia ‘at’s a some bridge.”

Another factoid, thrown in because I was stopped dead in my tracks reading it and I had to throw it in. The towers of the bridge are over 600 ft high and there is a distance of over 4,000 feet between them. (Btw that’s a lot of bridge not held up by much if some superhero had to deal with an earthquake. Don’t think it doesn’t happen. In a storm a tugboat slammed into a pylon of the Tampa Bay Bridge. What followed was like a horror show with people inside their cars slowly sliding down the ruined bridge and off into the darkness). What that means is the design of the bridge had to take into account the curvature of the earth. Now let’s say it together, “Mama Mia ‘at’s a some bridge!”

You’d think it was mighty hard to build that beast but the hardest part seemed to be naming it. When the construction permits were drawn up our intrepid explorer’s name was misspelled, one “r” instead of two. Then there was a political squabble about the use of the word “narrows” in the name. After all, that’s what that stretch of water was called “the narrows.” The pro-Verrazzano folks got the named changed but they wouldn’t budge on the adding the narrows. Verrazzano to the end. The narrow-minded city officials wouldn’t have narrows in the name. The end came when the city reluctantly agreed to add the word narrows—but only if it was attached to Verrazzano with a hyphen. Got it…? Your tax dollars at work.

There was one more joy to the ride. My grandma, whose one-word description would be “stubborn,” lived in Highland Park (near New Brunswick) New Jersey, As I got old enough, after grandma had stayed for a while, it was my job to take her home. Being a smart-aleky college kid, I decided I’d wow her with a little knowledge. “Grandma. Do you know who this bridge is named after?” She replied, “Who remembers names (now I can appreciate that) but it was the guy who designed it?” I politely corrected her, and she split a seam. “Why would someone name this gigantic thing after some guy who steamed his boat underneath it?” There comes a time, even for smart-aleky college kids when you know you’re done, check mate. The response was so ludicrous from so many angles I didn’t know where to begin. It would have taken multiple trips back and forth to do all the explaining. By then the toll was about a buck and a half and even at that sum it would be an expensive piece of sophistry that in the end I knew would end badly. So, I thought,” This woman began her life in Russia travelling in horse-drawn buggies. She lived long enough to see a man land on the moon. Why not give her one? She’s earned it.”

So, Pooh-like, we come to the end of it, no pun intended. The end of it is the terrifying thought of walking across that monster. Even if I had a good reason, other than Nike’s “Just Do it!” I’m not sure why I would want to walk from Brooklyn to Staten Island. Without some forethought that would also mean walking back or taking a hugely expensive cab ride because in so doing, you are engaging in interboro travel. And all the while there would be the thought of the big splash waiting 228 ft below.

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  1. William Tyrrell

    As a very young man, a very long time ago, I and my family lived in Bay Ridge just upriver from where the Bridge now is. I had relatives who lived in Staten Island. My aunt who drove was super afraid of the ferry boats which most of us then travelled from 69th street to Staten Island. For all my early years, whenever there was a family gathering, she would drive over the Goethals Bridge to New Jersey, drive north for the George Washington Bridge and to Bay Ridge over the Brooklyn Bridge. She wished for a bridge to Brooklyn all those years. By the time it was built most of the family had spread throughout the country.

  2. Leigh Kornishev

    There are buses to return home after.

    I’m hoping they’ll make the pedestrian path very contained. It gets so windy up there that drivers can feel it pushing their cars around. They’d need to build it like a long tunnel shaped cage.

  3. Rosendo

    I enjoy the view of this amazing bridge is juman made that’s what make it more special to me, the bridge is incredibly huge and y love to see the archers so beautiful.
    God Bless New York.