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Campaign for Verrazano bike path picks up speed

Councilman Vincent Gentile, at left, and Linda Faust — whose late husband Steve was a big part of the movement pushing for a bike-and-pedestrian path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge — celebrate the span’s 50th birthday.
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The wheels are turning again on a push to install a bike path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The night before the official celebrations of the span’s 50th anniversary, cycling advocates held a birthday bash for the iconic bridge at the Yellow Hook Grille in Bay Ridge on Nov. 20 and called for a car-free crossing option.

"This is a comparatively small investment that would make a huge difference,” said Meredith Sladek of the Harbor Ring Committee, a group pushing for a continuous bike path around the harbor. “It’s one of the highest-tolled bridges in the county and we believe everybody deserves a toll-free option.”

Bike-path advocates hired a plane to fly a banner boosting the idea buzzing past the Metropolitan Transportation Authority anniversary ceremony on Staten Island on Nov. 21.

Building a walking and cycling path separate from the road would cost about $40 million, based on a 1997 figure from the city adjusted for inflation, Sladek said.

Cyclists and joggers can currently only mount the bridge twice a year, during the New York City Marathon and the Five-Borough Bike Tour.

The initial plans for the cross-Narrows span actually included a bike path, according to Gay Talese — the journalist who literally wrote the book on the bridge — but urban planning juggernaut Robert Moses put the kibosh on that idea.

“He was afraid people would commit suicide and lower the bridge’s bond rating,” said Linda Faust, whose late husband Steve advocated for decades to get a path across the Verrazano-Narrows.

Talese said Moses’s decision to put the brakes on the path went largely unnoticed.

“When the bridge was built, bicyclists didn’t have the clout they do today,” Talese said. “Whether there should be a bike path now, I don’t know.”

A small contingent rallied for a pedestrian crossing when the bridge opened in 1964, Sladek said. That effort was renewed in the 1990s, prompting a 1997 Department of City Planning study that found a path was feasible, she said.

Now, with a new coalition of cycling advocates championing a bike route, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is finally considering installing a path.

It has awarded engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff a $2.7 million contract in December for a three-year feasibility study, an agency spokeswoman said.

The Authority is in the midst of an $84.3 million project to build a new bus and high-occupancy vehicle ramp connecting the bridge to the Brooklyn-Queens and Gowanus expressways’ carpool lanes and to reconstruct the two original Belt Parkway entrance ramps, along with painting and steel repairs, according to a transit spokeswoman.

Sladek said now would be an ideal time to install the lanes, since similar work is already happening, and she says she is more confident than ever that pedaling across the Narrows will become a reality in the near future.

She also has a message for Moses, the man who nixed the route in the 1960s.

“I hope he spins in his grave when we get this bike path,” Sladek said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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