By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Now that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has decided to take a serious look at building a bike-pedestrian path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, two groups advocating for the walkway are pushing the agency to open the Brooklyn-Staten Island span to bike riders and walkers on Sundays.
Leaders of Transportation Alternatives and the Harbor Ring Committee are calling for the creation of “Summer Sundays,” a program that would allow those on bikes or on foot to cross the bridge on Sundays during the warm weather.
The calls for “Summer Sundays” were made at a rally the two groups held on the Shore Road Promenade in Bay Ridge on Oct. 10.
Beneath the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Caroline Samponaro, vice president of Transportation Alternatives, said “Summer Sundays” would whet the appetites of bike riders and pedestrians for a footpath on the bridge while the MTA makes up its mind.
“We had a great week this week. We heard from the MTA that it’s possible,” Samponaro said, referring to the construction of a bike-pedestrian path.
On Oct. 6, the MTA revealed that it is looking into the possibility of putting a bike-pedestrian path on the 51-year-old bridge.
The bridge, which opened in 1964, has never had access by bike or on foot. It is open to vehicular traffic only.
Parsons Brinckerhoff WSP, an engineering firm hired to study the bridge with an eye toward making improvements to the span, announced that it had zeroed in on three possibilities — building paths that would extend from each side of the upper level of the bridge like wings, putting the paths on each side of the lower level or building an entirely new level beneath the lower level of the bridge just for bikers and pedestrians to use.
The bike-pedestrian path would cost between $300 million and $400 million to install and would be built only after additional engineering studies are completed. The studies could take years to complete.
The pathway would be part of a “master plan” — a larger, comprehensive project to renovate and strengthen the bridge, officials said. The entire master plan is expected to cost $1.5 billion.
The blueprint of the plan is set to be released in 2016.
The Harbor Ring Committee, based on Staten Island, is seeking the construction of a continuous route of bike-pedestrian paths around the entirety of New York Harbor so that the boroughs could be connected by a trail.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn), who supports the idea of a bike-pedestrian trail around the harbor, spoke at the rally about the importance of a footpath on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
“We should get what this bridge should have always had,” Golden said.
Charles Otey, founder and president of the Verrazano Lifeway Committee, an organization dedicated to getting the MTA to put a footpath on the bridge, said the pedestrian path should be built to make up for the damage Bay Ridge suffered as a community when the bridge was constructed in the early 1960s.
The Verrazano Lifeway is the name Otey came up with 20 years ago for a bike-pedestrian path on the bridge.
Otey noted that thousands of homes in the vicinity of Seventh Avenue were demolished to make way for the highways that now serve as the approaches to the bridge.
“Bay Ridge lost hundreds of homes and millions of dollars,” Otey said. He estimated that the loss of those residents whose homes were eliminated also meant the loss of tax dollars those residents would have paid to the government.
“We deserve to be compensated for what was done to us,” Otey said.
Otey also said the Verrazano Lifeway would tie in perfectly with the nationwide trend toward living a healthier lifestyle. “We want to get people out of their cars so they can get more exercise,” he said.
Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said he is excited about the MTA’s plans, including the possibility of a bike-pedestrian path. “It increases the quality of life,” he said.
Gentile said he is also pushing the MTA to offer drivers who live in Brooklyn a discount on Verrazano-Narrows Bridge similar to the discount enjoyed by Staten Islanders. “Every bridge has two sides,” he said.
Not everyone at the rally supported the idea of a bike-pedestrian path on the bridge.
“I think it’s a waste of taxpayer money,” Bay Ridge resident Frankie Marra told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“Who is going to be riding on that thing on a bike in November or December with those winds hitting them up there? Our elected offices should concentrate on lowering the tolls instead,” he said.