21 November 2014

Fifty Years, And Still No Bike Lane

"Are we there yet?"

Just about every kid who's ever gone anywhere with an adult has whined that line.  I include yours truly.

"Is it done yet?"

Just about every kid has moaned that one when his or her mother or grandmother (or the equivalent in the kid's life) was cooking or baking something.  As adults, we intone it when we're waiting for a repair, a project, or something else to be finished.

(Asking that question is also the easiest way to annoy an artist--or to reveal yourself as a philistine to the artist.)

The first time I uttered the question the way an adult would was in my childhood. (Was I a precocious child?)  In my early years, I witnessed the building  of what I still consider to be one of the most beautiful--and exasperating-- manmade structures in the world.  

It opened to the public fifty years ago today.  By now, you might have figured out that I'm talking about a bridge. I am:  specifically, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which opened to traffic fifty years ago today.

The span, photographed by the Wurts Brothers when it opened fifty years ago today.  (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,)

At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It's still in the top ten, I think.  It's so long that engineers actually had to take the curvature of the Earth into account in designing it.

Please indulge me for a moment if I sound like a sexist male.  (Some things aren't cured even with years of hormone therapy and surgery!)  I have long thought its towers looked like long, elegant goddesses rising from the waves of the inlet of the Atlantic Ocean for which the bridge is named.  The lady is serene on days when sunshine refracted through high cirrus clouds glints on waves; she is looks dramatic, even stern, but still beautiful as clouds gather and storms brew in those waves.

All right:  Some of you are might think I'm more guilty of bad poetry than sexism in that passage. Fair enough. My talents, such as they are, can only accomplish so much.

Anyway, I have pedaled (and, on occasion, walked) under the bridge any number of times and have never grown jaded to its majesty.  Monsieur Verrazano (He was Fiorentino but sailed for le Roi Francois I.) would be honored to have the bridge, and the body of water it spans, named for him.  But the fact that I'm always pedaling underneath the bridge is precisely what exasperates me about it.

You see, the bridge has never had a bike or pedestrian lane.  In a way, it's not surprising, given that the bridge was the last major work of Robert Moses, whose mistakes have been replicated by urban planners all over the world for decades.  Through most of his career, he showed a complete disdain for anything that didn't have an internal combustion engine.  It's especially odd when you consider that he built the Kissena Velodrome near the World's Fair site just a few thousand pedal spins from my apartment--and that he himself never had a driver's license. 

There has been a movement (in which I am playing a small role) to have a bicycle-pedestrian lane added to the bridge.  Many people say it would encourage them to use their bicycles to commute or simply travel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, and would link a number of already-existing bike routes in the two boroughs, which in turn would make parts of New Jersey more accessible to cyclists in the Big Apple.

I would like to have the same thrill I knew as a child when I saw the bridge under construction.  I would also like to experience the same thrill I had when I rode across the bridge the only times it was possible:  during the Five Boro Bike Tour, when the lower deck of the Verrazano is closed to traffic. 

Note:  The "Verrazano Narrows Bridge" link in my seventh  paragraph will take you to an excellent article on The Bowery Boys, one of my favorite non-bike blogs.


  1. Don't feel too bad, there's still no ped or bike provision on the 520 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue after 51 years...

  2. Steve--That's incomprehensible, almost criminal, especially considering that the bridge links Seattle and Bellevue. I mean, a bridge linking Seattle to anything without a bike lane is like a Parisian bakery without baguettes.