OPINION: MTA’s Failure on the Verrazzano Bridge Reveals its Pro-Car Bias

Put a bike lane on it.
Put a bike lane on it.

Last month, Streetsblog obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, a secret MTA report that revealed (among other things) that the agency did not seriously pursue low-cost options for building a bike and pedestrian path on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. That story will be updated when the MTA provides additional answers to Streetsblog’s lingering questions about the study. Until then, here’s an op-ed from Harbor Ring Committee Co-Chairman Daelin Fischman.

Daelin Fischman
Daelin Fischman

Clearly there aren’t many (if any!) cyclists among the MTA board. As Streetsblog reported earlier this year, the MTA’s latest study on building a Verrazzano Bridge bike and pedestrian path surely wasn’t looked over by anyone who actually wanted the path to become reality. If such a person had garnered a look over the report, they may have responded with outrage. They could have said, “Well, $350 million is a ridiculous amount of money for a shared-use path.” Or they may have shouted, “Why does a bike lane need to support a fire truck!?”

But unfortunately, there was no such person in the MTA to intervene. Instead it’s left to us tired advocates to raise the alarm again. What can we do to make the governor and his MTA finally listen?

The latest proposal was funded after years of advocacy pushing for it. Yet, it was never publicly released. Instead, Streetsblog had to obtain it via the Freedom of Information Act, like it was some secret CIA report. The plan Streetsblog recovered was a detailed engineering report rife with facts and figures. The one thing missing from the report was a clear way to give pedestrians and cyclists access to the bridge. The directive given by the public to the MTA was “find a way to give us bridge access.” The report’s troubled conclusion is that access is not possible without $350 million and 20 years to wait.

We reject that conclusion. The final report that was dragged out of the MTA is a betrayal of the public directive.

There are very few bike/pedestrian paths today that provide access to full-size vehicles in the event of an emergency. Yet the MTA threw out better, cheaper alternatives on the assumption — one that has no paper trail between the MTA and the relevant emergency units, by the way — that full-size vehicle access is an absolute requirement. Full transparency would call for a comparison between paths with access and without, yet no such comparison is found in the MTA analysis.

Similarly, there is no part of the analysis that looks at reducing the size of car lanes, or removing a single lane to make way for a path. Surely a comprehensive report should have looked at all possibilities including this.

There are other issues to nit-pick with the secret MTA report, but they all amount to a clear point. This report isn’t the answer to the bridge access that we’ve longed for and deserve.

The MTA, the nation’s largest public transit organization, is stuck on the idea that a car is the only way to cross the water. But the agency misses a key point: Access to the bridge is a symbol of equality and freedom. It is wrong for any person without access to a car to be denied access to public infrastructure. Today, from my home in Brooklyn, I can bike to every part of New York City besides Staten Island, the borough I was raised in. It’s not right to leave me and so many others trapped on one side of the bridge, reliant on other means to cross.

The MTA responded to public pressure and to Streetsblog’s FOIL request by finally making public a terrible analysis that was pre-destined to spit out the result the agency wanted — to bury the bike path. That’s why now we’re calling on Gov. Cuomo and our state representatives directly. They should listen to the public and grant access to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge for everyone.

To contact the governor by email, click here (do it. He’s not busy at all right now). To find your assembly member, click here. To find your senator, click here.

Daelin Fischman is a native Staten Islander and co-chair of the Harbor Ring Committee (follow on Twitter @theharborring). He’s passionate about sustainable cities. See?

Daelin Fischman doing what he does best.
Daelin Fischman doing what he does best.