When engineers planned the Verrazano Bridge more than 50 years ago, nobody in city government cared what people in Bay Ridge had to say about it. Robert Moses, Commissioner of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), oversaw the bridge’s design. Moses knew that when building bridges and highways in a dense urban setting like New York, you were bound to meet resistance from the residents who would be displaced from their homes. The way to deal with this resistance, he once said, was to “hack your way with a meat ax.”
And hack he did. Thousands of Bay Ridge residents were thrown out of their homes in 1960 to make way for the approach ramps to the bridge. Moses reluctantly agreed to appear at a hearing on the issue at the Board of Estimate, as the City Council was then known. He refused to give his name when it was his turn to testify. When angry protesters demanded he identify himself, he gathered up his papers and stalked out of the hearing room in a huff.
The TBTA still acts with the same arrogance when dealing with the residents of Bay Ridge. At a hearing at Community Board 10 last year, a group of project managers from the TBTA came to inform the community that they were planning repair work on the bridge. When I asked about the prospect of adding pedestrian and bicycle access to the bridge, the TBTA engineers could scarcely contain their contempt. They brushed off the question at first, but when pressed, admitted the answer was probably “never.” The MTA, the TBTA’s parent agency, is pursuing a feasibility study at this time but has gone on record opposing bike and pedestrian access to the bridge for fear of liability from suicide jumpers. Just as likely, the traffic engineers who run the agency are still stuck in the same car-centered view of urban transportation that Moses was. Moses had cynically promised to include pedestrian and bicycle access to the bridge in order to gain wider support during the planning phase, but later broke that promise, claiming it was “too expensive.” A review of his record as an urban planner makes it clear that he never had any intention of providing such access.
Things have changed drastically since 1960. Robert Moses would have never heard of “global warming,” “carbon footprint” or “sea-level rise.” After Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, many people in Staten Island whose cars were wiped out in the flooding were stranded, with no way off the island. When the TBTA project managers were reminded of this, they pointed out that bus service on the bridge was quickly restored after the storm. Carbon-burning buses. Apparently, the engineers at the TBTA have never heard of global warming, carbon footprint or rising sea level either.
Click here to sign a petition and demand pedestrian and bicycle access to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.