Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bridge of the Week #1: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Since I love running on the bridges in New York City so much, I've decided to do a profile on all of the bridges, one a week. I've counted about 35 total - the big ones, small ones, one or two pedestrian bridges - that can be run across. If it covers any significant body of water, has any significant length or elevation change, I'll do a profile on it, after having run across it of course. Which to include will be at my discretion, but I think I should eventually cover any bridge anyone can think of, but suggestions are welcome.

The first bridge I'll cover is the biggest of them all, and the only one that runners are not normally allowed on - the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn. At the time of its opening, on November 21, 1964 and until 1981, this was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with 4260 feet in its main span. Including approaches, it is 13,700 feet long. There is no pedestrian walkway, and the only occasion one can run across the bridge is at the start of the New York Marathon. The sight of thousands of runners streaming across the bridge during the marathon is one of the most impressive pictures in all of sports.

Other facts: the bridge has 228 feet of clearance above the water at the center of the span. I remember when the Queen Mary II cruise ship came through a few years ago, it made it through with not much room to spare. The towers are 693 feet tall. The bridge was the last one built under the watch of Robert Moses. It was designed by Othmar Ammann, who designed 5 other major bridges in New York. It was named after Giovanni di Verrazano, the explorer who discovered New York harbor in 1524, and the Narrows, over which it passes.

A few years back, Mayor Bloomberg proposed adding a pedestrian/bike way across the bridge, which may have been a halfhearted attempt and never gained any steam. I know that cyclists in particular would like that, as they are not allowed to bring bikes on city buses, so they have no way to access Staten Island's bikeways except from the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan. Perhaps someday a walkway will be built.

On a personal note, when I first moved to New York in 1994, I was staying with my relatives in Stapleton, Staten Island, and from the window in my room I could see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which is a beautiful sight, especially at night. That fall I went to a park near Fort Wadsworth and watched the runners cross the bridge at the start of the marathon. That was one of the big sources of inspiration for me to run my first marathon, the New York Marathon, which I did in 1997. I guess I never looked back from there.

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