Monday, May 3, 2010

#99 Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Verrazano bridge, May 2, 2010
Jason Kahn, Rob Hickman, Keith Nelson, Kyle Petersen (not pictured).

View on Unicycle NYC Bridge Tour Map at:

Preparations for this epic ride began three months ago. All four riders signed up for the 5 Boro Cycle Tour minutes after the passes went on sale February 1st. The cycle tour is the only day of the year that cyclists are premitted to cross the Verrazano. Training involved a weekly 5-10 mile regimen. New unicycles and equipment were purchased. The Verranzano was a long challenging project indeed.

The celebration of the ride to come started the night before on South 11th Street in Brooklyn.  Jason Vahn of the Hell on Wheels Gang had come to town to get a nice rest and join the one wheel cycle tour.  Keith, Rob and Jason spent the early evening enjoying a leisurely sitting on the stoop, drinking Rob's Honey Amber Home Brew, and going over who was carrying which equipment (air pump, patch kit, extra tube, etc.). Rob had purchased a large container of chamois butter and tried to encourage the boys into an early morning group application. Keith had designed shirts emblazoned with the Bridge Tour web site and the new Unicycle Festival logo. Kyle Petersen came by to pick up his shirt for the next day and enjoy several mugs of brew.

The festivities on Rob and Keith's street were fitting for the upcoming ride.  A ground floor loft of hipsters were throwing a barbecue. The cops strode by to ticket one of them for standing on their landing with an open container.

The Satmar Hassidic community was preparing to celebrate Lag B'Omer. This ancient ritual had been resurrected in the community only a few years ago.  It's main element is the creation of a 30 foot bonfire in the middle of the street. So at approximately 10 pm, masses of Hassadic youth arrived to build the fire.  It was obvious that none of these folks had ever been a Boy Scout. When it came to fire building know how, they had very little.  Stacking desks, shelves, treated wood, art, couches, foam pillows, police baracades, and just about anything else that had a potential to burn, a height of 15 feet was reached.  The Hassidim started arriving in droves.  The stack was then doused with gallons of gas (a method that does not require any fire building know-how). A match was lit, and the fire quickly roared.  At this point, no cops or fireman were present.  Sparks flew in windows, toxic smoke filled the street, the Hassidim chanted and danced around the fire. A group from the Hampshire College Circus Club came by to visit Keith (Hampshire is his alma mater). And they joined into the festivities.  Caleb Hickman was inspired by the celebration and rode circles around the fire on his unicycle.  Rob greeted Black Label Bike Club riders and convinced them to let him stoke their tall-bike tandem. Twenty minutes later the fire department arrived and started arguing with the Hassidim concerning the toxic 30 foot fire burning in the middle of the street.  Eventually the fire department's hoses won the battle and everyone went home. The noisy hipster parties continued throughout the night.

The morning of May 2 came hours too early.  With gobs of chamois butter in their crotches Rob, Jason, and Keith left Williamsburgh at 5:45 am and headed to the Manhattan starting point for the 5 boro. Because the the deli doesn't open until 6am, this departure marked the first bridge crossing that Keith didn't start with an egg sandwich. The trio made thier way into the VIP area for the 5 boro cycle tour at 6:23 am.  It was there that we realized that we had not been given "VIP" positioning, but instead were supposed to be corraled a bit more in the pack of two wheelers.  As security was beginning to hassle us about not having the correct passes to be in the VIP area the paparazzi surrounded the three of us and started taking pictures of the one wheel wonders.  We quickly made our way to the VIP's bagels, fruit, coffee, and other morning delecasises.  Once we filled up, we left the area we deserved and made our way back to team up with the fourth rider, Kyle Petersen.  And so although near the front, we had been placed in the pack of 30,000+ two wheelers.  We were the only one wheelers present at this years ride.

Kyle was riding in honor of Maggie Maggie Russo a 2-year-old girl who developed retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer. Donations to Maggies Fund can be made here:

Moments before the start, Rob had some mechanical issues that Jason was able to fix. At 8 am Cousin Brucie counted down the start, and off we rode. Up to this point, Kyle had been training with 30 mile plus rides.  Rob and Keith were accustomed to 20 mile and under rides, and Jason had never gone further than 9 miles (although these 9 miles were on mountain paths). This was going to be the furthest that any of the four had ever ridden. It was also the the first time the bridge tour team was riding in matching outfits.

It was a slow peddle up sixth avenue. Amidst the congestion we noticed numerous bicycle accidents.  A tiny mishap was caused by Rob's unicycle.  The true blame was in a two wheeler's not only tail gating but using shoes clamped to the bicycle.  Many nasty accidents seemed to result from bicyclists clamped to their vehicles. It is a tour people, not a race.

Peddaling though Central Park we recognized the many arches in Central Park. It seems like we had just been there. Oh right- we just had.

Following a stunning streetside gospel choir recital in Harlem, we crossed over the Harlem River into the Bronx on the Madison Avenue bridge. This bridge we had crossed on a cold winter's day back in January. This time we got to ride in the middle of the roadway.

After only nine blocks in the boogie-down Bronx the Manhattan-centic route headed back to money-makin' Manhattan over the Third Avenue Bridge, which we had also crossed in January.

Heading down the middle of the FDR, we passed the Randals Island bridge, which had returned to it's crossable down possition. Off in the distance we passed the majestic Tribough.

On the FDR we got to ride through our first tunnel. Originally Keith had tried to persuade Rob to include tunnels for an NYC 'Span' Tour. Rob points out that, If this had been the case, the Verranzano would have been knocked back to the 101 position on the official count, instead of the coveted century.

Temperatures were in the 80's, hydration was crucial, and the sun was brutal.  Three of the four riders sported CamelBak hydration units.  Rob was travelling old school with a water bottle strapped to the uni.  Only the youngest of the riders went with no sun block.  Fair skinned Kyle was working his way towards looking like a lobster by day's end.

We headed straight over the top deck of the Queensborough bridge, which was our third crossing by unicycle. Once in Queens, we headed back north to a rest area that had run out of water. Luckily we met Ray Hoffman, a NYC juggler who arrived with water and a video camera. Ray shot this video of our tour's half way mark.

For the sixth time we crossed over the Pulaski bridge, making our way to Brooklyn. At South 11th Street and Kent Ave we took a short break to visit with Rob's mom and son Caleb, who begged to unicycle next year's 5 boro.  

This year's tour took local roads along the Brooklyn waterfront to DUMBO, which became congested with cyclists. We were able to take advantage of the dismounts to relax and stretch our legs. At Alantic Avenue we made our way onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway for the final stretch to the Verranzano. On the Gowanus Expressway bridge we met a pennyfarthing rider who we traveled neck in neck with us until Cannonball park.  Had we documented the Gowanus Expressway bridge crossing, the Veranzano would have been bumped back to bridge number 101. We're planning to repeat the 5 boro ride again next year specifically to document this bridge.

On the Belt parkway, Rob was begining to fade. While the chamois butter was keeping his crotch comfotable, his knees and legs were begining to buckle, and he was begining to lose his focus. Rumors had risen that the sweeper trucks and busses were close behind.  If the sweepers caught up with you, you would be pulled from the tour.  With the onset of a delirium fueled by sun exposure, Kyle became worried and shot ahead of the group to finish the tour and get out of the beating sun.  Although he finished 2 hours earlier than the other uni riders, he was completely physically drained by the experience. Because of the separation, Kyle wasn't included in any of the official Bridge Tour photographs.

As Rob, Keith and Jason approached Cannonball Park, the last rest area on the route and the final refueling station before the infamous Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, word spread that the sweepers were closing in.  "If you wanted to cross the bridge grab a banana, get a water, and get out of the park."  And so they did.  Seven hours of riding had now put these three riders at the base of the 100th crossing for the Unicycle NYC Bridge Tour.  So the trio began the ascent, passing many of the two wheelers who were now walking their cycles over the bridge. 

Steep and long indeed, the Verrazano did not meet the mythic proportions that had been exepected.  At the apex of the Bridge, the trio disregarded the "no stopping/no photo" requirements that had been enforced by Homeland Security and the 5 boro Marshals alike. The trio started the traditional documentation of spans; a photo of the unis on the bridge followed by a picture of the riders and cycles.  For the group shot, Rob was able to cajole a Marshal into actually taking the photo. Screaming "we just rode 40 miles on unicycles and we won't leave this bridge without a picture," we were able to get the ride's trophy.

Just before 4 pm we rolled into Fort Wadsworth to enjoy the remnants of the 5 boro festival. The three fell to the shady grass as Rob moaned for beer. Kyle had left the festivities and was unable to reenter the grounds to celebrate the triumph.  Luckily he had a couple friends who were able to make sure he got home before passing out.  Two wheel riders continued to cross the bridge.  After a short break, the trio headed for the final leg of the journey.

In front of Karl's Klipper Jason bid farewell to make the 7 pm train back to Hudson. Keith and Rob entered for several well deserved pints and a grand plate of gastranomic sustenance. Rob enjoyed a vegetarian power plate of pasta and fries, while Keith went with a rare burger and fries.

The Staten Island Ferry ride back to Manhattan was virtually devoid of 5 boro bike traffic. In Manhattan, subway train issues were rampant.  After more than an hour's communte, Rob and Keith finally made their way back to Brooklyn and jumped on the uni's for the final ride home.

Sleep was good.

Celebrating 100 bridges.

Started: May 2, 2010 8:07:59 AM
Ride Time: 6:37:43
Stopped Time: 41:17
Distance: 42.94 miles
Average: 6.15 miles/hr

From Wikipedia:
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a double-decked suspension bridge that connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York City at the Narrows, the reach connecting the relatively protected upper bay with the larger lower bay.
The bridge is named for Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first known European navigator to enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River, while crossing The Narrows. It has a center span of 4,260 feet (1,298 m) and was the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1964, until it was surpassed by the Humber Bridge in the United Kingdom in 1981. It now has the eighth longest center span in the world, and is the largest suspension bridge in the United States. Its massive towers can be seen throughout a good part of the New York metropolitan area, including from spots in all five boroughs of New York City.

The bridge furnishes a critical link in the local and regional highway system. Since 1976, it has been the starting point of the New York City Marathon. The bridge marks the gateway to New York Harbor; all cruise ships and most container ships arriving at the Port of New York and New Jersey must pass underneath the bridge and thus must be built to accommodate the clearance under the bridge. This is most notable in the case of the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary 2.

The bridge is owned by New York City and operated by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interstate 278 passes over the bridge, connecting the Staten Island Expressway with the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway. The Verrazano, along with the other three major Staten Island bridges, created a new way for commuters and travelers to reach Brooklyn, Long Island, and Manhattan by car from New Jersey.

The bridge was the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses, the New York State Parks Commissioner and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, who had long desired the bridge as a means of completing the expressway system which was itself largely the result of his efforts. The bridge was also the last project designed by Chief Engineer Othmar Ammann, who had also designed most of the other major crossings of New York City, including the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, and the Throgs Neck Bridge. The plans to build the bridge caused considerable controversy in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, because many families had settled in homes in the area where the bridge now stands and were forced to relocate.
Construction on the bridge began August 13, 1959, and the upper deck was opened on November 21, 1964 at a cost of $320 million. New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony, which was attended by over 5,000 people. The lower deck opened on June 28, 1969. The bridge took over the title of the longest suspension bridge in the world (previously held by the Golden Gate Bridge) from 1964 until 1981, when it was eclipsed by the Humber Bridge in England.
Fort Lafayette was an island coastal fortification in New York Harbor, built next to Fort Hamilton at the southern tip of what is now Bay Ridge. It was destroyed as part of the bridge's construction in 1960; the Brooklyn-side bridge pillars now occupy the fort's former foundation.

According to the United States Department of Transportation:
Each of the two towers contains 1,000,000 bolts and 3,000,000 rivets.
The diameter of each of the four suspension cables is 36 inches (91 cm). Each cable is composed of 26,108 wires amounting to a total of 143,000 miles (230,087 km) in length

Because of the height of the towers (693 ft, 211 m) and their distance apart (4260 ft, 1298 m), the curvature of the Earth's surface had to be taken into account when designing the bridge—the towers are 15⁄8 inches (4.1275 cm) farther apart at their tops than at their bases. Because of thermal expansion/contraction of the steel cables, the bridge roadway is 12 feet (370 cm) lower in summer than its winter elevation.

The bridge is affected by weather more than any other bridge in the city because of its size and isolated location close to the open ocean. It is occasionally closed (either partially or entirely) during strong wind and snow storms. The Queen Mary 2 was designed with a flatter funnel to pass under the bridge, and has 13 feet (4.0 m) of clearance under the bridge during high tide. The bridge has fostered more traffic on the Outerbridge Crossing and the Goethals Bridge, both of which connect Staten Island with New Jersey. In 2009, all 262 of the mercury vapor fixtures in the bridge's necklace lighting were replaced with energy efficient light-emitting diodes.

The naming of the bridge for Verrazzano was controversial. It was first proposed in 1951 by the Italian Historical Society of America, when the bridge was in the planning stage. After Moses turned down the initial proposal, the society undertook a public relations campaign to re-establish the reputation of the largely forgotten Verrazano and to promote the idea of naming the bridge for him. The campaign was largely the effort of Society director John N. LaCorte, who in 1954 successfully lobbied New York Governor W. Averell Harriman to proclaim April 17 (the anniversary of Verrazano's arrival in the harbor) as Verrazano Day. Subsequent efforts by LaCorte resulted in similar proclamations by governors of states along the East Coast. After these successes, LaCorte reapproached the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, but was turned down a second time. The manager of the authority, backed by Moses, said the name was too long and that he had never heard of Verrazano.
The society later succeeded in lobbying to get a bill introduced in the New York State Assembly that would name the bridge for the explorer. After the introduction of the bill, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce joined the society in promoting the name. The bill was signed into law in 1960 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Although the controversy seemed settled, the naming issue rose again in the last year of construction after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A petition to name the bridge for Kennedy received thousands of signatures. In response, LaCorte contacted United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the president's brother, who told LaCorte that he would make sure the bridge would not be named for his brother. (What had been known as Idlewild Airport, New York's major international airport, was named for him instead.) Even so, the official name was widely ignored by local news outlets at the time of the dedication. Some radio announcers and newspapers omitted any reference to Verrazano, referring to the bridge as the Narrows Bridge, or the Brooklyn-Staten Island Bridge. The society continued its lobbying efforts to promote the name in the following years until the name became firmly established.

In 2008 about 190,000 vehicles used the bridge per day on average. As of 2009, the one-way toll (paid westbound into Staten Island only) in cash is $11 per car or $5 per motorcycle. E-ZPass users with New York State transponders pay $9.14 per car or $3.98 per motorcycle; out-of-state accountholders get no discount. From 1964 to 1986, the toll was collected in both directions, until Staten Island residents concerned about pollution from idling vehicles called for one way tolls. However, as of 2009 the eastbound toll booths are still in place, requiring drivers to slow down. While the high cost of the toll between Brooklyn and Staten Island has always been an issue for residents, some favor the toll because they see it as a way to curb population growth on Staten Island. Each of the four bridges to the Island is tolled. Beginning in 2010, eight of the unused Brooklyn-bound toll booths will be removed in a project to improve traffic flow at the toll plaza; three of the unused toll booths will be subsequently removed in 2011 during the second phase of the construction project.

Recently, residents living on both ends of the bridge have lobbied for pedestrian access. In October 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to look into establishing the long-awaited pedestrian and unicycle access.

1 comment:

  1. I salute you, you magnificent unicycling bastards!