From any borough in New
York City, one can find a spot to look across the
horizon and see the sloping frame of the Verrazano Bridge,
the famous bridge connecting the NYC boroughs of Staten
Island and Brooklyn. Also
known as the Verrazano Narrow Bridge, this structure was
completed in 1964, and was then the longest suspesion
bridge in the world, measuring 4,260 feet. At the time
of this writing, the Verrazano Bridge is still the longest
in the United States, though it looks rather tiny from
the Empire State Building.
Today, the Verrazano Bridge is firmly embedded, both visually
and functionally, in New York City life, and is simply
referred to as “The Verrazano” by New Yorkers.
The history of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge must be explored in the context of the history of the explorer for which the structure is named. Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first known European explorer to enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River. The Hudson River is of course named for the explorer who followed this body of water all the way north, but in the mid-twentieth centurty, no significant New York Landmark had been named for the original explorer. The history of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge follows from this fact. At the time of its completion, America was still bitterly mourning the loss of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in November 1963. There was a swelling public urge for plans to change to name the bridge after the deceased president. In a pivotal piece of the history of Verrazano Narrows Bridge, those in support of finally recognizing the explorer with the naming of the bridge appealed to Robert Kennedy, who agreed to object to the change of plans. And so, today we have the Verrazano Bridge, and one of New York’s major airports in Queens that memorializes JFK.
One thing to see at the Verrazano Narrow Bridge, or participate in (if you’ve trained properly!), is the start of the New York City Marathon. However, don’t be fooled-- this is the only time pedestrians are allowed to cross the bridge. There are no New York City tours that include a crossing of the Verrazano by foot. If you want a great bridge-walking experience, try walking the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn toward the bright lights of Manhattan at twilight on a pleasant evening.
The Verrazano Bridge is also best avoided by car, because it is exceedlngly expensive for non-locals, and frankly, you shouldn’t be driving as a tourist in New York City, anyway. The parking, tolls, and stress of the traffic in the city, compared with the inexpense, authentic experience, safety, and ease of the NYC system of trains and subways makes this a no-brainer. For access to Staten Island, enjoy the world famous Staten Island Ferry. You’ll get sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Narrow Bridge, without the expense or gridlock of driving on the famous bridge itself.
Though there isn’t a lot to do as a tourist at the Verrazano Bridge, it is a signature part of the visual history of New York City. So, when you look to the southeast and see the rising shape of the immense Verrazano shining in the late afternoon sun, know that you are seeing a sight that defines New York City: big, impressive, and breaking the boundaries that separate people.