The silhouette of the Bayonne Bridge, in the day blue-grey steel towering over Port Richmond, at night glistening lights set against the blue-black harbor all around. For people living in 10302, like me, this has been a reality my whole life living here. I love the Bayonne Bridge, truly. It’s a vast structure most tourists only see as a speck, or rather miss, as they pore over their just-taken Statue of Liberty selfies.
I’ve walked over the span, taking in the amazing views, on so many beautiful Spring evenings, just at dusk. Sometimes later. I’ve traveled the span by car countless times, getting home via the Bergen Peninsula route 169 (now 440) and the NJ Turnpike Extension. Walking up from a meal at Burger King, I’d pass either the towering St. Adalbert’s Church,or the Sunshine Homes, and PS 21.
The Bayonne Bridge is a vital route for us North Shore residents, and while it was being raised, the nuisance of noise all night and dust and dirt was a reality. Was it worth it? Did we, the people of Bayonne and Staten Island, benefit? Now the super-cargo-carriers can safely navigate to Newark Bay. Great. But how does that help us?
One of the most famous bridges in the world, not the Brooklyn Bridge or London Bridge, but rather the also quite well-known Sydney Bay Bridge, is the “sister-span” to the Bayonne Bridge, and if records and photos are evidence, the opening ceremonies were a shared event between Bayonne and Sydney, strange as that may now sound.
Most Australians have no clue that the Bayonne Bridge even exists, nowadays, I’d venture to guess. It’s just not a famous landmark…yet. Or again, I might more accurately state. The Aussie newspapers of the day, back when the Bayonne Bridge first opened the gateway between Port Richmond Town and Bayonne, quite likely wrote up a plethora of news stories on the matter.
When the Bayonne Bridge first opened, in 1931, the probability is that all Sydneysiders knew the Bayonne Bridge existed, way back then. With time, this tidbit, that the Aussies’ beloved Sydney Bay Bridge has a long-lost twin, has surely faded into relative obscurity.
While the Sydney Bay Bridge presently carries many lanes of traffic and a footpath, there are also heavy rails for trains and a tour-guided walk up the top of the arch! On Staten Island, all we got was a total rebuild of the bridge deck, 70 feet higher, and proposals for a gondola. The bridge is now steeper, with a more severely graded road, to the detriment of all drivers. There’s no way that that’s better in the winter, on dry-ice days that woe us all.
This aside, the serious question remains: Why wasn’t the Bayonne Bridge re-built in the last five years with at least one lane for rail traffic? The Bayonne Light rail could have extended down the side of the Martin Luther King Expressway, all the way to the College of Staten Island Campus entrance. That should have been in the plans. Instead,a footpath, strong enough, and wide enough, to support cars, but only used for walking. And, as of the writing of this article, a new foot path that remains to be re-opened to the walking public.
Lanes for rail traffic could have been placed on the outside of the arch, just as the walkway is suspended on the Eastern (city-facing) side of the bridge.
Personally, I’d rather get a train that can get me over the water in one minute flat to an air gondola, better suited for tourists headed to a Ferris Wheel-type attraction. (Was this a way of trolling Italian-American Staten Islanders and Bayonne residents?) No one, and I do mean absolutely no one, I’ve spoken with, wants an air gondola. That’s for tourists. What we all want is a rail link. A train. Or, an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into the island, more realistically.
And now that I know that you can walk over the arch of the Sydney Bay Bridge, I wouldn’t mind having such an option for the Bayonne Bridge, actually. How many of us have always wanted to live that moment in the Paul Zindel’s (now deceased; former Port Richmond HS educator and Pulitzer Prize recipient) novel “I Never Loved Your Mind”, when a kid from Staten Island climbed up the arch to the top simply for the view?
Port Richmond is an amazing town that has more to offer than most people will ever know. A guided-tour over the arch would trump any Ferris Wheel. Ferris Wheels were big in the nineties. The 1890s, that is. People today love experience! Not sitting in a cramped Ferris Wheel cab with a bunch of total strangers, waiting and waiting while new passengers (suckers?) enter at the bottom, all the while needing an urgent trip to the rest room, wishing that instead of going again and again in pointless circles, the ride had a definite destination: right outside a bathroom with no line. Sounds marvelous. Don’t forget the view of the city five miles away. (You can literally hold out your hand at arm’s length, and fit the city in your hand. Neat, huh?!)
What could beat the incredible experience of walking the arch? I mean Sydney’s skyline, while likely wonderful, can’t possibly compare to NYC. And people flock to Australia to have this experience, even so. Our stateside version could host a restaurant and lounge where participants can opt to receive a special tattoo (certified by the Port Authority), proving they’ve actually crossed the arch. The Arch Lounge could be located in Elm Park or Port Richmond.
What about taking an uninterrupted light rail trek in a temperature-controlled rail car, not a gondola, right from a university student’s CSI campus directly to the Hoboken Ferry, then a subway trip back home in Queens? How might that feel? Or, consider the experience of an Islander employed in the city, returning home from work via the Hoboken Ferry, after a short light-rail trip back to the Island, shaving hours off their trip?
A faster commute to or from work or school? Nothing beats that. Seriously. Let’s be realistic.
Let’s start the chants right now: Bay-onne Light Rail! Bay-onne Light Rail!
Bay-onne Arch Ad-ven-ture! Bay-onne Arch Ad-ven-ture!
Ferris Wheels! 18-90! Ferris Wheels! 18-90!
(C) 2019 StatenIslander.Org