MANY YEARS ago I found myself in New York City with a free day. Probably because I had heard it only cost a dime, I took the ferry to Staten Island, looked around for a while then boarded the ferry for the return to Manhattan.
In the intervening years I hadn’t given much thought to Staten Island until it turned up repeatedly on television news reports because of the direct hit it suffered when Hurricane Sandy moved in on it.
I turned to the worldwide web to check out the ferry service, among other things. I figured that the ferry fare had risen exponentially, like so many fees in recent years. I was amazed at what I found.
TURNS OUT that the ferry is now free.
It seems that New York City has operated the Staten Island Ferry since 1905. It carries more than 21 million passengers on 35,000 trips annually on a 5.2-mile run between the St. George Terminal on Staten Island and the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.
The Ferry runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it is the most reliable form of mass transit, with an on-time performance of more than 96 percent. It carries no vehicles, these being routed over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, constructed in 1964.
The Ferry is operated for one practical reason: To transport Staten Islanders to and from Manhattan. But the 25-minute ride also provides a majestic view of New York Harbor.
FROM THE DECK passengers see the Statue of Liberty on its 14-acre Liberty Island and Ellis Island, the onetime “open door” to so many thousands of immigrants.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is a double-decked suspension bridge that connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn at the Narrows, the body of water connecting the relatively protected upper bay with the larger lower bay.
The bridge is named for both the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first known European navigator in the service of the French crown to enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River. It has a center span of 4,260 feet and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1964.
It now has the ninth longest main span in the world, and it is still the longest bridge span in the Americas. Its massive towers can be seen throughout a good part of the New York metropolitan area.
SINCE 1976, the bridge has been the starting point of the New York City Marathon, which had been scheduled for last Sunday. As the world knows now, the Marathon was canceled by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg after criticism that this was not the time for a race while so many were still suffering and homeless.
The Verrazano 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 under the bridge and must be built to accommodate its clearance.
Many songs have been written about the five boroughs of New York City. My favorite is Manhattan, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart for the 1925 revue, Garrick Gaieties. Here are some of its lines:
We’ll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
It’s lovely going through
It’s very fancy
On old Delancey
Street, you know.
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow
To and fro. . .