MTA’s Bridge To The Beach
In 1934, then-New York City Parks Department Commissioner Robert Moses announced plans to upgrade Riis Park, spending $1.7 million to add a new bathing pavilion, parking lot, pitch-'n-put golf course, and a 40–foot wide, mile–long boardwalk.
As part of the plan to get more residents to visit and eventually settle in the Jamaica Bay and the Rockaway Peninsula areas, Moses also went ahead with plans to build the Marine Parkway Bridge.
When the bridge opened on July 3, 1937 it was the longest vertical lift span for vehicular traffic in the world, and the 70-acre Riis Park Parking Field was the world’s largest, with space for 14,000 cars. MTA managed the Riis Park parking lot until the New York City’s 1974 fiscal crisis when Riis Park became part of the federal Gateway National Recreation area.
Moses managed to have the bridge opened just in time for July Fourth celebrations at the city’s newest recreation area. The first several weekends after the bridge opened as many as 125,000 people crowded the Riis Park beaches. Every Friday night there were popular fireworks displays, followed by outdoor dancing on the mall. Children enjoyed summer programs and there was also a heavily used baseball diamond.
Today, the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge remains the longest vertical lift span for vehicular traffic in North America, stretching 3,840 feet from end to end. It also remains a key bridge to the glistening Rockaway beaches.
Traffic at the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge increases an average of 17 percent from Memorial Day to Labor Day, an increase of about 3,600 vehicles a day. In the pre-summer months from March to May the daily average traffic at the bridge is about 21,000 vehicles.
To accommodate the extra summer traffic to the beach, MTA Bridges and Tunnels hires as many as 40 temporary, seasonal toll collectors, according to Director of Bridges South, William McCann, who oversees the Verrazano-Narrows, Marine Parkway and Cross Bay Veterans bridges. While the seasonal employees handle cash transactions, other Bridge and Tunnel Officers are able to do additional patrols, traffic control and E-ZPass duties on the toll plaza, McCann said.