While budget constraints may have limited actual width to 8 foot, early drawings call for 16 foot wide paths, fully anticipating modern standards.3
In 1931, the Port Authority projected 30 years growth of use, broken out by mode of travel. Notably, foot travel was expected to grow faster than car (3% vs. 2.5%).4
Both design and projected use indicates that the PA foresaw need for greater path capacity – but it does not explain the rationale.
Was the greater width was to accommodate bicycles? Perhaps. They were tolled $.25, the same as motorcycles. Their catchment far exceeds that of pedestrians. And, from a safety and traffic management perspective, routing them onto 16 foot paths make more sense that increasingly crowded roadways.
The Bridge as Destination?
A complementary reason can be had by standing on the paths and looking out. Realizing paths extending beyond the cables would create a mile-long belvederes with views like no other in the region. Note the description from a tourist guide to NYC, developed by the Federal Writer’s Project:
“The George Washington is the most splendid of all Manhattan bridges. The view east features Riverside Drive and the Henry Hudson Parkway with their constant stream of cars. To the south, the ribbons of Manhattan’s highways are lost in the thickening cluster of roofs, but on a clear day, the play of the sun through its Himalayan towers, the funnels of great ocean-going liners in the Hudson River docks, and the smoking chimneys of New Jersey industrial towns are easily discernible.”5
That notion that the Agency envisioned the George as a site of grand celebrations6 and source of revenue is demonstrated by their reporting of toll revenue from opening day:
“20,000 pedestrians paid 10 cents per person to walk across the George Washington Bridge on its first full day of operation.”7
George Washington Bridge on opening day. Image Flickr.
The concept of the George as a tourist draw is validated by a contemporary study, modeled on Walkway Over the Hudson, which projects that a linear park across the George would annually attract 300,000 tourists spending $42 million and sustaining 675 jobs.8 9
Walking around New York City in the 1920’s Mr. Ammann would certainly have been influenced by the promenade across the Brooklyn Bridge – and the massive paths across the Williamsburg. Opened in 1903, the Williamsburg Bridge connected Brooklyn to Manhattan with a pair of 20-foot wide paths and comfort stations in the main towers.
What Would Othmar Do?
- That cycling’s current rate of growth far exceeds other modes of travel.12
- Of studies demonstrating enhancements to public health, affordability, sustainability and resilience resulting for a commitment to active transportation.13
- That realizing the George’s potential as a tourist mecca would drive foot traffic and commercial revenue in the GW Bus Terminal and its environs.
- Of state-of-the-art bikeways across the Mario M. Cuomo, Goethals, Bayonne, Kosciuszko and East River bridges.
- Of the broad bi-state coalition of communities and public officials calling for wider paths, including 50 North Jersey municipalities – the same towns Mr. Ammann lobbied in the 1920s to get the George built.15 16
Taking all these factors together, I’m confident the politically astute Chief Engineer would advise today’s PA that it was time to implement the wider paths specified in his original design.
Also, to allocate a portion of the GWB’s lower level to mitigate the visual disruption of the proposed safety barriers, in order to preserve the magnificent views for the generations to come.
 “Precedent architecture is said or done that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of an analogous kind.”, First in Architecture UK, https://tinyurl.com/ycumcrez
 GWB use projections 1932-1960, Port of New York Authority (PANYNJ).
 Following 9/11, the Agency added protective shielding to the suspender cables, narrowing path width between sets of cables from 8 foot to 6.75 foot.
 “Creating an effective network also means improving existing trails and connections. In particular, the connections between the greater region and New York City include major bridge crossings, such as the Brooklyn and George Washington Bridges, that are likely to be in high demand by many users.”; RPA Proposes Extending and Connecting Regional Trails to Form a Unified Network, Regional Plan Association, http://tinyurl.com/ydba4gk5
 “Ammann would need to develop local interest in his Fort Lee bridge within the communities of Bergen and Passaic that it was the best solution for their communities and the economic growth of the region.”, Empire on the Hudson, Jameson W. Doig, P. 130-131, https://tinyurl.com/y993epvc