New York City Bridges
Some of New York City’s most famous attractions also happen to be free. The city’s many bridges draw visitor’s for its architectural wonder, history, and charm. Here’s an overview of what a few of the city’s bridges have to offer.
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States and stretches 5,989 feet. It connects Manhattan to Brooklyn and has a charming, wooden pedestrian walkway.
Construction began in 1870 and was completed thirteen years later with a total cost of about $15.5 million dollars. The bridge’s designer, John Augustus Roebling, was injured during the bridge’s construction when a ferry pinned his foot against a pylon. After dying several weeks later from tetanus, his son Washington took over construction. You may have heard that Washington had a severe case of the bends after working in the caissons of the bridge. This temporarily halted the Manhattan side of construction. The Manhattan side of the bridge only rests on sand today.
My favorite piece of Brooklyn Bridge history was when P.T. Barnum paraded 21 elephants across it in 1884 to demonstrate the bridge’s safety. Apparently people had been concerned the bridge wouldn’t be able to hold the area’s pedestrians and vehicles. I think everyone was convinced after the herd of elephants passed safely.
In 2006, some city workers were conducting a routine bridge inspection and discovered the remains of a cold-war era supply. More than 350,000 items were found nestled inside a chamber of the foundation near the Manhattan shoreline. The discovery included half-century-old water drums, food canisters, and medical supplies. I remember hearing that high-calorie crackers, upwards of 1,000 a pop were also found. This whole story really startled me, since I had walked over the bridge hundreds of times and never considered what may lay inside it.
I recommend taking the A train to High Street in Brooklyn, crossing over the road and into the park. Once at the north side of the park, turn left and walk towards Dumbo, Brooklyn. Once you’re underneath the bridge, just look for the signs pointing to the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian staircase. This stone staircase leads to the bridge’s pedestrian and bike area. Once above, you’ll see you’re safely above the cars and have full views of Manhattan’s skyline. From here you can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan in about 20 minutes or less.
Please note that bikers have their own lane, but tourists tend to walk in it anyway. This causes some angry altercations between walkers and bikers, so stay on your side.
Near the center of the bridge, you’ll find plaques depicting the history and construction of the bridge. The walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn is also a great walk, but the views aren’t quite as impressive. Just take the 4, 5, or 6 train to the City Hall stop in Manhattan if you want to walk the bridge into Brooklyn.
The Manhattan Bridge
The Manhattan Bridge crosses the East River in New York and connects Lower Manhattan at Canal Street with Brooklyn at Flatbush Avenue Extension. It was the last of the three suspension bridges that were built to cross the lower area of the East River, following the Brooklyn and the Williamsburg bridges. In 1909, the bridge was open to traffic and and was designed and built by Ralph Modjeski and deflection cables by Leon Moisseiff.
The pedestrian area of the bridge proves small and difficult to maneuver when crowded. If your mission is to just take a walk with nice views, opt for the Brooklyn Bridge. However, the B, D, N, and Q trains cross over the bridge from the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway stop in Brooklyn and goes express to Canal or Grand Streets in Manhattan. You get an amazing view of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s really quite stunning at sunset.
The Williamsburg Bridge
The Williamsburg Bridge crosses the East River connecting the Lower East Side of Manhattan at Delancey Street with Williamsburg, Brooklyn near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Leffert L. Buck as chief engineer, Henry Hornbostel and Holton D. Robinson worked together on what was meant to set the record as the longest suspension bridge span on Earth. It lost the record to Bear Mountain Bridge in 1924. The complete cost of the Williamsburg Bridge cost $12,000,000. The main span of the bridge is 1600 feet long. In addition to the Manhattan Bridge, it is the only other New York City bridge that carries both subway and vehicle traffic.
You can walk or bike over the bridge, but the pedestrian area is usually used by locals. Tourists tend to opt for the Brooklyn Bridge instead.
The Queensboro Bridge
The Queensboro Bridge is also known as the 59th Street Bridge and is a cantilever bridge over the East River. Completed in 1909, the bridge connects the neighborhood of Long Island City in the borough of Queens with Manhattan and passes over Roosevelt Island.
Despite the fact that it isn’t as sexy as the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge, it’s frequently used in film and popular culture. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway cross the bridge on their way from Long Island to Manhattan. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge,” Nick says, “is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world”. In the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, Charlotte makes reference to the Queensboro Bridge as a human-made spider web.
If you cross the Queensboro Bridge, you might notice the Roosevelt Island Tram passing by. The tram is a 4 minute ride 3,100 feet above Manhattan and costs just $2.00 each way. Each cabin accommodates up to 125 people and makes about 115 trips each day and about 100 every weekend.
Roosevelt Island isn’t the most exciting tourist attraction, and is largely residential, but the tram ride is worth it.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Known as “The Verrazano” by locals, it’s is the largest suspension bridge in the world and connects Brooklyn to Staten Island. The double decker bridge was named after Giovanni da Verrazano, the first European explorer to sail into New York Harbor in 1524.
The Varrazano is primarily know for its link in the local and regional highway system and is known today as the starting point of the New York City Marathon. All cruise ships and most container ships arriving at the Port of New York and New Jersey must pass underneath and must be built to accommodate the clearance under the bridge.
Aside from the free Staten Island ferry, it’s the most convenient option to get from the city to Staten Island. The bridge toll entering Staten Island is $9, but there is no return toll.
The Henry Hudson Bridge
The Henry Hudson Bridge was named in honor of the explorer Henry Hudson and his ship the Half Moon which anchored near this site in 1609. The bridge opened for service in 1936 and connects northern Manhattan to the Bronx.
Residential communities to the north are Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale. These high-demand real estate markets boast single family homes, wooded estates, and large apartment complexes with shoreline views of the Hudson and Harlem Ship Canal.
If you’re going to rent a car, I highly recommend taking a drive up the Hudson and past Harlem where New York opens itself up to rolling hills and wooded acres.
Harlem Swing Bridges
The Harlem River has six different swing bridges, which have largely fallen into disrepair over the years. They originally replaced fixed bridges in the late 19th century to improve navigation.
The Harlem River was once a rowing course for New York. The Harlem side of the shore houses the Columbia University crew, and the river is also the home course for the university’s heavyweight crew. The athletes maintain a “C Rock” for Columbia University and it is also painted on a rock face along the tracks used by Metro-North Railroad.
Scandalous rumors say that Columbia rowers have even assisted the New York City police department in murder investigations. How? You guessed it, floating bodies in the water.