The 5 Innovative Bridges That Make New York City, New York City

The Brook­lyn Bridge ignites the pas­sions of tourists and locals alike.

For every 10,000 vis­i­tors who pause in its bike lanes to snap self­ies, there’s an alum of near­by PS 261 who cel­e­brat­ed its birth­day with a song that men­tions the fates of its engi­neers John and Wash­ing­ton Roe­bling to the tune of I’ve Been Work­ing on the Rail­road.

(A sam­ple cho­rus: Caisson’s dis­ease! Cais­sons dis­ease! Caisson’s dis­ease is real­ly bad!)

Native son Adam Suerte of Brook­lyn Tat­too esti­mates that he inks its like­ness on a half dozen cus­tomers per month. (A tem­po­rary option is avail­able for those with com­mit­ment issues…)

In 1886, a hus­tler named Steve Brodie claimed to have sur­vived a jump off of it, a tale prop­a­gat­ed by Bugs Bun­ny.

We watch movies at its feet and draw atten­tion to caus­es by march­ing across it.

It con­tin­ues to mes­mer­ize artists, poets, film­mak­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers.

But, as archi­tect Michael Wyet­zn­er makes clear in his most recent video for Archi­tec­tur­al Digest, it’s not the only bridge in New York City.

Also, despite what you may have heard, it’s not for sale.

Under­stand­ably, the hybrid cable-stayed/­sus­pen­sion super­star con­nect­ing Brook­lyn to low­er Man­hat­tan takes the lead in Wyetzner’s cov­er­age of five bridges that have had an enor­mous impact on the devel­op­ment of a city whose five bor­oughs were once tra­vers­a­ble sole­ly by fer­ry.

The oth­er notable play­ers:

The Hell Gate Bridge — a feat of WWI-era rail­road engi­neer­ing con­nect­ing Queens to Randall’s and Wards Island over a par­tic­u­lar­ly per­ilous stretch of water­way, it was once the longest steel arch bridge in the world.

In his 1921 book New York: The Great Metrop­o­lis, painter Peter Mar­cus not­ed that “if laid over Man­hat­tan it would reach from Wanamaker’s store at Eighth Street, to One Hun­dred and Twen­ty-fifth Street.”

Macomb’s Dam Bridge, a low lying swing bridge whose cen­ter por­tion piv­ots to accom­mo­date boat traf­fic on the Harlem Riv­er. When con­struc­tion began in late 1890, the New York Times gushed that it would be a “street built in mid-air” between the Bronx and Wash­ing­ton Heights in upper Man­hat­tan:

It is hard­ly enough to say of it that it will be the great­est piece of engi­neer­ing of the kind in the world. Noth­ing like it has ever been attempt­ed.

The High Bridge - Orig­i­nal­ly part of the Cro­ton Aque­duct, it is tech­ni­cal­ly the old­est sur­viv­ing bridge in the city, as well as a com­mu­ni­ty-led preser­va­tion cam­paign suc­cess sto­ry. Hav­ing lan­guished in the lat­ter part of the 20th cen­tu­ry, it is now a beau­ti­ful pedes­tri­an bridge whose killer views can be enjoyed with­out the has­sle of Brook­lyn Bridge-sized crowds.

The George Wash­ing­ton Bridge - a major mon­ey mak­er for the Port Author­i­ty, it’s not only the world’s busiest bridge, it puts a lot of the bridge in “bridge and tun­nel crowd” by con­nect­ing Man­hat­tan to New Jer­sey.

Archi­tec­ture buffs can geek out on the Con­crete Indus­try Board Award-win­ning bus sta­tion and sto­ried Lit­tle Red Light­house in its shad­ow.

The GWB’s most ardent fan has got to be artist Faith Ring­gold, who immor­tal­ized it in her Tar Beach sto­ry quilt and relat­ed children’s book:

 I nev­er want to be more than three min­utes from the George. I could always see it as I grew up.  That bridge has been in my life for as long as I can remem­ber.  As a kid, I could walk across it any­time I want­ed.  I love to see it sparkling at night.  I moved to New Jer­sey, and I’m still next to it.

Wyet­zn­er, whose archi­tec­tur­al round up shoe­horns in a lot of inter­est­ing infor­ma­tion about pub­lic health, eco­nom­ics, trans­porta­tion, labor prac­tice and New York City his­to­ry, is active­ly court­ing view­ers to sug­gest bridges for a sequel.

We’ll throw our weight behind the Man­hat­tan, the Williams­burg, the Queens­boro, the Ver­raz­zano, and the admit­ted­ly dark horse 103rd Street Foot­bridge.


Relat­ed Con­tent 

How the Brook­lyn Bridge Was Built: The Sto­ry of One of the Great­est Engi­neer­ing Feats in His­to­ry

A Mes­mer­iz­ing Trip Across the Brook­lyn Bridge: Watch Footage from 1899

See New York City in the 1930s and Now: A Side-by-Side Com­par­i­son of the Same Streets & Land­marks

An Online Gallery of Over 900,000 Won­der­ful Pho­tos of His­toric New York City

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.