Key Bridge, Washington, DC (south walkway)

Sunday, June 27, 2010 |

Yesterday was a lazy late June day in Washington, D.C, about 90 degrees and only moderately humid. For Washington in late June, that made it a perfect day for a bridge trek.

Key Bridge crosses the Potomac River and connects Arlington, Virginia, with Georgetown in Washington, D.C. It was named after Francis Scott Key, who lived in Georgetown for a time and wrote what would become the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner after watching (while held on a British ship) the British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812--yes in the morning, looking at the fort, he did see that the "star-spangled banner yet wave." The Potomac River bridge bearing his name was completed in 1923, making it the oldest of a series of bridges that cross the Potomac in the Washington, D.C. area. It's a short bridge, about one-third of a mile long, with 5 lanes of traffic in all. It has sidewalks on both sides for pedestrians and bikers, with barricades to separate the sidewalk users from cars, and neck-high metal railings to separate the sidewalk users from the river below. The bridge is very popular with both pedestrians (especially joggers) and bikers. We walked on the south side of the bridge, nearest to the major parts of Washington. We started from the Virginia side, walked across to Georgetown, then recrossed.

For full disclosure, I've walked this bridge before. It's a quite manageable walk. The bridge is much lower and with much more modest views than the George Washington and Brooklyn Bridges in NYC, our recent bridge treks. But in Washington, where nothing other than the Washington Monument gets very high off the ground, you still can get a great view of the area off of the Key Bridge. We could easily see (though difficult to see in the photo below) the Washington Monument, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Watergate Hotel (scene of the burglary in 1972 that started the whole Watergate Affair, of course, that brought down President Nixon). In the other direction is a nice view of the spires of Georgetown University.

I don't know exactly how high the bridge is above the river; I'm guessing 80 feet or so. Aren't there maps that boaters must have in order to know the clearance for various structures, depending on the tides and river flow? Well, I'm not a boater, and if the internet doesn't provide reliable estimates, I can estimate the height myself.

So, walking Key Bridge is a great way to get a different perspective on Washington. And it provides a great way to get up close to the edge of a bridge. Those neck-high metal railings are solid and there is no way to fall over them, although they do shake a bit when you actually hold onto them (what a complainer). Overall scariness rating is a 10, with a 3.5 for height, 1.5 for length, and 5 for width (yes, fractions are allowed).