14th Street Bridge, Washington DC

Sunday, December 5, 2010 |

One of the main commuter links between Washington, DC and Northern Virginia runs across the Potomac River at 14th Street, although the bridge itself is really Interstate 395. There are actually a set of bridges at the location, three for cars, and two for trains. They are collectively known as the 14th Street Bridge, but they really all have their own names. Fortunately for us, the northernmost of them, officially called the George Mason Memorial Bridge, contains a pedestrian and biking path. No one will write a song about the 14th Street Bridge, like with the 59th Street Bridge in New York City (really the Queensboro Bridge, with the song "Feeling Groovy", immortalized by Simon and Garfunkel, of course), but the lack of a song won't stop us from taking a walk across the bridge.

Bridges have been at that location since the early 1800s. The George Mason Memorial Bridge was built in 1962 to replace another bridge there that carried traffic southbound across the Potomac. It is a low, utilitarian bridge, getting the job done without any aesthetic fanfare. On the DC side of the Potomac, the bridge actually starts right across from the Jefferson Memorial, a very pretty location and a favorite especially during the spring cherry blossoms. We were able to park right below the bridge near the Jefferson Memorial and climb some steps up the side of the bridge and pop right onto the bridge's walkway. Right to the north, a little ways up the river, we could immediately see our old friend, the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

I hadn't planned for one thing about the walk yesterday morning across the bridge: a gusty wind turning a 35 degree temperature into a downright frigid trek. It sure wasn't windy on land, but out there in the middle of the Potomac, and suspended a mere 35 feet or so above the water, there was a nasty wind chill. Definitely no lounging around on this bridge. This one was all business.

On the scariness rating, removing the concern about frostbite, the bridge did have some challenges. A somewhat narrow sidewalk and very open sides were the biggest ones, but the bridge is very low, the railings are very high (about neck level), and the iron railings are close enough together that no wind gust will blow anyone off that bridge, no matter how cold it is. The bridge is about half a mile long at that point, making it a moderate length. So, we'll give it a 10.5 scariness rating, a 2 for height, 3 for length, and 5.5 for width (basically the openness of the sides and narrow sidewalk).

We survived the cold, but these winter bridge treks could be tough, and this bridge isn't even north of the Mason-Dixon line, and it's only December.