Manhattan Bridge

Sunday, February 27, 2011 |

On this night of the Oscars, we give the award for loudest bridge to... the Manhattan Bridge, which crosses the East River between northern Brooklyn and Manhattan's Chinatown. The bridge lies just north of the more well-known Brooklyn Bridge (subject of a bridge trek last year). The Manhattan Bridge does yeoman's work because it makes room not only for motor vehicles, but also pedestrians with a pedestrian walkway, bikes with a separate bicycle path, and subway tracks (hence the award). Despite a little cold weather in late February (definite cold weather bridge trekking garb required), it was time to take a walk across the Manhattan Bridge, and it didn't disappoint. It is certainly worth the time.

The pedestrian walkway lies on the south edge of the bridge, a little below the main car level, and the subway tracks are right next to the pedestrian walkway. How exactly a subway line goes over a river and not under it is beyond the scope of this discussion, but without a doubt a foot trek over the bridge has a definite urban feel because of those trains going by constantly. I'm pretty sure there was no subway station, however.

As a distraction from the loudness, the bridge provides great views down the East River. Through the protective fence along the edge of the walkway, we could easily see the majestic Brooklyn Bridge and also lower Manhattan, and we could make out the Statue of Liberty in the Harbor. The bridge also provides great views of the area of Brooklyn underneath the bridge, which apparently is known as DUMBO ("Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass"). And the area underneath the bridge in Manhattan has a great collection of graffiti art on the buildings.

I will say that there was something "non-bridgeness" about the trek, because there was no open view across the other side. It was more of a feeling of walking in between a (very steep) river bank and a subway line--and I kind of associate subway lines with land. The openness of many bridges just wasn't there. But, yes, I knew it was a bridge, and I knew we were up pretty high.

The pedestrian walkway for the bridge is very utilitarian, getting the job done without much glitz. The walkways are pretty wide, 12 feet or so most of the way, and the fencing put up along the side clearly reduces the views at the relieving cost of security. There were two small cutouts for scenic observation areas, though the view was equally fine just about anywhere. It was our longest bridge trek thus far, at about 1.2 miles. The bridge is listed as having a clearance above the water of about 135 feet, and the walkways were on the lowest part of the bridge.

It is important to know the history of a bridge before trekking across it. This one was completed in 1912, so almost 30 years after the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was designed by Leon Moisseiff, who has the dubious fame as being the designer of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge; that's the one that earned the nickname of Galloping Gertie and fell apart in a windstorm in 1940. That doesn't instill confidence, but the Manhattan Bridge has stood the test of time. We could feel a little movement, as I suppose we should on a suspension bridge, but nothing near galloping. This bridge gets a scariness rating of 14, with a 6 (out of a possible 10) for length, a 5 for height, and a mere 3 for width because of the lack of openness and the reassuring fencing.