Monday, March 1, 2010

Bridge of the Week #5: Washington Bridge

For this week's bridge I went back to northern Manhattan, and the Washington Bridge, not to be confused with the George Washington Bridge nearby, which is completely separate and different. The Washington Bridge crosses the Harlem River with 181 St. of Manhattan on the western end and University Ave. (or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) of the Bronx on the eastern end. It was actually built quite a bit earlier than its namesake to New Jersey. It was proposed in the 1870's due to the rapidly growing population in Washington Heights. Construction began in 1886 and it opened to pedestrian traffic on December 1, 1888. Its traffic lanes were to have opened on February 22, 1889, which is not only Washington's Birthday, but also the 100th anniversary of Washington's first inauguration (or close enough). However, it didn't fully open until December 1889.

The bridge currently carries six lanes of traffic and 6-foot sidewalks on either side. It originally had 15-foot walkways and a grass median which were narrowed/removed during renovations in the late 1940's-early 1950's. It is a double-span steel and masonry arch bridge, which actually has six parallel arches supporting the roadway. Each main arch, one over the Harlem River, the other over Metro North tracks, the Major Deegan Expressway and other streets in the Bronx, is 510 feet long. The total length including approaches is 2,375 feet. The clearance above the water is 135 feet.

After construction of the George Washington Bridge in 1931, which connects 178-179 Sts in Manhattan to New Jersey and the subsequent 179 St. tunnels in Manhattan, ramps were constructed to connect the tunnels to the Washington Bridge. But in the 1950's, with the planning of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the addition of the lower deck of the GWB, it was determined that a new bridge would have to be the main connection between the two, hence the Alexander Hamilton Bridge a couple blocks to the south, and the Manhattan entrance to the Washington Bridge was moved to the surface streets at 181 St and Amsterdam Ave.

The sidwalks are accessible from University Ave. in the Bronx just south of Featherbed Lane (one of my favorite street names) and in Manhattan at the intersection of 181 St. and Amsterdam Ave., although the north walk actually comes out at the north end of Laurel Hill Terrace. The sidewalks are narrow and close to traffic, which is separated by a 3-foot concrete barrier. When running, be courteous to pedestrians. If you get tired, there are concrete benches spaced periodically along the way. You can also stand on the benches to get better views, which are quite remarkable. On the north is the upper Harlem River with the Inwood neoghborhood of Manhattan and University Heights of the Bronx, and the University Heights Bridge (week #2's bridge). On the south you can look down on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge next door (which has no pedestrian access and will not be covered separately in my blog) and the beautiful and historic High Bridge a 1/4 mile to the south (which currently has no legal pedestrian access but will be covered later in my blog) and High Bridge Tower. For some reason, however, the south walkway doesn't seem to get cleared of snow in the winter, as I found out today. The Manhattan entrance to the north walkway also connects to the paved pathways of Highbridge Park, which can be a lot of fun to explore, although some lead to dead ends, and exploring the paths after dusk is not recommended.

A few blocks to the west of Amsterdam, on St. Nicholas Ave., is the 181 St. station for the 1 train, and a few blocks to the west of that is the 181 St. station on the A train. The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is also nearby at 178-179 St. and Ft. Washington Ave., which has standard terminal-type amenities as well as buses to New Jersey. The nearest subway station in teh Bronx is the Mt. Eden station on the 4 train at Mt. Eden Ave. and Jerome Ave., just a block south of Featherbed Lane.
The Washington Bridge was named after - wait for it - George Washington. But it should be noted that the proliferance of place names in northern Manhattan that carry his name, such as the Washington Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, Fort Washington Ave., Fort George Hill, as well as the neighborhood of Washington Heights (and Fort George, a subsection of Washington Heights not universally acknowledged separately) is most likely due to the location of Fort Washington up here at the current location of Bennett Park, at 183rd St. and Ft. Washington Ave. It was the site of an unsuccessful battle in 1776, unless you're British, in which case it was a bright spot in an unsuccessful war.

No comments:

Post a Comment