Friday, April 9, 2010

Bridge of the Week #10: Williamsburg Bridge

For week #10, I thought a big bridge would be in order, so here's the Williamsburg Bridge. It connects Manhattan's lower east side at Delancey St. with the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, stretching across the East River. It was built from 1896-1903, and at its completion was the largest suspension bridge in the world, surpassing the Brooklyn Bridge (by four and a half feet), which was completed in 1883. Its main span is 1,600 feet and the total length is 7,308 feet, and it has 135 feet of clearance above the water.

It was the second bridge built over the East River after the Brooklyn Bridge - the Manhattan Bridge would come later. The towers are 310 feet tall, and were the first all-steel towers built for a suspension bridge. Reportedly, it was partially inspired by the designs of Gustav Eiffel. Unusual in a suspension bridge, the side spans are not suspended from cables but supported by steel arches underneath.

The Williamsburg Bridge originally carried six tracks of private railway trains and trolleys down the middle, two lanes of carriage traffic on either side, and pedestrian walkways above the tracks. The Long Island Railroad even used the tracks for a time, on a line that split from the Atlantic Avenue line at Broadway Junction, went along Broadway, across the bridge and down to Chambers Street. Today, much of this line, elevated in Brooklyn, underground in Manhattan, is the line for the J, M and Z subway trains, the only trains still using the bridge on its center tracks. The other four tracks were replaced by traffic lanes. There is supposedly still an abandoned underground terminal on the Manhattan side adjacent to the Essex St./Delancey St. subway station for some of those old streetcar lines.

Pedestrian access to the bridge in Manhattan is in the median on Delancey Street at Clinton St. (or a block west at Suffolk St.). Along the walkway's entire length the rosy red of the railings is a nice contrast to the steel gray of the bridge. The western (Manhattan) section of the walkway is wide and spacious. Before the first anchorage it splits in two sections, and stays in two parts all the way into Brooklyn. The north entrance in Brooklyn is at S. 5th St. and S. 5th Place at Washington Plaza. The south entrance is on Bedford Ave. just off S. 6th St. Every large bridge walkway has rules for pedestrians and bikes, and here the bikes are to keep on the right-hand side in each direction and pedestrians on the left-hand side, facing bicycle traffic. I don't run it enough to know if people follow that or not, but work has just started on cleaning and repainting the surface of the walkway and removing graffiti, and a new foot/bike traffic pattern may be a result. Scheduled partial closing of the walkway is expected to continue through June.

The Williamsburg area was originally a part of the town of Bushwick, and called Bushwick Shore. In the early 1800's a portion of it was surveyed by Colonel Jonathan Williams and named Williamsburgh in his honor (the H was later dropped). Williamsburgh expanded and seceded from teh Town of Bushwick in 1840. However, both Williamsburgh and Bushwick were annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1852.

Points of interest near the bridge in Williamsburg are Peter Luger's world famous steak house at Broadway and Driggs, the old Williamsburgh Savings Bank building across the street (currently an HSBC Bank), and visible from the bridge on the shore are the recently-closed Domino Sugar factory on the north and the Brooklyn Navy Yards to the south.

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