Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bridge of the Week #27: Queensboro Bridge

Yippee, we get a big one this week! The Queensboro Bridge, aka the 59th St. Bridge is one of the major bridges in New York City, crossing the East River between 59th/60th Streets in Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens. After the Brooklyn Bridge, it is the second oldest East River crossing, opening in March 1909 (after eight years of construction), only nine months before the Manhattan Bridge.

The Queensboro Bridge is a double cantilever bridge centered on Roosevelt Island, meaning it has one cantilever span over each channel, east and west of the island. The total length of the bridge and approaches is 7449 feet. It has 130 feet of clearance above the river. It has two roadway decks, the top carries four lanes of traffic (two in each direction) and the lower carries five: three Queens-bound lanes and two Manhattan-bound, with the outermost lane on the north permanently closed to traffic in 2000, and used for pedestrians and bicycles. The pedestrian lane can be accessed on the Queens side at Queens Plaza N. and Crescent St., and on the Manhattan side entering at 60th St. and 1st Ave. The bridge also carries the N, Q and R lines between Manhattan and Queens.

Plans for a bridge between Manhattan and Long Island City were conceived as early as 1838, but early organizers ran into financial problems. One potential designer in the 1850's was John Roebling. He proposed two suspension spans connected in the middle by a cantilever span. But it did not come to pass, so he went on to design the Brooklyn Bridge. The Queensboro Bridge had its own difficulties and loss of life during construction, but was finally opened on March 30, 1909, as Blackwell's Island Bridge, Blackwell's Island being an earlier name of Roosevelt Island.

The bridge had a number of different traffic/rail/trolley configurations over the years. There was even a trolley stop in the middle, over Roosevelt Island, where people could take an elevator or staircase down to the island. There was a similar station over Vernon Boulevard on the Queens shoreline. These stations were eventually demolished. Access to Roosevelt Island now can be had by a tram from Manhattan just to the north of the bridge, by subway on the F line, or by the Roosevelt Island Bridge to Queens (to be covered in a later post).

By the late 1970's it became clear that the bridge was deteriorating and needed major repair work. Restoration began in the 1980's and was scheduled to be completed in 2009. I'm actually not sure if it has been or not. But I'm sure it's close at least.

This bridge has been immortalized in a song by Simon and Garfunkel, and it is the third bridge on the New York Marathon route, taking place in the lower deck Queens-bound lanes. The 15-mile mark comes as you climb the bridge, and the 16-mile mark near the end of the bridge. The climb alsways seems endless, especially when you're exhausted and you look over and see that you're still over the land of Queens. And when you descend onto the streets of Manhattan, the runners supposedly hit the "wall of sound" from all the spectators. It can be loud and fun, but personally, I've never been that impreessed by it. I've always just been glad to be off the bridge.

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