Monday, January 31, 2011

Bridge of the Week #46: Ocean Ave. Footbridge

This week's bridge is one of the few footbridges on my list (along with the Ward's Island Footbridge and the small Burke Bridge over the Bronx River). The Ocean Ave. Footbridge is a wooden footbridge across part of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn that connects the neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay with Manhattan Beach. It's about 100 meters long and connects Emmons St. at E. 19th St. on the north to Shore Blvd. at Exeter St. on the south. The southern end is slightly raised to allow small boats under, like I guess, rowboats.

I'm not entirely sure of the bridge's name. I've seen it called the Ocean Ave. Footbridge and the Sheepshead Bay Footbridge, but given that its southern end is actually at Exeter St., a block west of Ocean Ave., Ocean Ave. Footbridge seems more likely to have historical basis rather than be an accident or a generic name.

Speaking of historical basis, the first footbridge on the site was a drawbridge built in 1880 by Austin Corbin, a wealthy landowner who owned two large resort hotels on Manhattan Beach at the time, when Coney Island and Manhattan Beach were outside the urban area and were major resort locations. Corbin also built the Manhattan Beach Railroad, providing New Yorkers the hour-long trip to his resorts. But he found that his footbridge provided too-easy access to his properties (apparently he was a bit antisemitic) and he destroyed the bridge. But it was built back, and in 1881 the New York Commission of Highways declared it to be a public highway, and it has remained ever since, although rebuilt, with the current bridge dating from the 1930's.

The bridge has become something of a neighborhood landmark. It's really not well-suited for running, since it's quite narrow and even on a winter day had plenty of pedestrian traffic (and uncleared of snow). It's also popular with fishermen and women, and with the dredges of humanity - those who feed birds. Even if you're on Manhattan Beach it doesn't cut that much distance off your trip, since it's only about five blocks west to West End Ave. at the west end of the bay. But there it is.

Of interest in the region: Emmons Ave. provides the entrance to the Belt Parkway recreation path at the east end of the bay about 3/4 of a mile from the bridge. This path runs for several miles east to Howard Beach in Queens and can connect to Floyd Bennett Field and the bridges to the Rockaways. There are a few bridges along the path itself, so I'll get into more detail when describing those bridges. And as I may have implied, Manhattan Beach is the eastern portion of Coney Island (now a peninsula), which aslo includes Brighton Beach and Sea Gate.

Another historical item of interest is that John Philip Sousa and his band regularly played on Manhattan Beach in the 1880's and 90's, and it's rumored that the first performance of The Stars and Stripes Forever took place there in 1897, and may have been written there, although the official premiere took place in Philadelphia.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bridge of the Week #45: Bayonne Bridge

This week we're back in Staten Island for the first time since week 1 for one of the big bridges, and one of the most underappreciated, the Bayonne Bridge. This bridge connects Staten Island with Bayonne, NJ, spanning the Kill Van Kull.

The Bayonne Bridge is a steel arch bridge, the longest such bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1931, and still the fourth-longest in the world. It's just a few feet longer than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The main span is 1,675 feet, and it has a total length of 5,780 feet (pretty darn close to a mile). Compared with the other major bridges, it has a relatively low traffic capacity, with a single deck carrying two lanes of traffic in each direction. It has one sidewalk on the west side. The top of the arch is 266 feet above the water, but the roadway gives only 151 feet clearance. This was high enough for the biggest ships of 1931, but now some ships have to lower antennas or wait for low tide to pass underneath, so there is talk of either replacing the bridge or jacking it up somehow, which apparently can be done, to give over 200 feet of clearance.

The bridge is under the authority of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and was one of the first major projects to be completed by the body. It was designed by engineer Othmar Ammann and architect Cass Gilbert. Ammann chose an arch design over a cantilever or suspension design partly because that design would be easier to expand to include rapid transit rail lines, although that never materialized. It was also designed to have stone masonry covering the steelwork, but like the George Washington Bridge to follow, to cut costs the decision was made to leave the steelwork exposed. Construction began in 1928 and the bridge was opened on Nov. 15, 1931. It took the place of the Bergen Point ferry service, which was eventually discontinued. No rail lines were ever built on the bridge, but in 2007 the MTA did add a bus line, the S89, which runs across the bridge during rush hours between the 34th St. light rail station in Bayonne and the intersection of Hylan Blvd. and Richmond Ave. in Eltingville, Staten Island.

The sidewalk's entrance on Staten Island is at the corner of Hooker Place and Morningstar Road, just west of the toll plaza. In Bayonne the entrance is by a stairway on 4th St. just east of Ave. A. Bikers are supposed to walk their bikes across, and if they don't they must beware coming to New Jersey not to ride down the stairs. The walkway gives a bird's-eye view of the working-class neighborhoods of Port Richmond and Mariner's Harbor on Staten Island, and even has a pretty good view of New York Harbor and Manhattan skyline, although the view is much better by car, actually, traveling to New Jersey. Unfortunately, when I crossed the other day it was getting dark and visibility wasn't good, so I didn't bother getting a picture of the harbor and skyline.

It really is a beautiful bridge, and a great bridge to walk or run across, although it might make the acrophobic a little nervous. Once you reach the arch span itself the walkway separates from the roadway by about 20 feet, so you do feel sort of up in the air. There isn't a lot of interest for runners on either side of the bridge, however. It's pretty much working-class neighborhoods on both sides. A couple miles north of the bridge in Bayonne on John F. Kennedy Blvd. is John A Gregg Bayonne County Park, which is a pretty big park and has some nice areas to run. A couple miles east of the bridge on Richmond Terrace on Staten Island is Snug Harbor Cultural Center, which has some nice gardens, a children's science museum and a couple of performance spaces, and has historical appeal as well as being a sort of retirement home for sailors way back when, but not much of a haven for runners. About another mile and a half or so east of Snug Harbor is the Staten Island Ferry, the way most people get to Staten Island. If you like running on bridges, it's definitely worth the time and the trip to run from the ferry, across the bridge and back, or even take the S40 bus from the ferry. Richmond Terrace is the logical choice for getting to Morningstar Rd. and the bridge, but it's not very pedestrian-friendly, expecially in the winter when most of the sidewalks aren't cleared. On the bright side, you can take a breather at Faber Park, which has a nice view of the bridge. One trivia note is that the renovated Staten Island Ferry terminal in St. George, Staten Island has an ornamental arch atop the structure, which is intended to mimic and complement the arch of the Bayonne Bridge, which is visible from the water as the ferry approaches Staten Island.
The bridge has been largely overlooked in popular culture, except that it was blown up in Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds", as Tom Cruise lived in Bayonne.

The bridge, of course, was named after the city of Bayonne, but there are two theories as to how the city got its name. One is that it was named after Bayonne, France by the Huguenots who settled there before the founding of New Amsterdam, but this theory apparently doesn't have a lot of historical credence. The other theory is that it got its name from land speculators who must have wanted a French-sounding name, and because the land sits on two bays - the BAYs Of Newark and NEw York. I would really hate for that to be the true story.

Of course, the bridge is also notable for being the only way to get to Staten Island on foot, as none of the other bridges have open pedestrian walkways. That means that in order to get to Staten Island from anywhere else in New York City under your own power (unless you're a good swimmer) you have to go through another state. This gave me the idea for a sort of trek run to go from my place in Manhattan over the George Washington Bridge, through New Jersey and over the Bayonne Bridge back into New York. I did this for the first time the other day, and while it can be done, it is not easy and not fun. I took River Road from Fort Lee through Edgewater past a bunch of townhouse communities which I found to be extremely depressing, on past the clodsed parks of Weehawken, and finally into Hoboken and Jersey City, and eventually Liberty State Park before heading up to Kennedy Blvd. in Bayonne. I wonder how many people have ever made that trip. was worth doing once, but never again!

Pics: 1. Bayonne Bridge (not my picture); 2. Beginning the run from Bayonne; 3. The walkway mid-span; 4. The view from Faber Park; 5. Mariner's Harbor, Staten Island, with Richmond Terrace the main street in the foreground and the Goethals Bridge on the horizon to the right; 6. The staircase entrance in Bayonne, NJ

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bridge of the Week #44: Roosevelt Island Bridge

This week's bridge is the Roosevelt Island Bridge, connecting Queens with Roosevelt Island in the East River, providing it with it's only vehicular access, and its only unaided foot access.
The bridge is a vertical lift drawbridge with a 418-foot long lift span and a total length of 2,877 feet. Access in Queens can be had from the intersection of Vernon Boulevard and 36th Ave., and on Roosevelt Island access can be had from a parking garage. It carries one lane of traffic in each direction and has one six-foot sidewalk on the north side. The narrow roadway and grating of the road surface make it difficult for bikes, and cyclists are instructed to dismount and walk their bikes over the bridge.
Construction on the bridge began in 1952 and it opened on May 18, 1955, named the Welfare Island Bridge, taking the name of the island as it was then. The island itself has an interesting history. The Dutch bought it from teh Algonquin in 1637 and named it Varckens Eylandt, or Hog Island. The british took over the island in the 1660's and granted it to Captain John Manning, whose stepdaughter eventually named it Blackwell Island after her husband, Robert Blackwell. It remained private property until 1828 when the City of New York bought it (it is still part of the borough of Manhattan) and built mental institutions, hospitals and prisons there, by 1921 earning it the name Welfare Island. In 1930, vehicles could access the island by an elevator on the Queensboro Bridge. The Welfare Island Bridge made the elevators obsolete and they were finally demolished in 1970. By the late 1960's many of the institutions had been abandoned and the city began plans to develop the island for housing. Today, nearly 10,000 people live on the island. In 1973 the island, and the bridge, were renamed after Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1976 a tramway began service from 1st Ave. in Manhattan to the island, and in 1989 a new subway stop on the F line gave people additional access.
The bridge has been undergoing a reconstruction, which appears to be almost complete. Among other things, it's been repainted, so instead of a dull red it's now sort of a maroon or eggplant color. See the second pic above, which I took on Tuesday when it was cold and crappy and raining, so I wasn't in the mood for setting up good pictures. Previously, according to one source the lift span was non-operational, requiring ships to use the west channel of the East River, but according to another source, it was operational whenever the special session of the United Nations was in session, and for security reasons they wanted ships to use the east channel. Either way, it's being fixed.
Roosevelt Island is about two miles long and at most 800 feet wide. With the light traffic it can be a good place for a run. But of all personal access options, the bridge is probably the least appealing and least convenient. In that part of Astoria, Queens, there is Rainey Park on the water a little to the north and Queensbridge Park on the river a little to the south, under the Queensboro Bridge, but in the immediate vicinity are power plants, auto shops and other wonders. It's otherwise just a lot of street running. The tram just reopened after its own reconstruction (if you don't know why, I won't tell you), and it's a fun way to get to the island and takes the Metrocard. The subway stop is one of the deepest below ground on the entire system. It may be the deepest, I'd have to check.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bridge of the Week #43: Stillwell Ave. Bridge

Staying in the Coney Island area, this week's bridge is the Stillwell Ave. Bridge in Brooklyn. It carries Stillwell Ave. over Coney Island Creek between Shore PArkway on the north and Neptune Ave. on the south. It is just a few blocks east of the Cropsey Ave. bridge, from my last post.

I have had a hard time finding stats on the bridge, but it's a fixed steel and concrete bridge with two lanes of traffic in each direction and a sidewalk on each side. It's not real long and not real old and not real interesting in and of itself.
This is a good time to mention that while Coney Island isn't actually an island any more, it used to be. It was the westernmost of the barrier islands off the southern coast of Long Island, separated from Long Island by Coney Island Creek, which ran from Gravesend bay on the west to Sheepshead Bay on the east. Part of it was little more than tidal flats. Officials at one time considered dredging and straightening it for a ship canal, as was done on the Harlem River, but instead it was filled in between Shell Road and East 15th St. in the 1930's as the Belt Parkway was being constructed. But the name Coney Island remained, as Coney Peninsula doesn't have that same ring.
Stillwell Ave. was named after Nicholas Stillwell (1603-1671) who had a farm in the area and was patriarch of a prominent Brooklyn family.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bridge of the Week #42: Cropsey Ave. Bridge

OK, back to the bridges, and a little catching up to do. And moving away from the Bronx, we're back in Brooklyn for the Cropsey Ave. Bridge. This is a double twin-leaf bascule drawbridge (two twin-leaf bridges side by side) over Coney Island Creek on Cropsey Ave. between Bay 54 St. on the north and Hart Place on the south, or just a little farther to the north is Shore Parkway and the Belt Parkway, and a little to the south is Neptune Ave. In fact, just a few blocks to the south is the Coney Island Boardwalk, the Brooklyn Cyclones stadium and the Parachute Jump (visible in the top picture).
The bridge was opened on December 20, 1931, each side carries three lanes of traffic and a sidewalk. Cropsey Ave. carries a lot of traffic as one of the main roads to Coney Island.
For the runner, as for anyone, there is plenty to do at Coney Island, less in winter, but still a good place to run as long as you have a little patience with the traffic. The Cropsey Ave. Bridge can be a connector between the Shore Road pathway, a 4-mile sidewalk/bike path along the Brooklyn waterfront from Owl's Head Park under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (remember that one?) to Bay Parkway, and about another mile along Shore Parkway to the Cropsey Ave. Bridge. For a good long run, you can continue east on Neptune Ave. about a mile and a half when it becomes Emmons Ave. at Sheepshead Bay, and catch a bike path that can take you miles along the waters of Gateway National Recreation Area, and the bridges to the Rockaways, which I'll discuss later.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Race Report: Across the Years

The venerable race Across the Years was back in 2010, after a year's absence, held at Nardini Manor outside Phoenix. I was excited to go out there and try my hand at my second 48-hour race. My first 48 was way back in 2008 in Surgeres, France, and there I got 135 miles, so hopes were high that I might be able to take a shot at John Geesler's 400K (248 mile) mark that he set at ATY in 2003. He would be there again this year running the 72-hour race, so if I could accomplish it, I'd be even more honored. But not to get ahead of myself!

I flew into Phoenix from Omaha (via Denver) on the 28th, giving myself an extra day to relax and allow for bad weather. Omaha and Denver had good weather, but Phoneix not so much, at least at the start for the day 1 runners on the 29th. It rained on them most of the day, but apparently it was after midnight when the real heavy stuff came, the rain and very strong winds. By the time I got to Nardini Manor on the 30th for the day 2 start, the rains had let up, but the course was still pretty muddy. But the Coury brothers worked diligently hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt and using shovels and rakes to clean up the course. After a couple of hours, the mud was mostly a memory. The weather was looking pretty good for the start, too, except for some strong winds from the west. I was watching Jamie Donaldson finish up her awesome 24-hour run, which would become the overall winning performance. Deb Horn was looking gerat halfway through her first 48, and John had a good first day as well, although the rain, wind and mud took a lot out of him. Davy Crockett also had a great first-day total and was leading the men's 48-hour race at that point.

The race started well for me, I hit my first 50K mark on schedule at 5 hours and my 100K mark, just over 10 hours, was ahead of schedule. By then it was after 7 pm and time to start putting on warmer clothes to prepare for the cold night predicted. Soon I had a most welcome visit from Carilyn and Tim Johnson and their boys Grant and Spencer, who stopped by for a few hours on their way from El Paso to LA. Carilyn helped crew me a while, and their visit lifted my spirits.

But I understimated how much the cold would affect me. All the layers I had couldn't keep me warm enough, and by 11:00 pm I had to take a 10-minute power break in the heated tent. It's easy to forget that although this is Arizona, it's still winter, and temperatures would dip into the 20's. With the onset of fatigue, the occasional warmup breaks in the tent, although I was still running well when I was running it was becoming clear through the night that I was not going to break John's record. But I was still on track for a great race, and as the sun came up in the morning I got renewed energy. I started to feel some soreness in my left Achilles, but it didn't bother me much or seem to affect my stride. But as the 24-hour mark neared, the pain intensified quickly. The first 48-hour and second 24-hour runners were finishing, the third 24-hour runners were about to start, and I stopped in to see Dr. Andy. He tried a few different remedies, but the pain got worse with every lap, and I made the decision to pull out rather than risk a serious injury. I finished with a little over 115 miles. Dave ended up with the 48-hour win with just a few miles over Deb's women's win. George Biondic pulled ahead of Ed Ettinghausen for the 72-hour win, with Kena Yutz taking the women's title. Jamie won the 24 overall, with Matthew Watts winning the men's race. In the 24, women took the top 2 (Jamie and Melissa Williams) and 5 of the top 8!

After my pullout I took a little nap, got some food and hung out for a while to cheer on the runners. The best part of the race was seeing all the people I'm privileged to count among my friends from around the country and beyond, and to make new friends too. There was a lot of good cheer out there, and a good way to ring in 2011.