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

1 comment:

  1. hey is nice bridge. I grew up in Jersey City but live in Manhattan. I used to get on my bike, take the S.I. Ferry from Manhattan to S.I., ride through and over the bridge to Bayonne, visit my sis, go on to Jersey City and visit my mom, ride alone Kennedy Blvd to the G.W and back to Manhattan. It's a really long ride, but I had my rest stops along the way. Ciao.