Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bridge of the Week #71: George Washington Bridge

I was going to save this one for last, but seeing as how this week was its 80th birthday, this week's bridge is the massive, majestic, beautiful George Washington Bridge. It opened on October 25, 1931 after four years of construction.

At the time it opened it was the world's longest suspension bridge. Its main span is 3,500 feet long and has a total length of 4,760 feet. It has 212 feet of clearance above the water at mid-span. Originally it was built with a single deck with six lanes of traffic, and an open section in the center that could accommodate either two additional lanes of traffic or a rail line. Eventually the roadway was built, giving the bridge eight lanes of traffic. In 1962 the lower roadway was added for an additional six lanes. It is still the bridge with the greatest vehicular traffic in the world. The bridge connects the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, between 178 and 179 Sts. across the Hudson River to Fort Lee, New Jersey. The main connecting thoroughfares in New Jersey are Route 4 and Interstate 80 westward, and the Palisades Interstate Parkway northward. In Manhattan, the bridge has access to the Hudson River Parkway and Riverside Drive, or leads directly to the Trans-Manhattan Expressway which in turn leads either to the Harlem River Drive, or across the Harlem River to the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the Major Deegan Expressway, as well as street exits. The nearest street access for motor traffic is at 178 St. and Fort Washington Ave coming off the bridge or 179 St. and Fort Washington Avenue entering the bridge.

There are sidewalks on each side, but they are never open at the same time that I've seen. Ususally the south walkway is open, which can be accessed by a ramp just west of the intersection of 178 St. and Cabrini Blvd. If there is some sort of maintenance work going on that they need to close the walkway for, they open the north walkway, which is at 179th St. and Cabrini Blvd. (But to get from one to the other, you have to walk around to Fort Washington Ave.) Both walkways have street access on Hudson Terrace in Fort Lee. The walkway is open only from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, and might be closed altogether in bad weather, such as heavy snow or very high winds. Hope you don't get stuck on one side, because the nearest foot crossings are the Bayonne Bridge (previously covered) about 15 miles to the south and the Bear Mountain Bridge about 35 miles to the north (well outside the city).

Much has been written about the history of this bridge, so I won't repeat all of that, but just a few of the items I found to be most interesting. A bridge across the Hudson from Manhattan had been considered for many years and at many locations. Prior to the GWB, the only road connection between Manhattan and New Jersey was the Holland Tunnel, completed in 1927. One location that had been given the strongest consideration was at 59th St. The current location was eventually favored for two main reasons: thanks to an outcropping of land at that point in Manhattan, the Hudson is at its narrowest there; and the high cliffs on both sides eliminate the need for long, extended onramps. Another interesting fact, the working title of the bridge during planning and construction was simply the Hudson River Bridge, and it was assumed that that would be it's final name. As construction neared completion, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who built the bridge (and still operates it) polled the public to decide on a name. The Authority seemed to favor the George Washington Bridge. Although it seemed fitting to honor him thus since a fort he defended in the Revolutionary War was nearby in Manhattan, others opposed it, in part because there already was a Washington Bridge at 181 St. across the Harlem River to the Bronx. The public voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hudson River Bridge, so the Port Authority naturally went ahead and named it the George Washington Bridge.

The bridge is very nice to run on, the walkway is about 10 feet wide, with enough room for everyone. It is very well-used by cyclists, who sometimes ride in packs, and sometimes there are clusters of tourists, but generally it's easy and safe to run, and except for the Manhattan on-ramp, it diesn't have too much of a hill, and the rise to the center is not very noticeable.

It has plenty to offer runners, even aside from the bridge itself. Northern Manhattan has great places to run, and the bridge entrance is close to access to the Hudson River Greenway, which can be accesseed at W. 181 St. or indirectly from W. 177 St. The Hudson River Greenway runs the length of Manhattan; this section runs through Fort Washington Park from the water treatment plant at 145 St. along the riverside and passes next to the Manhattan tower (and near the Little Red Lighthouse at the foot of the tower), under the bridge and up the hill to go alongside the northbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway. About 3/4 mile north of the bridge on Fort Washington Ave. is Fort Tryon Park, a beautiful park with seom good opportunities for hill repeats. The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, between Fort Washington Ave. and Broadway, 178 and 179 St., built at the same time as the lower deck of the bridge, has a deli and restroom facilities if needed (although it will soon be undergoing renovations and promises to have much more to offer).

The real treat is actually in New Jersey. Just on the north side of the bridge at Hudson Terrace is the entrance to the Long Path - a trail that extends all the way to the Adirondacks. At Hudson Terrace, you take a couple of stairways towards the north walkway (which is usually closed), and follow the stairs on up to the woods. The path leads along the top of the Palisades and is a great place to leave the city behind. You can even enjoy the Palisades staying on roads by following Hudson Terrace south past the Fort Lee Historical Center and downhill to the vehicle entrance of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. This road runs along the middle of the cliffside, has access to a few riverside dock/park areas and continues on to the park headquarters about seven miles north of the bridge. There is also a trail directly on the riverbank and occasionally trails from the top to bottom, so there are plenty of good places to run here on the Palisades.

This is my favorite bridge of the bunch. It's become an icon, and besides its crucial role in transportation between New York and New Jersey, it's a thing of beauty and a real New York City landmark.

Pics (the first three are my pics): 1. The bridge with towers fully illuminated on Sept. 11, 2010; 2. The view of the bridge from Fort Washington Park below; 3. The view of Manhattan from the bridge; 4. Opening day of the bridge, October 25, 1931, in a photograph by Weegee. Pre-Henry Hudson Parkway, I'm fascinated by the differences with today's spaghetti mess of onramps and offramps. Note also the undeveloped center lanes of the bridge. 5. The bridge under construction with Riverside Drive (currently the northbound HHP) in the foreground.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Race Report: 6-Hour 60th Birthday Run

The 6-Hour 60th Birthday Run was started by the Greater Long Island Running Club in 2000 to celebrate the 60th birthdays of Barry Aronowski and Mike Polanski. It's been held every year as a celebration of those runners who turn 60 that year. This was the seventh time I've run the race since 2004 (every year except 2008), and it's one of my favorites. It's on a nice course in Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island (2.1 miles, about 2/3 trail, 1/3 pavement), most of the time the weather has been good, and there's a nice party afterwards with food and beer and birthday cake.

The weather for this year's event was picture-perfect, sunny with a light breeze and temps in the 60s. I was feeling good going into the race, so I thought I might be able to repeat my win from last year and nab my fifth ultra win of the year. As expected, it was a tough battle with Aaron Heath. But first, a little background.

Last year, I was leading late in the race, and I knew I would have one more big lap than Aaron, with race directors sending runners on a short lap, about 1/3 mile, as time ticks down. So I was a little overconfident, and seriously bonking, having not taken in enough calories during the race. So while I was slowing down on the big loop, Aaron was running some fast short loops, and unknown to either of us almost made up the difference, and he finished just .07 mile behind me.

So this year, Aaron and I started out running together at a good pace, and I gradually took a slight lead, but possibly due to some poor nutritional choices the night before, I had to make a bathroom stop after three laps which cost me a few minutes. I came out strong and tried to make up ground, but four laps later, another bathroom break. I came out running strong again, and I was hoping that with more than four hours to go, I could chip away at Aaron's lead. At one point, Ray Krolewicz told me he had about a five minute lead on me. On the one point of the course where you see runners coming towards you after a loop on the trail, I saw Aaron coming out of the loop, which was taking me four minutes to run, so I had at least a couple of hours to try to make up four minutes. The next several laps I didn't see him coming out of the loop, so I was thinking I was making up time, but then I saw him there again, and I figured time was running out for me to catch up.

I came into the start/finish area then with 24 minutes to go, alongside Jodi Kartes-Heino, who was running very well as usual. As we made the first turns around the parking lot I saw someone who looked like Aaron about 100 yards ahead, and I even asked Jodi, "Is that Aaron?" I didn't think I'd be able to catch up to him. She said, "Catch him and find out." I tried to catch him, and as silently as possible, but as I closed in on him on the trail alongside the little creek, I kept kicking dirt and gravel, but he didn't turn to look. I finally caught him, we exchanged a couple of friendly comments (seriously) and for a time we were running side by side with 15 minutes to go. I was confident that having caught up to him, I'd be able to then pull ahead, but he picked up his pace. I was thinking this could be a real exciting finish! But before long he put on a surge of power that I couldn't answer. I tried to keep as close as I could in case he couldn't sustain, but he did. My time for that lap was 16:12, my fastest since about halfway through. Back to the start/finish and on to the short loops, he stayed ahead, and ended up finishing .18 mile ahead of me, 45.41 to 45.23 miles. But I can't complain, it's a good total, and I'm happy that I finished strong.

But congratulating Aaron after the race, he told me that he never knew I took those bathroom breaks, and he thought I was ahead of him, and when I caught up to him at the end, he thought I was lapping him! Good thing for him his motivation to not be lapped was as good as motivation to not relinquish the lead!

Jodi ended up winning the women's race, for at least the third time I believe. She really does well here. Susan Warren and Alicja Barahona were 2nd and 3rd women. Jerry Panullo was third man. For those born in 1951, the men's winner was James Gawle from Massachusetts with more than 33 miles, and the women's winner was Patricia Carroll with 23.

As always, it was good to enjoy a beautiful day on the trails with so many friends, and a great way to end the New York-area ultra year. Next up: JFK!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bridge of the Week #70: Travis Ave. Bridge

I'm actually going to try to get these last several bridges in pretty quickly here, so here goes. This bridge actually falls under the category of "don't even bother." The Travis Ave. Bridge on Staten Island in the Travis neighborhood sits on Travis Ave. (naturally) and crosses the Fresh Kills Main Creek. It sits about a quarter of a mile east of Victory Boulevard on a stretch of road about a mile long on the way to Richmond Ave. that has no sidewalk, no shoulder and no respect for the speed limit. Not good for running. The bridge itself is a standard steel and concrete bridge, not very long, not very interesting.

The road runs down the middle of parkland and a wildlife refuge, off-limits to human visitors, and it doesn't connect to anything or go on the way to anywhere of interest to runners, except to bridge freaks like me. It is actually not far from the Staten Island Mall, and not far from the site of the future Fresh Kills Park, but there are better ways to get to either location than this road. The wetlands and creek areas around here are nice, but there are better places to go to get a glimpse of them.

Travis, the town, was named after Colonel Jacob Travis, an early resident of the area. The neighborhood is one of the city's more sparsely populated, and has a somewhat small-town feel to it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bridge of the Week #69: Town Bridge

This week's bridge is one of the little gems that is often overlooked, that has the distinction of being not only the oldest existing bridge in the city (I believe, but most certainly in my survey), but is also the shortest: the Town Bridge.

This is a small stone arch bridge built in 1845 (as you can tell from the sign in the picture above), and it carries Arthur Kill Road over the Richmond Creek in the area of Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island, just north of the intersection of Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Road before Arthur Kill Road becomes Richmond Hill Road. (Yes, keeping all the "Richmond" places straight on Staten Island, aka Richmond County, is no small task.) Just from observation, the bridge looks to be about 10 feet long. But it is wide enough to carry a two-lane road, although with no sidewalks. Many of the streets in this area have no sidewalks, shoulders or room for runners or pedestrians other than on the far edge of the traffic lane.

Historic Richmond Town is one of Staten Island's most significant historic and tourist sites. It includes buildings that date back to the 17th century, and it has many special events. Just on the north side of the creek is St. Andrew's Church with a churchyard/graveyard that looks like it's straight out of a haunted house movie (no offense to those resting there). The streets here are not runner-friendly, as is the case on most of the island, unfortunately, but in this area, near St. Andrew's Church, you can connect to the miles of trails in the Staten Island Greenbelt. These trails can take you to near the Staten Island Mall, to Willowbrook Park, or even all the way to Clove Lake Park. I admit that I haven't explored these trails much at all, but they are another one of Staten Island's great resources, I believe.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bridge of the Week Bonus: Manhattan Valley Viaduct

This is a bonus entry, since it isn't a bridge by the terms I've set out for myself, but a viaduct. In other words, it doesn't go over a body of water but connects two hills on either side of what is known as Manhattan Valley roughly at 125th St. I decided to do a report on this viaduct since it's a good size and significant, and it's got aesthetic value, particularly from underneath, and it's a good place to run.

The viaduct itself carries Riverside Drive across the Manhattan Valley from just north of 122 St. at the General Grant National Memorial (Grant's Tomb) to 135 St. It has four wide lanes of traffic as well as parking lanes and sidewalks on both sides. There's plenty of room to run or walk, as it does have a lot of pedestrian traffic, and the roadway even has plenty of room for cyclists, even without bike lanes. But it should be noted that the sidwalks are almost never cleared of snow in the winter. The viaduct is good for runners, as you can run along the west sidewalk of Riverside Drive, usually alongside Riverside Park, without having to cross any streets between 95 St. and just north of 165 St.

Directly underneath the viaduct is 12th Ave, from St. Clair Place to 135 St. 12th Ave. itself is a horrible place to run, since there's a lot of traffic, and the sidewalks are taken up by forklifts and the bike lane usually taken up by delivery trucks for Fairway grocery store. Fortunately, last year Harlem Piers Park opened a block to the west, right along the river, connecting the Cherry Walk to the south with a dedicated bike lane and sidewalk leading to Fort Washington Park to the north. This enables a runner to run traffic-free directly along the river from the midtown piers to Dyckman St. That option doesn't involve running on the viaduct, but it's good that runners have those options.

Prior to the viaduct, Riverside Drive ran only from 72 St. to the loop around the current location of Grant's Tomb (completed 1897) and Claremont Dolphin Playground, the northern tip of which is as far north as nearby Tiemann Place (then 127 St.). Where the playground is now, there used to be located the Claremont Inn, a hotel with some big names among its customers. An eastern branch of Riverside Drive also continued, as it still does, downhill from about a block north of 122 St. down to St. Clair Place. In 1897 a bond issue passed to permit the continuation of Riverside Drive north to 157 St. and connect to Boulevard Lafayette (which would be renamed Riverside Drive as well). This extension would require construction of the viaduct, which was completed in 1900. The city council wanted to pass the bond issue in 1897 before the 1898 consolidation with the other boroughs into Greater New York, since the other boroughs had more debt and the bond issue might not have passed after consolidation. The history and development of Riverside Drive/Boulevard Lafayette/Henry Hudson Parkway is fascinating, and may be the subject of another post after I'm done with my bridges.

Pictures: 1. Underneath the viaduct, looking south along 12th Ave. from 135 St.; 2. Looking north on the west side of the viaduct; 3. Looking north from Claremont Dolphon Playground.