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Busy River: 1904

Busy River: 1904

New York circa 1904. "Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn." The new span over the East River. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Beaux art bridges

The Williamsburgh and the Queensborough are my two favorite bridges in New York I have climbed over up and under every bridge in NY at this point for my business. I remember going on a site walk around 1998 where one of the other engineers almost fell through a rotted floor beam. Since then the bridge has basically been rebuilt 80 percent. It is amazing how it was left to deteriorate. It was so bad that they were actually considering tearing it down and building a new one. The towers were actually leaning in due to corrosion, the solution was to reinforce the land facing section of the towers on both sides. When the trains go over this bridge you have to be extremely careful not to be in any pinch points in the girders you could lose an arm or leg due to the flexing. P.S. it always reminded me of an Erector set drawing.


Let's see, 1904 ... that was about when the great-grandparents of the hipsters now flocking across the bridge into Williamsburg were born. As for the bridge, it's one of the relatively few long bridges in the country that carries trains (the J, M and Z subway lines) in addition to vehicles.

Originally it had four traffic lanes, two on each side of the bridge, with six train tracks in the middle. Sometime before World War II, four of the tracks were converted to traffic lanes, so today there are four traffic lanes in each direction with the two train tracks in the middle. The two "inner" lanes in each direction, which occupy the former train tracks, are narrow and hemmed in on each side by the bridge's ironwork. Driving on them is a scary experience, especially when trains blast by just inches away.

It is true, as another comment noted, that the nearby East River ferries weren't long for this world once the bridge opened. But they weren't gone forever. In recent years a very popular ferry service has opened, with a couple of stops not far from the bridge. It can be a faster route to Midtown and Downtown than the subway.

Another Nail

The owners of the ferries on both sides seeing the bridge as another nail in the coffin of their business.

And today


Hands down, New York's ugliest bridge. But combined with its neighbors, the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, they make an elegant chorus line up the East River.

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