Considered the forerunner of the modern suspension bridge, the Manhattan Bridge is a marvel of modern engineering and design.
“Although ‘marvel’ isn’t a word you’d automatically associate with a bridge, this one truly is, “said Jennifer Li of Liberty Cruise NYC. “That’s the incredible thing about NYC–you can find gems everywhere!”
It extends 1500 feet across the East River connecting downtown Manhattan at Canal Street with the Flatbush Avenue Extension in Brooklyn. The last of three East River suspension bridges to be built, it took over eight years to complete and opened on December 31, 1909.
In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers named it a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
With more architectural embellishments than any other bridge in the city, the Manhattan entrance features a charming baroque arch and colonnade modeled on the Porte St. Denis in Paris. It is painted in signature blue, and a hidden diamond pattern can be found beneath the walkway and on top of the towers.
At one time, two female statues representing Manhattan and Brooklyn stood at the Brooklyn entrance, but they were removed in the 1960s for ease of passage and now stand in front of the Brooklyn Art Museum.
The bridge was built to alleviate overcrowding on the Brooklyn Bridge caused by the elevated train and the trolley line, which left only one lane for horse and carriage traffic.
In 1901, Gustav Lindenthal, architect and commissioner of the New York City Department of Bridges, presented his plans for “Suspension Bridge Number 3,” which combined elements from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. Construction began in 1901, but Lindenthal’s plans were ultimately rejected, and he was replaced by a new chief architect, Leon Moisseiff.
The Deflection Theory
Moisseiff implemented some of Lindenthal’s ideas, such as two-dimensional towers supported by wire-spun cables. The four main cables were spun in a record four months time in 1908, and the 31 million dollar bridge finally opened in 1909. The new design incorporated a radical new theory, the deflection theory, which held that the inherent structure of suspension bridges made them stronger, thereby allowing for cost cutting measures. This was the first bridge to be built based on the deflection theory, and it became the model for others.
However, the theory failed to account for the development of subway traffic on the outer parts of the lower deck, and by the 1940s the bridge was showing signs of wear. As a result of this design flaw, when two trains crossed the bridge from opposite ends at the same time, each side would dip four feet causing a total deflection of up to eight feet.
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Repairs and Investments
In 1982, New York City Transit invested 920 million dollars to repair the bridge. It finally reopened in the early 2000s and is now structurally sound. A truss stiffening system has been added and subway tracks have been reduced. The Manhattan Plaza, arch, and colonnade have been restored, the south walkway reconstructed, and the lower roadway replaced.
The original mile-long pedestrian walkway, which offers spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge, downtown Manhattan, and beautiful New York sunsets, was reopened on the southside in June 2001.
A new north bikeway was added in 2004. Approximately 450,000 commuters travel across the bridge each day, over seventy-five percent of them by public transit. As of today, no tolls are charged.
One Of The Most Popular Film Locations
Films that feature the bridge include Eat Pray Love, Ghostbusters, Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and They all Laughed. The iconic view of the bridge from Washington Street in Brooklyn was prominently featured in the classic film, Once Upon a Time in America.
So if you are planning a trip to New York City, be sure to include a visit to this historic landmark. And don’t forget to check out the unique tours offered by Liberty Cruise NYC. Boat cruises into the New York Harbor by Liberty Cruise NYC offer excellent views of the Manhattan Bridge and many other sights of this amazing city.