Wednesday, May 18

The Grand Bridge Encounter


Some time ago I was told of a New York bridge which inspired the design of Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge’s. For years I looked for the bridge each time I was in New York. It took several visits before, by chance, a taxi driver took me across the Triborough Bridge (recently renamed the Robert F Kennedy bridge) linking the boroughs of Bronx and Queens with Manhattan island. The Triborough bridge is a network of three distinct bridges and elevated highways that cross over Ward’s Island. The island that sits in the middle of the East River is nothing particularly noteworthy.  However, as you cross the island a perfectly formed, miniature version of the Sydney Harbour bridge comes into view.

This is the Hell Gate rail bridge which opened in September 1916 to carry a rail link from New York’s Central Station into the nearby New England states. Its stunning steel arch structure spans the East River for 310 metres, approached from both directions by a series of imposing elevated trusses. It was built to carry four rail tracks, two for passenger rail and two for freight.  Only three of these tracks remain in use today. Pedestrian use is no available anywhere on the bridge or its approaches.


The bridge’s design and construction were the brainchild of Gustav Lindenthal. Originally from the Czech Republic, he immigrated to the United States in 1874. His career as a civil engineer was soon boosted by demand for bridges able to handle the growing weight of American locomotives and their loads. John Bradfield, the man responsible for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, faced a similar challenge. By chance he came across the Hell Gate Bridge during a visit to New York in 1921.

Bradfield’s final design for Sydney, including its accompanying truss approaches, is almost identical to that of the Hell Gate Bridge. However Sydney’s iconic landmark spans 503 metres, carrying two footpaths, two rail tracks and eight road lanes across open water. When I finally saw Hell Gate Bridge up close last weekend the inspiration for Sydney’s bridge was all too clear. I almost felt at home.


Getting up close to Hell Gate Bridge provided more challenging than I’d anticipated. Pedestrian access to Ward’s Island is normally provided by a footbridge crossing from Manhattan Island, located at the eastern end of 103rd Street. However, I discovered that the bridge was closed for refurbishment, despite checking several websites the night before to ensure it was open and in use. As a result, I had to return to the subway and take the train north to 125th Street to use a footbridge on Triborough Bridge.

This unforeseen detour added at least another two kilometres to my planned walking route. In the end walked from Manhatten, around the base of Ward’s Island to the foot of Hell Gate Bridge before rejoining the footpath on the Triborough Bridge crossing into Queens. My final route covered more than eight kilometres, but offered some stunning views of upper Manhattan and the picturesque East River. The immediate area is home to at least half a dozen bridges, inspiring me to call my outing New York’s Grand Bridge encounter.


Over several hours I walked across two of the three bridges that make up the Triborough Bridge, viewed the Ward's Island footbridge from both sides of the river, photographed the Queensboro Bridge futher downstream and stood at the foot of Hell Gate Bridge.  Along the way I also used a pedestrian bridge that crossed a tidal swamp between Randall's Island and Ward's Island; and caught sight of at least two additional bridges that cross from Randall's Island into the Bronx. Those who know me well know I'm an avid fan of civil engineering works.  Therefore, as you can imagine, with so many bridges to explore I was as happy as pig in poo all afternoon!

1 comment:

Hamish said...

Pig in Poo! but not as smelly one would hope!