New York City Travel: The Brooklyn Bridge

Sandy Mitchell

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most recognizable symbols of New York City. Opened in 1883, it is also one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. The stylish 6016-foot long, 85-foot wide structure spans the East River in New York City, connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. It features two 276-foot Neo Gothic towers with arched portals, connected with 14,060 miles of steel wire twisted into cable.

The bridge has been a favorite of filmmakers throughout the years and a variety of diverse movies, including Deep Impact, Gangs of New York, and the Fantastic Four have used the bridge as a backdrop. It has also been the subject of a PBS documentary by Ken Burns and a best-selling non-fiction book by David McCullough.

Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge

A bridge across the East River had been contemplated for decades before the Brooklyn Bridge was finally proposed. The problem was that the East River acts as a tidal basin and carries often turbulent weather in from the Atlantic Ocean. The proposed bridge would have to withstand the stormy weather.The Brooklyn Bridge took fourteen years to complete. The Gothic structure was designed by the architectural firm of John Augustus Roebling of Trenton, New Jersey, who had built similar but smaller bridges in Cincinnati and Waco, Texas. To compensate for the rough Atlantic weather, Mr. Roebling designed the bridge to stand up to forces six times worse than he thought it would have to face. The plan was a good one, as the bridge stands long after later bridges have failed.

Mr. Roebling took ill shortly after construction began and died several days later. His son, Washington, took up the project, but he too fell ill, and it was Washington's wife, Emily, who visited the site regularly and relayed her husband's wishes, despite her lack of engineering training.

History

When it first opened in 1883, 1800 vehicles and over 150,000 pedestrians crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, led by Emily Roebling. A panic that the bridge would collapse ensued due to the traffic and 27 people were trampled in the confusion. Over the years, the bridge has supported horses, trolleys, elevated trains, and streetcars. The streetcars once occupied the two center lanes. They were discontinued in 1950. The Brooklyn Bridge has been designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Since the 1980s, the bridge is illuminated at night to showcase its classic lines.

Visiting the Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, today, has six lanes for traffic as well as a center lane for pedestrians and bicycle traffic. The bridge carries an average of 145,000 vehicles per day -- not bad for a 120-year old bridge. At the Manhattan end of the bridge is the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge Park, a 1.3 mile long, 70-acre mixed use space, which will eventually house an indoor recreational facility, multiple restaurants, and a hotel. The Brooklyn Bridge continues to be as vital to New York as it was when it first opened.

New York City Travel: The Brooklyn Bridge