It may not be apparent when walking the canyons of Manhattan, sitting on the stoop of a Brooklyn brownstone, or gazing longingly at the single-family homes of Forest Hills, but New York City is a city of bridges. When I was younger and a runner, I experienced many of those bridges and in a different way from driving over them. Each time I ran over a bridge for the first time, I was aware it was a new experience. I felt as if I had “collected” another one.

I have both walked and run over the Brooklyn Bridge, but I have run over it many more times than I have walked it. Early in my running days, I would run over it and back at lunch time. Later I would run to and from work over the Brooklyn Bridge several times a week. I have tried to calculate the total number of trips, but those calculations are not precise. I’m guessing it was more than a thousand times. I have run the Brooklyn Bridge in the heat and humidity of summer and the cold and crispness of winter, early morning and at night, in rain and in snow, and almost every time its Gothic arches, its supporting wires’ parabolas, its views gave me some sort of thrill.

While I have been over the Brooklyn Bridge many times, I ran over the the George Washington Bridge that connects New York City and New Jersey but once. It was after seeing a doctor in upper Manhattan. I ran from the office to nearby parks on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River and then north to the bridge. I had driven over the bridge many times, and I always admired the view north up the Hudson. The Hudson is a majestic river, and I envy those who have homes overlooking it. However, I was a bit disappointed as I ran across the GWB. The walkway is on the south side of the bridge, so the view up the Hudson is obstructed. On the other hand, this walkway is higher than any of the other bridge walkways and this allowed me to feel as if I were taking my place among the birds. The sun was strong and sparkled off the water far below. The views of Manhattan were spectacular with the sun mirroring off skyscraper windows. Everything looked like a stage set.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island is also high above the water. (New York arcana: While the structure is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the water it spans is simply The Narrows.) I have run over that bridge only while participating in New York City marathons. That is hardly surprising since that bridge does not have a walkway and the only time it can be traversed on foot is during that event. I understand that it must cost extra to include a pedestrian path, and that it might be seldom used on this particular bridge, but I do think all bridges should allow for foot and bike traffic.

Running that bridge during a marathon was hardly a sightseeing opportunity. The marathon starts on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the runners are tightly clustered. I only could see other runners, and I had to concentrate on running my pace without either being run over or stepping on someone’s heels. If there was a spectacular view of the harbor (there no doubt is), I never saw it.

The marathon goes across the 59th Street Bridge, also known as the Queensboro Bridge connecting Manhattan and Queens, too. (Now that bridge has an additional name because, for reasons not clear to me, the city or state, or whoever is in charge of such naming, adds dead politicians’ names to them.) I hated it. During the race, we were allowed to run on the roadway or the walkway. The first time I ran on the road because it was more open with fewer runners than the walkway, but the road has little metal projections, presumably to give cars more traction, but they felt like spikes and hurt my feet. In subsequent years I tried to run on the walkway, which was covered with matting.

Even if my feet were not hurt by the bridge, it was hard running. The 59th Street Bridge comes at the sixteen-mile mark of the marathon. Sixteen miles is a long way to run, but there are still ten more miles to go! It was hard not to be psychologically drained at this point, and, of course, the half the bridge uphill. That incline seemed a mile long, and that was tough to do after sixteen miles. That bridge itself was the loneliest part of the marathon. The runners by now had thinned, many were struggling, and there were no spectators to cheer us on. Thoughts about dropping out surfaced, but I struggled to make it over the bridge each marathon.

Even though I have no pleasant memories of the 59th Street Bridge from the marathon, I did run over it a few other times. When I was not so exhausted from having run sixteen miles before encountering it, it was not so bad. But still I never enjoyed it. The walkway is next to the highway, and the bridge’s structure impedes views of Manhattan and the East River. I decided to avoid the 59th Street Bridge on my runs as much as possible.

(continued on August 10.)

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One thought on “Collecting Bridges

  1. You might be interested in exploring the bridges of Central Park. I heard a middle school teacher describe how his students delighted in discovering them. It was hard for me to find an accessible bridge for my young students to study here in SLC. New Yorkers are indeed lucky!

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