Queensboro Bridge

Built in 1909, the Queensboro Bridge (also called the 59th Street Bridge or the Ed Koch Bridge) spans the East River and connects Queens with Manhattan. The bridge was the third across the East River and designed by Gustav Lindenthal, with collaboration by Henry Hornbostel and Leffert Buck, who designed the Williamsburg Bridge. The Manhattan approach to the bridge has space under it done up in Guastavino tiling.

The Queensboro Bridge is over 3700 feet long and is distinctive as it is a cantilever bridge. It connects two formerly industrial areas—the East River frontage of Manhattan and Long Island City in Queens. The bridge also has anchorages on Roosevelt Island. Between 1930 and 1955, an elevator existed midway on the bridge to allow streetcar passengers to access Roosevelt Island (streetcars would stop midway on the bridge to pick up and drop off passengers who would then access the island this way). Like other bridges in New York, this bridge suffered from decay, but was restored between the late 1980s and 2000s. It was named after former Mayor of New York Ed Koch in 2010.

Today, over 170,000 vehicles use the nine lanes of traffic on this bridge to pass between the two boroughs daily. As there is no toll for this bridge, its traffic volume is considerable. It is believed (though unsubstantiated) that one of the first indoor baseball games took place under the Manhattan end of the bridge in the 1910s using the Queensboro Bridge as a “roof.”This is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour.

Williamsburg Bridge

One of the three “BMW” bridges, the Williamsburg Bridge connects Delancey Street in Manhattan with Grand Street in Williamsburg. The bridge over the east river forms a sort of anchor between two historically important and up-and-coming neighborhoods in the city.

The Williamsburg Bridge was completed in 1903. It was designed by Henry Hombostel and constructed by Leffert Buck. At over 7300 feet long, the bridge was at one point the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge has eight lanes of roadways and two subway tracks. It initially had two trolley tracks on it that formed an important commuter link between Brooklyn and Manhattan. A direct result of the bridge’s construction was the rapid expansion of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as thousands of people left the crowded Lower East Side and journeyed to new homes across the East River.

Throughout its history, the bridge has seen its fortunes ebb and flow with the surrounding neighborhoods. In the years after World War II, rising crime and depopulation of neighborhoods on both ends of the Williamsburg bridge occurred. The bridge also bore the scars of this era with increasing wear and tear in addition to becoming vandalized. After decades of deferred and substandard maintenance, the bridge was closed in the 1980s to make structural repairs and renovated from the 1990s to the 2000s. As the bridge was being rebuilt, the areas it connected became popular destinations for shopping and nightlife. Today, the bridge forms an important link between these two neighborhoods. This is one of the things you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour.

The George Washington Bridge

The busiest toll crossing in the U.S., the George Washington Bridge sees over 300,000 vehicles and takes in over $1 million in tolls every day.  The bridge forms an important link between New England and the Mid-Atlantic States.   Like our first president, this bridge is stately, unique, and has a firm place in the region’s history.

Designed by Othmar Ammann and Cass Gilbert, the bridge was constructed between 1927 and 1931.  Residents of New York and New Jersey wanted the bridge to be named the “Hudson River Bridge”, but the Port Authority overruled the people and named the bridge after our first president.  At 4,760 feet long, the span was once the largest in the world (until the Golden Gate Bridge was completed).  The bridge was originally supposed to have a stone cladding, but this was cancelled due to the Great Depression making the cladding too expensive.  The bridge originally had six lanes, but this was expanded to eight on the upper deck.  A lower deck carrying six additional lanes was built in 1962.  There is also a bus station that connects Upper Manhattan to nearby locales on the Manhattan side of the bridge.  To keep the bridge in top shape, the Port Authority is beginning a multibillion dollar rehabilitation project in the coming years.

With respect to the George Washington Bridge in popular culture, the bridge is the supporting star of Hildegarde Swift’s beloved children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.  The bridge is also the site of the largest free flying American flag, which is flown from the bridge in the mornings on certain federal holidays.  On random days of the year, the Port Authority also lights up the towers at night with lights (which I personally wish would happen more often).

Not only is the George Washington Bridge an important transportation link, but it also forms a stately entrance into the city.  In time, Sights by Sam hopes to add at least a view of the George Washington Bridge on a tour.  For now, this will be the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour.