Williamsburg Bridge

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Williamsburg Bridge
Above Williamsburg Bridge crop.jpg
Carries 8 lanes of roadway,
2 tracks of the NYCS J NYCS M NYCS Z trains of the New York City Subway,
pedestrians, and bicycles
Crosses East River
Locale Manhattan and Brooklyn, in New York City
Maintained by New York City Department of Transportation
Architect Henry Hornbostel
Designer Leffert L. Buck
Design Suspension bridge and truss causeways
Total length 7,308 feet (2,227 m)
Width 118 feet (36 m)
Longest span 1,600 feet (490 m)
Vertical clearance 10 feet 6 inches (3.2 m) (inner roadways only)
Clearance below 135 feet (41 m) at mean high water
Opened December 19, 1903; 111 years ago (December 19, 1903)
Toll Free
Daily traffic 106,783 (2008)[1]
the Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan with the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn
Wpdms ISS002E6333 williamsburg bridge.jpg
Coordinates 40°42′47″N 73°58′12″W / 40.713°N 73.97°W / 40.713; -73.97Coordinates: 40°42′47″N 73°58′12″W / 40.713°N 73.97°W / 40.713; -73.97

The Williamsburg Bridge is a suspension bridge in New York City across the East River connecting the Lower East Side of Manhattan at Delancey Street with the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn at Broadway near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (Interstate 278). It once carried New York State Route 27A and was planned to carry Interstate 78, though the planned I-78 designation was aborted by the cancellation of the Lower Manhattan Expressway and Bushwick Expressway.

This is one of four toll-free crossings between Manhattan and Long Island. The others are the Queensboro, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridges.


Historical film clip of a procession during the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903.

Construction on the bridge, the second to cross this river, began in 1896, with Leffert L. Buck as chief engineer, Henry Hornbostel as architect and Holton D. Robinson as assistant engineer, and the bridge opened on December 19, 1903 at a cost of $24,200,000.[2][3] At the time it was constructed, the Williamsburg Bridge set the record for the longest suspension bridge span on Earth. The record fell in 1924, when the Bear Mountain Bridge was completed.

The bridge has been under reconstruction since the 1980s, largely to repair damage caused by decades of deferred maintenance. The bridge was completely shut down to motor vehicle traffic and subway trains on April 12, 1988 after inspectors discovered severe corrosion in a floor beam.[4] The cast iron stairway on the Manhattan side, and the steep ramp from Driggs Avenue on the Williamsburg side to the footwalks, were replaced to allow handicapped access in the 1990s. Since the new bike path opened, the bridge has become the most heavily bicycled span in North America[5] In 1999, Gandhi Engineering designed, engineered, and installed the pedestrian bridge along the Williamsburg Bridge.[6]

A celebration was held on June 22, 2003, to mark the 100th anniversary of the bridge and the area surrounding Continental Army Plaza was filled with musical performers, exhibits on the history of the bridge, and street vendors. Dignitaries marched across the bridge carrying the 45-star American flag used in a game of capture the flag played by workers after the placement of the final cable in June 1902. A truck-sized birthday cake was specially made for the event by Domino Sugar, which had a factory on the East River waterfront near the bridge.[7] The bridge was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009.[8]


It is an unconventional structure, as suspension bridges go; though the main span hangs from cables in the usual manner, the side spans leading to the approaches are supported by trusswork, drawing no support from the cables above.[8] The main span of the bridge is 1,600 feet (490 m) long. The entire bridge is 7,308 feet (2,227 m) long between cable anchor terminals, and the deck is 118 feet (36 m) wide. The height at the center of the bridge is 135 feet (41 m) and each tower is 310 feet (94 m),[9][10] measurements being taken from the river's surface at high-water mark.

The Brooklyn landing is between Grand Street and Broadway, which both had ferries at the time. The five ferry routes operated from these landings withered and went out of business by 1908.[11]

The bridge once carried New York State Route 27A. Had the Lower Manhattan Expressway been built, the Williamsburg Bridge would have been designated Interstate 78.

In reference to the area’s large Yiddish-speaking population, a sign on the westbound approach to the bridge reads, "Leaving Brooklyn: Oy Vey!"

Full span, as seen from Wallabout Bay with Greenpoint and Long Island City in background

Rail tracks[edit]

The Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges are the only suspension bridges in New York City that still carry both automobile and rail traffic. On the Williamsburg Bridge, there were once two sets of trolley tracks, in addition to the two subway tracks currently on the bridge that connect the New York City Subway's BMT Nassau Street Line and BMT Jamaica Line.

View of tracks on the bridge

Two tracks on the south side carried streetcars from the Brooklyn side:[12]

Two north-side tracks carried Manhattan streetcars:

The rapid transit tracks in the center of the bridge were initially used by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company elevated railroad. Today, the New York City Subway's J M Z trains use these tracks at the following times:

  Time period
NYCS J All times
NYCS M All times except late nights
NYCS Z Rush hours in peak direction

In popular culture[edit]




  1. ^ "New York City Bridge Traffic Volumes 2008" (PDF). New York City Department of Transportation. March 2010. p. 63. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  2. ^ "Williamsburg Bridge". nycroads.com. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  3. ^ "New Bridge in a Glory of Fire; Wind-Up of Opening Ceremonies a Brilliant Scene". The New York Times. December 20, 1903. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  4. ^ Lyall, Sarah (April 13, 1988). "The Williamsburg Bridge Is Shut For 2 Weeks as Cracks Are Found". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  5. ^ "Williamsburg Bridge, New York, NY". Bikes Belong. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  6. ^ "Project Detail (221)". 
  7. ^ Mitchell, Ellen (June 19, 2003). "A 100-Year Span Gets Its Big Moment". Newsday. 
  8. ^ a b "Williamsburg Bridge". ASCE Metropolitan Section. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  9. ^ http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/infrastructure/williamsburg-bridge.shtml
  10. ^ http://skyscraperpage.com/cities/?buildingID=4562
  11. ^ Cudahy, Brian J. (1990). Over and Back: The History of Ferryboats in New York Harbor. New York: Fordam University Press. pp. 175–179. ISBN 0-8232-1245-9. 
  12. ^ Brennan, Joseph. "Williamsburg Bridge Railway Terminal". Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  13. ^ "Edward Hopper". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  14. ^ Weber, Bruce. "Artist Transforms Bleak Bridge Walk Into Urban Dream " New York Times (September 11, 1996)
  15. ^ "Commutable" on the Public Art Fund website
  16. ^ "Daring Aerialist Seanna Sharpe Arrested After Scaling, Performing On Williamsburg Bridge". CBS New York. (July 12, 2001)

External links[edit]