Williamsburg Bridge

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Williamsburg Bridge
Above Williamsburg Bridge crop.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
Carries 8 lanes of roadway,
2 tracks of the "J" train "M" train "Z" train 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
ID number 2240039[1]
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)
Clearance above 10 feet 6 inches (3.2 m) (inner roadways only)
Clearance below 135 feet (41 m) at mean high water
Architect Henry Hornbostel
Designer Leffert L. Buck
Opened December 19, 1903; 113 years ago (December 19, 1903)
Daily traffic 106,783 (2008)[2]
Toll Free
Wpdms ISS002E6333 williamsburg bridge.jpg
The bridge connects the Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan with the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn

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 ($624 million in 2016).[3][4] 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.

Decades of deferred maintenance caused the bridge to deteriorate significantly; by 1988, more than 200 cables in the suspension had snapped, and pieces of concrete were falling from the bridge. The bridge's structural integrity was rated as 1.6 out of a scale of 1 to 7. Inspectors were appointed to monitor the bridge's status and make temporary bridge closures based on the amount of stress placed on the bridge.[5] The bridge was completely shut down to motor vehicle traffic and subway trains on April 11, 1988, after a painter noticed a large hole in a girder; upon further review, inspectors also discovered severe corrosion in a floor beam.[6] The bridge was reopened in June 1988.

The bridge was rebuilt through much of the 1990s and 2000s. 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.[7] In 1999, Gandhi Engineering designed, engineered, and installed the pedestrian bridge along the Williamsburg Bridge.[8]

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.[9] The bridge was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009.[10]


The Williamsburg Bridge has an unconventional structure among suspension bridges; 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.[10] The main span of the bridge is 1,600 feet (490 m) long. The entire bridge is 7,308 feet (2,227 m) long, including approaches, and the deck is 118 feet (36 m) wide.[11] The height at the center of the bridge is 135 feet (41 m) and each tower is 310 feet (94 m),[12][13] 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.[14]

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 (four tracks in total), 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.[15]

View of tracks on the bridge
The J train on the Bridge's rail tracks before sunrise.

Two tracks on the south side carried streetcars from the Brooklyn side:[16]

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 (BRT) elevated railroad. Today, the New York City Subway's J M Z trains, successors to the BRT/BMT lines, use these tracks at the following times:

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


Continental Army Plaza

At the foot of the bridge in Williamsburg between South 5th Place and Havemeyer Street in Brooklyn are three public areas that, collectively, comprise the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, also known as Washington Plaza or George Washington Monument Park. It contains Continental Army Plaza and LaGuardia Playground, both operated by the Parks Department, as well as the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza Bus Terminal, which serves numerous bus lines to Brooklyn and Queens. The plaza is named after the large statue of George Washington in Continental Army Plaza erected in 1906.[20][21]

In popular culture[edit]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/dot_bridgereport15.pdf
  2. ^ "New York City Bridge Traffic Volumes 2008" (PDF). New York City Department of Transportation. March 2010. p. 63. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  3. ^ "Williamsburg Bridge". NYV Roads. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  4. ^ Staff (December 20, 1903). "New Bridge in a Glory of Fire; Wind-Up of Opening Ceremonies a Brilliant Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  5. ^ "The Harder They Fall: Someone left the Williamsburgh Bridge out in the rain," New York Daily News Magazine, (April 10th, 1988) p.12
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Williamsburg Bridge, New York, NY". Bikes Belong. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Project Detail (221)". 
  9. ^ Mitchell, Ellen (June 19, 2003). "A 100-Year Span Gets Its Big Moment". Newsday. 
  10. ^ a b "Williamsburg Bridge". ASCE Metropolitan Section. Retrieved 2016-11-12. 
  11. ^ "Williamsburg Bridge: Historic Overview" NYC Roads
  12. ^ "Infrastructure: Williamsburg Bridge" New York City Department of Transportation website
  13. ^ "Williamsburg Bridge". SkyscraperPage. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Staff (December 19, 1903). "Construction of the Bridge". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  16. ^ Brennan, Joseph. "Williamsburg Bridge Railway Terminal". Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  17. ^ a b c d "Through Trolley Service on Bridge". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. February 15, 1931. p. 16. Retrieved 19 January 2016 – via Newspapers.com. 
  18. ^ a b "Rush On New Bridge: Sunday Crowds Necessitated Extra Cars. Most Patrons Traveled to Brownsville". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. November 7, 1904. p. 2. Retrieved 19 January 2016. 
  19. ^ a b "Through Service on Bridge to End". The New York Times. November 22, 1923. Retrieved 19 January 2016. 
  20. ^ "MTA Neighborhood Maps: Williamsburg & Bedford-Stuyvesant" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 2015. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  21. ^ Waite, Thomas L. (February 20, 1989). "About-Face for 'Valley Forge' Statue? Maybe.". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  22. ^ "Edward Hopper". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  23. ^ 'Fighting Death' at the American Film Institute Catalog Retrieved February 24, 2016]
  24. ^ Rollins, Sonny (April 23, 2015). "Sax and Sky". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-27. 
  25. ^ Weber, Bruce (September 11, 1996) "Artist Transforms Bleak Bridge Walk Into Urban Dream" The New York Times
  26. ^ "Commutable" on the Public Art Fund website
  27. ^ Staff (July 12, 2001) "Daring Aerialist Seanna Sharpe Arrested After Scaling, Performing On Williamsburg Bridge" CBS New York

Further reading

  • Barbas, Jamey A. (October 2000). "Saving the Williamsburg Bridge". Civil Engineering: 64–67. 
  • Bruschi, Maria Gracia (March 1996). "Preserving Williamsburg's Cables". Civil Engineering: 36–39. 
  • Mondello, Frank J. (January 1989). "Inspecting and Evaluating New York's East River Suspension Bridge Cables". Public Works. 

External links[edit]