If the accompanying article on short walks over Delaware River bridges (see page 28) whetted an appetite for walks more daring, why not take the highroad either to Philadelphia or New York City? It’s a lot easier than one thinks. But there are caveats.
#b#Benjamin Franklin Bridge#/b#
Let’s start with the one of the grandest and oldest of New Jersey river bridges: The Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It connects Camden and downtown Philadelphia and was designed to replaced the ferry systems used between the two cities since the 1680s.
Some quick facts about my favorite bridge: A combination of steel, stone, concrete, and asphalt, it opened on July 1, 1926, and for several years was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Suspension bridges use cables draped between towers and anchors to support traffic decks.
The designers for the 8,300-foot-long bridge (about a mile and a half) were Paul Philippe Cret — the French-born architect and member of the University of Pennsylvania architecture faculty who designed the original Barnes Foundation building in Merion, Pennsylvania, and the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia — and Leon Moissieff — the Latvia-born designer who worked on the Manhattan Bridge in 1909, would later build the Bayonne (1931) and Bronx-Whitestone bridges (1939), and serve as engineer for the George Washington Bridge (1931). Its builder was Ralph Modjeski, the Polish-born French-trained engineer who built numerous American bridges, including the Manhattan Bridge.
Originally called the Delaware River Bridge, the bridge rising 135 feet above the river was renamed in the 1956 to honor the prominent Philadelphian who contributed to world history and science and played a key role in the American Revolution.
A trip over the Ben Franklin lets one experience a construction blending elegance and industrial modernism. The former is in the design’s clean lines, arches, and curves. The latter is in seeing the material up close: steel beams with rivets and tree-trunk thick wire ropes rising skyward before dropping down.
But there is more to see. The walkway rises above the traffic, allowing one to gaze down the river or, at the passing cars or the SEPTA train. Then there is the view of two cities renewing themselves. That is especially true of Philadelphia, where new skyscrapers rise around the French empire-designed Philadelphia City Hall building — once the tallest point of the city. Yet most enchanting is the opportunity to watch giant freighter ships gliding silently below.
So how do you get there? There is public transportation from Trenton, including the River Line that allows one to stop at the Walter Rand Train Station in Camden, take the subway into Philadelphia — and riding over the bridge by train — get off at the earliest stop, and walk to the bridge.
Or one could drive into Philadelphia and look for parking under the bridge on Second or Third streets between Callowhill and Race streets. I’ve generally gone on early weekend mornings or on a summer holiday afternoon when the city empties out.
While the trip is very satisfying and exciting, I recommended testing the waters without small children, so one gets the lay-of-the-land and how things flow. The upside to this, of course, is that a trip with a spouse or date can lead to a visit to a Philadelphia cafe and a pleasant time — without the kids.
More information: www.drpa.org.
An easier walk from New Jersey to Philadelphia is the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, about 10 miles north of the Ben Franklin where the Tacony-section of Philadelphia (taking its name from the Leni Lenape name for wilderness) connects with the New Jersey town Palmyra, a 17th-century Swedish settlement that was eventually named for the ancient Syrian city — one with connotations of a palm-laden oasis.
Opened on August 14, 1929, to replace an old ferry line, the bridge was designed by Ralph Modjeski, the engineer of the Manhattan Bridge and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and combines several approaches: an arch, trusses, viaduct spans, and a drawbridge that allows ships to pass below.
The bridge’s length is 3,659 feet and its rising and falling north side walkway provides on one hand an airy view of the river and on the other, center city in the distance, girders, passing cars, and the control tower at the bridge’s crest. There crew members monitor nautical traffic, bridge traffic, and pedestrians.
The best way to visit this bridge — which also combines industrial materials to produce cathedral-like grace — is to enter from the New Jersey side. Take Route 73 towards the bridge and make a right at the last light before the bridge at Souder Street (Dunkin Donuts) and follow the signs to the Palmyra Cove Nature Park. Soon one will be under the bridge and in a nature preserve that provides free parking, a wooded trail, a free exhibition center (with restrooms), and a beach-like strand to walk along the river (depending on the tide).
The walk is generally easy and allows time to linger along the railings. And while the arrival into Philadelphia is anticlimactic — with a large sign that tells drivers they’re in the City of Brotherly Love — the trip is memorable.
In addition to being the only bridge with a drawbridge, the bridge has two other distinctions. It is owned and operated by Burlington County, unlike all the other visited bridges, which are under the jurisdiction of an overarching authority. It is also the only bridge where photography was prohibited — causing my son and me to be stopped by the bridge police, who checked our cameras and watched as we deleted images of the bridge.
Nevertheless, it is a beautiful old bridge that provides an easy way to bring visitors close to nature, the river, and the bridge with one easy stop.
More information: www.bcbridges.org and www.palmyracove.org.
#b#George Washington Bridge#/b#
Okay, it’s not the Delaware River, but for a big bridge-walking adventure — one that lets you stroll into one of the largest cities in the world. There’s nothing like the George Washington Bridge.
Connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, with New York City, the 4,760-foot bridge that opened in 1931 is by all estimations the busiest bridge in the world: more than 100 million vehicles passing on its upper and lower decks per year.
According to the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey, it was Swiss-born architect and engineer Othmar Ammann who in 1923 developed this “marvel of engineering” that solved the problem of creating a bridge over the Hudson and created a 3,500-foot center span suspended between two 570-foot steel towers.
Some of the details are mindboggling, such as the following Port Authority note: “The New York anchorage, into which the main cables are anchored, consists of 110,000 cubic yards of concrete weighing 260,000 tons. On the New Jersey side, the main cables are tied directly into the rock of the Palisades fronting the Hudson River. At the time, this required the excavation of 200,000 cubic yards of solid rock.”
If the combination of seeing the towering walls of raw natural stone on one side of the bridge and the stone and metal embodiment of a modern city on the other doesn’t cause one to wonder, the reality that the Palisades is actually a fjord just may — and one can go back hundreds of years when Henry Hudson’s “Half-Moon” sailed a world unimagined by Europeans but home to Native Americans for centuries.
The pleasures continue with gazing at ships and boats passing 212 feet below or gazing down at the famed Little Red Lighthouse — the 1889 structure featured in the popular 1942 children’s story, “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.” The only lighthouse in New York City, it is situated in Fort Washington Park, named in honor of its Revolutionary War-era structure that was built by the American forces and seized by the British. It can be accessed a third of a mile from the bridge. That’s about the same distance to another Revolutionary-era site on the New Jersey side, Fort Lee Historic Park.
To get to the New Jersey side of the GWB drive to Fort Lee via the New Jersey Turnpike, keep left at the fork to continue on I-95 Express North, follow signs for I-95 N/George Washington Bridge, take exit 73 for NJ-67 Fort Lee, and then enter Hudson Terrace. Hudson Terrace is the cross street at the “T” intersection at the end of Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. Cross Hudson Terrace at this intersection, make a left, and proceed north. Go about two blocks, and you will find the entrance ramp to the south sidewalk on your right (before the overpass that leads to the bridge). The entrance ramp to the north sidewalk is on the other side of the bridge overpass.
As one would imagine, the busyness of the bridge and the area can be a bit daunting for the inexperienced, especially with runners and bicyclists sharing the bridge with pedestrians and the motor vehicles speeding by. And one never knows who in our state government may just appear to stop anyone from getting on and getting off this now infamous New Jersey landmark.
More information: www.panynj.gov/bridges-tunnels/george-washington-bridge.html.