There are other ways to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but none are as iconic as walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The crossing starts from a rather inauspicious roundabout in the Financial District: even in New York, America’s car culture predominates; walkers are an exception, not the rule. During the initial approach to the bridge proper, pedestrians share a narrow pathway with cyclists, hemmed in on both sides by dual lanes of traffic. It is noisy and rather unpleasant. The pathway is further narrowed by the opportunistic street traders, peddling paintings and souvenirs. Straight ahead, though, is the unmistakeable sight of the first tower of the Brooklyn Bridge. Like the first sight of the continent to its early settlers, the tower offers the promise of a better future in the face of a depressing present.
Little by little, the carriageway of car recedes––the pedestrian pathway actually rises above them––and I am left with my fellow walkers and the cyclists. Almost without exception, the cyclists on the Brooklyn Bridge fall into the category: New York Aggressive. Any pedestrian foolish enough to step over the demarcation line into the cycle path, or any would-be photographer pausing to take an uninterrupted picture of the Manhattan Bridge, is confronted by flashing wheels, near misses and colourful oaths. However, observe the rules of the road, and a harmonious equanimity can be found. Much of this has to do with the calming influence of the river. As soon as the waters of the East River are visible ahead and below, a sensation closer to elation swamps the irritation.
The first tower is still some distance ahead. A confusing cobweb of suspension cables grows ever more intricate the closer I approach. I am reminded of an art project from my school days: it involved entwining lots of straight pieces of string across a lattice of fixed pins and by so doing creating a curved edge. At the time, it seemed like a miracle. I experience the same sense of wonder now.
Vast metal girders; huge rivets; endless wooden planks: some constructions are on such a scale that they seem to defy human ability.
I have heard that a crowd of people are meant to synchronise their footfalls when walking across suspension bridges; can set up dangerous oscillations, which can be felt through an entire bridge’s structure. I observe the step of the person ahead of me; attempt to mimic his pace; then attempt to step when he does not. The activity only makes me overly conscious of walking, to a point where I have to stop or risk losing the ability to walk automatically, without self consciousness. I don’t feel that I have succeeded in proving or disproving the theory either way.
The distance from one side of the bridge to the other is a short hop over one mile. At a lickety-split the distance can be achieved in something around 25 minutes, but allowing for stops to admire the view, photographs, and being realistic about the pace it is possible to achieve in crowds––remember, the fleet only moves at the speed of its slowest ship––a journey time of something like 50 minutes is a closer estimate.
On the Brooklyn side of the Bridge, the pathway emerges into a small district of classic, brownstone warehouses, and from there it is only a short walk to the riverfront, where it is possible to escape the crowds completely, and enjoy the iconic view of the Brooklyn Bridge with the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan forming the perfect backdrop.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny sets the pace crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.