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Stepping Into History on the Manhattan Bridge

Part engineering marvel, part icon of the East River byway, the Manhattan Bridge is more than just a crucial piece of New York City’s transportation infrastructure. Seen in intimate detail from all levels of One Manhattan Square, this suspension bridge is probably most familiar to NYC subway passengers who have ridden trains across its length from Lower Manhattan into Brooklyn. This summer, take a trip into the early 20th century by strolling or cycling across this slice of New York City history.

Originally conceived in 1892 by railway magnate Frederick Uhlmann, the Manhattan Bridge was the subject of engineering and political debates for the better part of a decade, with varying forces and trends dictating its eventual forward-looking design. The first proposals called for a traditional cable suspension bridge. But by 1904, a more modern design based on deflection theory had been chosen, resulting in a structurally robust and flexible feat of engineering that took the next five years to complete. The bridge opened with fanfare on the last day of 1909, although the pedestrian, trolley, and subway tracks had yet to be completed.

When those subway trains eventually began to travel across the bridge, they took their toll on the structure, which had been engineered without accounting for their unique form of strain. By the middle of the 20th century, the bridge was showing signs of wear, and would even shift approximately eight feet when trains entered the bridge from opposite sides at the same time. The first of three phases of major reconstruction began in 1985, and the final phase was only completed in 2007, at which point the project had cost more than a half-billion dollars.

The now-rebuilt Manhattan Bridge is a testament to New York City’s robust infrastructure, as it has continued to function with only minor closures for two decades. Today, pedestrians and cyclists can traverse the bridge and enjoy panoramic views of the East River, Downtown Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Manhattan Bridge’s nearby sister, the Brooklyn Bridge.

Residents of One Manhattan Square can easily walk to the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge and take the roadway to Brooklyn’s hip Dumbo neighborhood, where cobblestone streets are lined with historic buildings, chic boutiques, and restaurants, all with the bridge itself as a backdrop. With Downtown Brooklyn just a little beyond Dumbo, a stroll along the Manhattan Bridge into that bustling neighborhood is a great way to get in some exercise and explore the city this summer — especially with the Lower East Side condos so close to the entrance on the Manhattan side.