When I worked in White Plains, a city in Westchester County north of the Bronx, I would take the subway from my Brooklyn home to the northern reaches of Manhattan and run the eight or ten or twelve miles to White Plains. That meant crossing the Harlem River. There are a number of bridges with walkways that do that, and I ran over quite a few of them, but I don’t remember their names. I did not especially enjoy these bridges. I almost always ran them going to the Bronx. The views of the Bronx were uninspiring, and often I was thinking about how it was going to be running through the South Bronx, a very tough neighborhood in those days. These bridges were utilitarian, only part of my route to get me from point A to point B.
Just as I ran over the George Washington Bridge only once, I ran over the Manhattan Bridge but once. In my running days, the Manhattan Bridge walkways were not open. The plural is correct because that bridge has walkways on both north and south sides. I call them walkways even though one is now supposedly reserved for bicyclists and the other for pedestrians. I have gone over both walkways since they opened, but by walking or biking, not running. Neither is pleasant. Both are narrow and on the same level as the road and the subway tracks. With trains rattling twelve yards away and cars constantly on the move even closer, the bridge is hardly a respite from the city. On the plus side, however, I like peering down into Chinatown, a place that still retains some mystery for me.
The only time that I ran over the Manhattan Bridge was in a race, put on by a newspaper that printed legal news. It was billed as a courthouse-to-courthouse run. It started at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, went over the Manhattan Bridge on the roadway to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, turned around, back over the bridge again, and ended at the federal courthouse in Manhattan’s Foley Square. We ran on the bridge’s road, not either of its walkways, and the entire race may have been four miles. I remember nothing of what I saw.
I do remember, however, many of the runs over the Williamsburg Bridge. Those runs were not nearly as frequent as my passages on the Brooklyn Bridge, but I ran the Williamsburg Bridge frequently going to and from my office when I worked in lower Manhattan. If I wanted a short run, I ran from my home over the Brooklyn Bridge to my law school or vice versa, a three-plus-mile distance. If I wanted something longer, I went over the Williamsburg, about a 10K run.
The Williamsburg Bridge walkway was not in good shape when I ran it. It was supposed to be covered with something like tiles, but many were missing, giving a sense of decay. The path did not seem unsafe, but it was unsightly. It, however, was elevated above the roadway allowing unimpeded views. The bridge is situated at a dramatic bend in the East River. To the north, one can see to the United Nations and beyond; to the south, to Governor’s Island, the Statute of Liberty, and beyond. No bridge I had crossed before or since offered better views. If you get the chance, walk or bike or run across that bridge. But stop in the middle of the span and admire the view.
But running in New York also brought me to many other bridges because, as I said, New York City is a city of bridges. Many of the bridges are not widely known, but I have run over bridges that span the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal; that are above waters in Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach; and that separate the Rockaways from the mainland. I have run over bridges to get to Roosevelt Island and City Island. There are bridges in Central Park and Prospect Park.
Running has given me memories of many New York City bridges. They gave me vistas and skies and waters I would not otherwise have seen or noticed. But there was another good thing about those bridge-crossings. They often brought me to a new neighborhood, places to learn about and explore. But that is for another day.
Running the Brooklyn Bridge
Before the Marathon
Who is Othmar?