Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge–the iconic NYC walk

Saturday was fabulously balmy in New York, so I scrapped my indoor plans and decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge instead. After all, how often does a warm, sunny day in January happen?

This is one of the iconic New York experiences.  And it’s free! How often does that happen in New York City?

The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t soaring, graceful, or particularly handsome, as suspension bridges go. The Mackinaw Bridge in my home state of Michigan is all that, plus it spans the conjunction of two great lakes. Not that I’m partial or anything.

Mackinac bridge in all its grandeur*

The Brooklyn Bridge is stalwart, however. It’s symmetric. It’s strong. And over the decades it has become imbued with the romance and culture of the city. It’s hard to think of a more iconic New York sight.

Its construction was costly for the family that designed and managed the project for 14 years, however.

John Roebling, bridge-builder and German immigrant, designed its stalwart neo-Gothic towers, its web of steel cables and three fail-safe systems to withstand stress. But he died of tetanus after getting his foot crushed while surveying for the bridge.

The mantle passed to his son, Washington, who became paralyzed from caisson disease after working in boxes of compressed air (caissons) during the bridge’s construction. (It’s like scuba divers who get the “bends” from surfacing too quickly–it can kill–or in this case–paralyze you.)

So Washington Roebling’s wife, Emily, fearing neither man nor fate, assumed the role of liaison for her immobilized husband. Having absorbed the math, specs, and tolerances of bridge construction, she managed the project for the next 11 years and was the first to cross when the bridge opened to jubilant fanfare on May 23,1883. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

A week later, a rumor that the bridge was collapsing caused a stampede that killed 12 people. Over 200 years later, massive crowds surged across the bridge from lower Manhattan when the subways were closed following the 9/11 terrorist attack. Still, the bridge held firm.

I wanted to cross from the Brooklyn side because “the view will be better, and you’ll be going in the opposite direction from the crowd,” explained my son-in-law.

view from Brooklyn Heights

So, I took the number 2 train to the Clark and Henry Street stop and exited in the well-maintained Brooklyn Heights neighborhood where locals strolled around in shirtsleeves and ate out on patios. In January, mind.

After my own stroll on the promenade overlooking the East River and the Manhattan skyline, I ferreted out the secret stairway to the bridge and began the 1.3-mile walk.


sign to the secret stairway


the boardwalk. Mind the white line







The boardwalk is divided into pedestrian and bicycle lanes, and you seriously have to watch your step. Bikes hurtle past bearing silent and grim-faced riders. If you want to take a photo from the other side or are simply nudged across the line at the wrong moment by the crowd, you will be road kill. Ask me how I know.

I crossed as the sun was setting. The air was warm; the views were magnificent; people were happy, and the whole experience was like meeting a celebrity. You thought you were too sophisticated to be impressed, and then you find yourself unaccountably stammering and emotional in the presence of greatness.

skyline view. Empire State Building is in the center

It was over too quickly. I walked into Manhattan, by the Municipal Building, and back to Broadway, which by now I know well enough to locate a metro stop for the A train to the upper reaches of Manhattan.



Final view from the Manhattan side

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4 Responses to Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge–the iconic NYC walk

  1. Marcia Davis 18 January, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks for the memories, Kate! I took my first walk across the Brooklyn Bridge only four years ago. Not sure why I hadn’t done it before! I may have told you the story, but it was the day Bill and I eloped. We got married at City Hall (actually the Municipal Building) the morning of April 18. It was a gorgeous, unseasonably warm day and all the trees were in bloom. The first thing we did after tying the knot was to walk the bridge. It happened to be the day the Pope was coming to NYC and they closed the bridge while we were on it. We saw the Pope land via Marine helicopter and his entourage drove right under us, making its way up FDR drive!

    • Kate 18 January, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Now THAT’S a wedding story! I’ve heard parts of it, but now I can visualize the whole thing. What a moment, to be on the closed Brooklyn Bridge with the Pope passing by below. Didn’t you also have an announcement in the NY Times?
      Well, after all that, I guess you and Bill are joined for eternity.

  2. Amy 11 January, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi Kate! Glad you enjoyed it! I love when you write, “You thought you were too sophisticated to be impressed, and then you find yourself unaccountably stammering and emotional in the presence of greatness.”

    On the next nice day you should try walking across the George Washington Bridge (or biking – we have a folding bike and helmet you can borrow if you like). It’s also quite spectacular, with the view of the Palisades. On a bike, if you can brave just a little urban riding (none of it pleasant but it is only a mile or so) you can access bike paths in the Palisades that are lovely.

    Hope to see you wandering the nabe soon with that gorgeous grandson of yours – say hi to Esther and Drew too!

    • Kate Convissor 12 January, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

      I never thought about crossing the Geo Washington bridge-the one I see EVERY day. Great suggestion, but I think I’ll walk. Traffic around here scares the bejeesus out of me.

      I’ve been pondering how we can meet up. Maybe a day Esther has off (President’s Day?) How flexible is your stay-at-home schedule?