Access Granted. The Wards Island foot bridge, located at E. 103rd Street in East Harlem connects Manhattan to Wards/Randall's Island. For many decades the bridge's middle section - which lifts to allow ships to pass under it - was kept raised for five months of the year. The public's limited access has been a major source of contention in the community for years. When the bridge reopens on June 1st, it will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the first time in at least three decades. New security measures will also accompany the renovated bridge's new hours. (Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)
By Geoffrey Croft
East Side waterfront park users will soon have much to celebrate as a beloved pedestrian bridge has been newly restored with promises of greatly expanded access.
The Ward's Island foot bridge, located at E. 103rd Street along the East River will soon be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the first time in at least three decades. This is welcome news. For decades the public has been denied access for five months of the year because the bridge remained closed from late October through the middle of March. This has been a major source of contention in the community.
The bridge's closing for 5 months of the year was a major source of contention. (Click on images to enlarge.)
The bridge has undergone a $ 15- 17 million renovation using TARP funds. Work included replacing the deteriorated walkway deck, upgrading electrical and mechanical systems, making ADA improvements, and installing new safety fencing.
A number of new security measures will be accompanying the newly renovated bridge. The Department of Transportation has installed a number of high-tech cameras with zoom functions that will be monitored off-site, 24/7 by the NYPD according to City sources. An emergency call box has also been installed on the Ward's Island side.
The footbridge leads directly into the southern end of Wards Island Park which has recently been transformed with playing fields and a scenic waterfront that includes bike paths and landscape areas.
At only 12 foot wide and 857 feet long, the slender footbridge leads directly into the South West end of Wards Island Park which has recently been transformed with playing fields, (artificial turf) and a scenic waterfront including bike paths and landscape areas.
A big celebration is planned for June 2 beginning at 10:00am.
Its middle section lifts to allow ships to pass under it. The U.S. Coast Guard recently changed its policy and will now allow the bridge span to remain permanently in its down position. Under the old policy a DOT worker had to be escorted twice a day by two NYPD officers - once in the morning to lower the bridge and again at night to raise it.
The bridge has also had its fifteen minutes of fame. It was covered in yellow vinyl for a cameo as part of the “yellow brick road” for the 1978 film The Wiz, starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, and directed by Sidney Lumet. (If you blink at 1:04-1:06 into the movie's official trailer you will miss it) The bridge has also been featured in numerious tv shows from the 70's, mostly police dramas.
Providing Increased Access To The Island
A local law of 1949 authorized the construction of the footbridge. It was built by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was completed at a cost of $2.1 million. The bridge opened to pedestrians on May 18, 1951.
It was opened to bicycles in 1967 and is reportedly the City's only permanent bridge dedicated solely to pedestrians and bicycles.
Designed by master bridge engineer Othmar Hermann Ammann (March 26, 1879 – September 22, 1965) who is remarkably responsible for more than half of the bridges that connect the City to the mainland.
In 1933, Mr. Ammann became chief engineer for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. He guided the construction of many of New York's signature bridges, including the George Washington Bridge, Triborough, the Henry Hudson, the Bronx-Whitestone, and the Marine Parkway bridges. He was also responsible for managing the building of the Lincoln Tunnel. In addition, he sat on the Board of Engineers in charge of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. He collaborated on some of the best-known American bridges, including the Verrazano-Narrows, the Delaware Memorial, and the Walt Whitman bridges.
"In bridge designing, the aesthetics are quite as important as engineering details. It is a crime to build an ugly bridge, " said Swiss-born and educated civil engineer and designer Othmar Hermann Ammann who immigrated to New York City in 1904.
In 1964, Amman was awarded the National Medal of Science from President Lyndon Johnson, the first time the medal was given to a civil engineer.
A number of years ago Ammann's daughter, Margot Durrer, told this author that the 103rd Street Bridge was his favorite.
In 2003 the Parks Department dedicated the Othmar Ammann Playground in his honor. The playground is located in the shadow of the Tri-borough Bridge on E. 124th Street between 1st/2nd Avenues in Manhattan.
After the American Revolution the area was called Great Barn Island. It was owned by Jasper and Bartholomew Ward and was used for farmland. Bartholomew Ward built the first known bridge to the island in 1807, and in 1855 he sold his land to the city.
Othmar Ammann's Glory, Genius, willpower and thousands of miles of steel wire went into the George Washington Bridge
Smithsonian Magazine - October 1999 - By Valerie Jablow
Poster announcing the 103rd Street Footbridge reopening event.