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The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 

"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apron; the second tower is very far away; innumerable vertical cables, gleaming against the sky, are suspended from the magisterial curve which swings down and then up. The rose-colored towers of New York appear, a vision whose harshness is mitigated by distance."  
 
Completed in 1931, the George Washington Bridge connects Fort Lee in New Jersey with Washington Heights in Manhattan.

For his book When the Cathedrals were White (published 1937 in French as Quand les cathédrales etáient blanches: Voyage au pays des timide and in 1947 by McGraw-Hill with an English translation), Le Corbusier devotes an entire chapter to the splendor of the George Washington Bridge. He celebrates those who halted architect Cass Gilbert and engineer Othmar H. Ammann’s original design, one that would have clad the sleek tall towers with decorated granite and concrete in the Beaux-Arts style. After running some calculations, they abandoned the plan, so the resulting steel structure with the two main 604-foot suspension towers appears light and airy, more modern. At night when the bridge is lit, the structure nearly disappears, leaving a massive string of lights floating high above the Hudson River.   

Only the path on the south side is open, with cyclists and pedestrians sharing the rather narrow lanes.

Completed in 1931, the George Washington Bridge connects Fort Lee in New Jersey with Washington Heights in Manhattan. In contemporary New York culture, the bridge serves as a significant backdrop for the Heights neighborhood, a diverse neighborhood with a large Latino population. Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights, prominently features the bridge as an important icon of neighborhood identity and sense of place.  

Renovations include the two main non-motorized paths for cyclists and pedestrians on the north and south sides of the upper level. 

The bridge is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction. Bridge workers have been replacing all of the bridge’s vertical suspender cables, refurbishing overpasses, repaving surfaces, and more. Renovations include the two main non-motorized paths for cyclists and pedestrians on the north and south sides of the upper level. At this writing, only the path on the south side is open, with cyclists and pedestrians sharing the rather narrow lanes. When both sides are complete, pedestrians will have the south side, the one with city views, all to themselves. 

A weekend morning with little or mild breezes may be the most suitable for a walk.

A walk over the bridge should involve some pre-planning. A weekend morning with little or mild breezes may be the most suitable. Conversely, walking the bridge on a weekday at rush hour under high winds would be ill advised. And for those on either shore of the Hudson River, just walking part of the way should provide enough satisfying views without committing to interstate foot travel. 

Signage for crisis intervention on the GWB

Walking over the bridge provides an excellent way to get some fresh air and exercise, yet it’s hard to walk across the bridge without seeing the reminders that people in despair have long used the bridge for suicides. In the past few years, the Port Authority has installed safety netting, fencing, and phones to the crisis hot line in order to intervene in these tragic situations.

The path’s entrance near W. 178th and Cabrini Boulevard

With the one path currently shared by cyclists and pedestrians, walking the bridge can be a little nerve-wracking at times. While the cyclists I encountered on a recent Saturday morning showed courtesy in passing, they outnumbered those of us on foot. Still, some areas of the path widen in places, providing enough of a comfort zone to take in views of the river, the great green swath of Fort Washington Park below, and downtown far away. 

The great green swath of Fort Washington Park. View from the GWB.

On the New York City side, the 175th station of the A train is within easy walking distance to the path’s entrance near W. 178th and Cabrini Boulevard. On the north side of the bridge near the intersection of W. 180th Street and Cabrini, look for the small George Washington Bridge Park with the little elephant sculpture out front. A pedestrian path, now being renovated, will allow access over the Amtrak train line and lead into the western area of Fort Washington Park.  

The east tower of the GWB backlit with the morning sun


 

View of the GWB from Plaza Lafayette at W. 181st and Riverside Drive

South of the bridge, J. Hood Wright Park offers great views of the bridge. On the north side, Plaza Lafayette at W. 181st and Riverside Drive provides another good vantage point. From there, you can walk over the pedestrian bridge and down into Fort Washington Park for some of the best riverfront views of everything, including the bridge from underneath and the Little Red Lighthouse. 

Images from Saturday, June 20, 2020.

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