Thursday, August 12, 2010

A River Runs By It

Posted by Rich- Living a few miles from the Delaware River, you get used to having to use a bridge to get from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and back again. Some of these bridges are more mundane than others, with a four lane highway transversing the river so smoothly you barley realize you are on a bridge, while others that look so narrow and spindly you wonder if it will be able to hold up the weight of the cars driving across it.

As a kid growing up in Utica, NY, we lived adjacent to the New York State Barge Canal and almost always had to cross over it whenever we wanted to go someplace. Most of the bridges we drove over then seemed to be of the same vintage and design as the three bridges I now use to cross over the Delaware, but none had any of the charm; as a matter of fact, they were more of the spindly variety and looked downright scary as they were perched high over the canal to allow boats passing underneath ample clearance.
A surviving truss bridge over the New York State Barge Canal...

When my father would drive our station wagon up the incline and onto the steel deck of the bridge, it was always a crapshoot whether or not another vehicle would be driving up the opposite incline and also trying to cross the bridge as well. The bridge was just barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other; forget it if a truck was coming—either you had to back up, or they did. A game of slow-motion chicken played out high over the Barge Canal was not my idea of a pleasant ride to visit Grandama.

Some of my trepidation about crossing bridges stem from the news coverage of the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse ( over the Ohio River, and this 1940 motion picture of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge , also known as “Gallopin’ Gertie”( in Washington State. These images, coupled with the somewhat dark, ominous appearances of the old truss bridges we regularly crossed, contributed to my apprehension about driving over them. The quicker we got safely to the other side, the better.

The bridge between New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ is more of a “tourist” bridge, one you want to take your time driving and walking over. It has a broad cantilevered walkway on one side to accommodate pedestrians and allow for pictures to be taken without impeding the progress of others crossing between the two states. The bridge gets a good amount of automobile traffic, but despite the loudness of the occasional motorcycle group crossing the bridge, it’s relatively quiet; Trucks and busses are prohibited from using this bridge, and required to cross the river on the Route 202 New Hope-Lambertville Toll Bridge about a mile or so north . This section of Route 202 was opened in 1971 as a bypass for New Hope/Lambertville, taking all the trucks and thru traffic over one of those hardly-know-you’re-on–a-bridge four lane overpasses over the river.

The New Hope/Lambertville Bridge

The New Hope/Lambertville bridge itself is actually is a sturdy steel deck, steel truss structure made up of 6 individual bridges connected to each other at stone pilings spaced evenly across the Delaware. Constructed in 1904, the engineers and planners had the foresight to make the bridge wide enough to accommodate two mid-20th century sized vehicles passing each other comfortably on the span.

It’s an aesthetically pleasing structure, and I enjoy looking at the graceful order of engineering that makes up this bridge; what I don’t enjoy is driving over it from New Jersey into Pennsylvania and being dumped into the traffic and pedestrian crush of New Hope. On a Saturday or Sunday it can take a few turns of the traffic light to make a left hand turn onto the main street, with businesses on those corners attracting waves of individuals intent on ignoring the traffic lights patronizing those businesses. The corner hosts both a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Starbucks- I can empathize with the pedestrians crossing against the light signal and being focused on making donut and coffee purchases.

To truly enjoy this bridge at it’s fullest, I recommend driving from New Hope into Lambertville, then parking and walking back over the bridge to get your tall latte and jelly donut, if so desired. Lambertville can be a busy area as well, especially as you get closer to the bridge to New Hope, but there is generally a more relaxed, less touristy feeling there. And more places to park, as well.

Two other bridges I drive over frequently to get across the Delaware River and into New Jersey include the Washington Crossing Bridge and the Calhoun Street Bridge. Both structures are each over 100 years old, with the Calhoun Street Bridge being constructed in 1884.

The Washington Crossing Bridge... just hope a Nissan Armada SUV isn't approaching from the opposite direction...

The Washington Crossing Bridge has a more utilitarian feeling than the ornate Calhoun Street Bridge, and also feels narrower when driving over it. As a matter of fact, you get the feeling that your individual car can barely fit between the trusses, let alone pass another vehicle without scraping each others sides. Whenever I drive over it, I fold the driver’s side mirror of my pick up truck flat against the door, and breathe easier when I reach the other side without having to squeeze by a gargantuan SUV heading in the opposite direction.

The Calhoun Street's sturdier than it looks!

The Calhoun Street Bridge was originally intended to be a temporary structure, and connects Morrisville, PA with Trenton, NJ. It appears to get much more traffic than the Washington Crossing Bridge, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours. It was once part of Rt. 30, also known as The Lincoln Highway, until 1920, when Rt 30 was moved to the larger Lower Trenton Bridge. This bridge is more popularly known as the “Trenton Makes” bridge.

To me, the most intriguing thing about these three bridges are the Bridgekeeper structures that sit at either end of the spans, and the Bridgekeepers themselves. At different times driving over these structures, I have seen the Bridgekeepers at work, stopping larger than permitted trucks from crossing, walking onto the bridge and motioning the trucks that successfully snuck on from one side to pull over and face the music on the other, and even doing simple maintenance tasks like trimming the hedge and sweeping the sidewalk ramp to the pedestrian walkway.

Being a Bridgekeeper honestly looks like a neat job, and the although the small structures they watch the bridge from vary in appearance, they all look cozy and comfortable, especially the cottage like structures at either end of the New Hope/Lambertville Bridge.

Posted are some shots of some small New Hope/Lambertville Bridge paintings, in progress. I took two of the pictures as my wife Laurie and I waited for the Friday Night Fireworks to begin on the Delaware between New Hope and Lambertville. I’m not an expert at what makes a quality fireworks display, but I think this weekly event is excellent—well attended, well behaved crowds and spectacular pyrotechnics over the river. The third painting with the different angle is based on a picture I snapped last winter while taking a break from gallery sitting at the Artists’ Gallery.

Each painting is acrylic on panel, and smaller than I usually work, only 8 x 6 inches. Working on these smaller paintings has interested me in completing larger, more detailed watercolors of the same subjects in the future. But for now, these three images are high on the to-do list.

When you come see the exhibition in September, you can see the finished pieces in person.

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