Queensboro Bridge: the steel giant that towers over the East River

Strategic infrastructure and national landmark, that bridge in the history between Queens and Manhattan.

The Queensboro Bridge, even though it does not possess the same tourist attraction as the other three bridges that cross the East River to connect Manhattan to the various neighborhoods of the greater New York metropolitan area, holds the record for being the busiest of the four. It is crossed daily by an average of 150,000 vehicles, 7,000 cyclists, and 2,700 pedestrians. Its iconic “brother,” the Brooklyn Bridge, comes second with a daily passage of 115,000 vehicles compared to 105,000 for the Williamsburg Bridge and 75,000 for the Manhattan Bridge.

Opened to traffic on June 18, 1909, as the longest cantilevered steel truss bridge in the United States (a record it held until 1930), the Queensboro is the only one of the four major East River bridges that is not a suspension bridge. Designed by Gustav Lindenthal, the chief bridge engineer of early 20th century New York, the Queensboro Bridge is also known as the 59th Street Bridge because it ends in Manhattan between 59th and 60th streets. In 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg renamed it the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, in honor of a former New York City mayor. However, this decision is still contested by Queens residents, as Koch did not hail from that borough.

From The Great Gatsby to Today

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.” This line that F. Scott Fitzgerald gives to Gatsby in the novel later portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio on the big screen, reveals the history of a suburb, Queens, which was sparsely populated and consisted of farmland and dusty roads at the western end of Long Island. It quickly became a vibrant neighborhood and the largest of New York City’s five boroughs, now home to major infrastructures such as the JFK and La Guardia airports and the Flushing Meadows sports complex.

The development of Queens, after that of Brooklyn and Manhattan itself, is due to the five-span structure supported by a lattice of 75,000 tons of steel. The bridge has two levels, the upper with four traffic lanes and the lower with five lanes, the outermost of which is dedicated to a bike and pedestrian path. Recent efforts by the local administration have focused on this path because, over the years and with the development of Queens, this crossing has become somewhat of a nightmare. The New York City Department of Transportation has announced that by summer, the refurbishment of the access structures and the bike and pedestrian path will be completed.

When a Strategic Infrastructure Becomes a National Symbol

The bridge, which was declared a national landmark in 1973, contributes to making New York a concentration of futuristic constructions for the era in which they were built, and still today, they are infrastructures of great value. The bridge spans 3,725 feet (1,135 meters) with its spans, totaling 7,449 feet (2,270 meters) including the approach and access ramps. It was designed to carry permanent loads through pure cantilever action and mobile loads like a continuous bridge, a model that required the application of advanced structural analysis methods.

The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge also has a troubled history involving a failed attempt at destruction, when a worker, driven by a kind of union conspiracy, tried to blow it up shortly before its inauguration. According to reports of the time, the would-be bomber, upon placing the dynamite, noticed a fire station at the base of the bridge with about twenty firefighters at work. Refusing to cause a massacre, he removed the dynamite and turned himself in to the police.