The humble bridge is among the oldest types of transportation infrastructure on Earth, with archaeological evidence dating back 4,000 years. Now, as the world looks to shift to cleaner and more active modes of transportation, bridges are taking on new uses, including serving as a conduit for cyclists.
Spurred by state, local, and federal funding, many bridges in the U.S. have recently undergone upgrades that aim to promote sustainable mobility, reduce traffic congestion, and enhance the urban landscape. Here are 10 of the most noteworthy:
George Washington Bridge, Ft. Lee, NJ to Manhattan, NY
Designed by Othmar Ammann and named after the Revolutionary War general and first president of the United States, the George Washington Bridge is a double-decker suspension crossing the Hudson River that first opened in 1931. While it was initially built to help handle the growing auto commuter traffic between New Jersey and Manhattan, it recently underwent a $1 billion renovation to add new, wider ramps on both ends in place of its previous 171 stairsteps — good for both cyclists and pedestrians crossing with wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Last year, it handled 388,000 cyclists and 321,000 pedestrians, according to Streetsblog.
Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY
In September 2021, a new two-way protected bike lane was opened on the famed Brooklyn Bridge, taking over one lane formerly dedicated to auto traffic and adding barriers, traffic signals, and fencing. Since then, bicycle ridership has nearly doubled, according to local news outlet Gothamist. Not bad for the first major reconfiguration to the bridge since trolley lines were yanked out in 1950.
Richmond–San Rafael Bridge Path, San Francisco, CA
The Richmond–San Rafael Bridge (a.k.a.the John F. McCarthy Memorial Bridge, in honor of the U.S. senator from California of the same name) is a 5.5-mile long cantilever-and-truss bridge built in 1956 to connect the cities of Richmond and San Rafael on opposite sides of the San Francisco Bay. Also initially designed for vehicular traffic, in 2019 a new 10-foot-wide protected bicycle and pedestrian path was opened, linking to and extending the existing San Francisco Bay Trail. Since then, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has reported more than a quarter of a million cycle trips across the bridge.
Bay Bridge Bike Path, Oakland, CA
The Bay Bridge Trail, a 2.2-mile-long, 15 ½-foot-wide cycling and walking path separated by metal barricades that connects the Oakland shoreline with Yerba Buena Island, opened in September 2013. It provides panoramic views of the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, and was dedicated to late East Bay Bicycle Coalition founder Alex Zuckermann, who advocated for years to create such a safe space for cyclists. However, the path still stops short of bringing cyclists from the East Bay to San Francisco — instead, they have to hop a ferry or take a bus, two other good mass transit options.
Ned Flanders Crossing Bike and Pedestrian Bridge, Portland, OR
In September 2021 Portland, Oregon officially opened “Ned Flanders Crossing,” a 24-foot-wide and 200-foot-long dedicated pedestrian and bicycle bridge spanning the I-405 interstate. Named after the disturbingly friendly and polite “Simpsons” character of the same name in a nod to native son and series creator Matt Groening, the bridge boasts a plaque of the character’s likeness and catchphrase “Hi-diddly-ho, neighborinos!” But don’t think this lighthearted bridge didn’t take safety seriously: It’s earthquake resistant up to a 9.0-magnitude on the Richter scale.
Ben Franklin Bridge, Philadelphia, PA to Camden, NJ
When it first opened nearly a century ago in 1926, the Ben Franklin Bridge connecting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with Camden, New Jersey was the longest suspension bridge in the world, measuring 1.41 miles in length and held aloft by 18,666 steel wires. It was intended for trolleys but largely carried cars and later PATCO trains. Since the 1990s, cycling advocates such as the group the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia have been calling for the bridge to be made more bike- and pedestrian friendly. Finally, in 2019, a new, $8 million, 773-foot-long ramp was installed on the Camden side (the Philly side already had a ramp), giving cyclists a relief from carrying their bikes on their shoulders up a stairwell, as many previously chose to do. It also made it easier for them and pedestrians with mobility aids to ascend the bridge and take in the views of the Delaware River.
Long Beach International Gateway Bridge, Long Beach, CA
Completed in 2020 as a replacement for the 50-year-old Gerald Desmond Bridge and due to open next month, the Long Beach International Gateway Bridge spans the Back Channel between Long Beach and Terminal Island. It has the distinction of being the first of its kind in the Golden State: a long-span, cable-stayed bridge, which uses diagonal cables in place of the straight vertical ones of a typical suspension bridge. Aside from its six lanes of traffic, the bridge includes a new12-foot-wide, almost two-mile-long bike and pedestrian path named in honor of the late local cycling advocate Mark Bixby.
Pfluger Pedestrian–Bicycle Bridge, Austin, TX
Austin, Texas is famed for its sunset bat-watching on the Congress Avenue Bridge. Yet there’s another bridge worth visiting there: The 22-year-old Pfluger Pedestrian–Bicycle Bridge, a structure exclusively used by cyclists and pedestrians to cross the Colorado River through downtown Austin. This wonderful bridge includes benches and riverside observation decks, making it a destination unto itself.
Its construction came about because the nearby Lamar Bridge, open to vehicular traffic, had only 3 ½-foot-wide sidewalks on either side, forcing pedestrians to cross it single file and cyclists to dismount and walk, leading to several fatal encounters between cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. However, the Lamar Bridge was designated a historic site and couldn’t be widened, leading the city to host public workshops to solicit new design ideas, including an entirely separate, adjacent bridge. The results paid off: While the Lamar bridge saw between 700 and 1,000 pedestrian and bicycle crossings, the Pfluger Pedestrian–Bicycle Bridge sees 4,000 to 5,000 crossings daily.
Old Seven Mile Bridge, Marathon, FL
Imagine cycling the edge of the continental United States over the open, crystal-blue waters of the Atlantic. That’s the picturesque reality for cyclists using the Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Built between 1909 and 1912 as part of a 128-mile railroad that extended over open water connecting mainland Florida to Key West, it was destroyed in a hurricane in 1935 and rebuilt with steel and concrete for car traffic in 1938. In 1982, due to structural issues, it was closed to motorists and replaced with a new bridge alongside it.
It remained in a decrepit state and served as an unofficial spot for cyclists, fishers, and pedestrians to hang out until 2017, when the local and state governments collaborated on a $77 million restoration of a 2.2-mile segment of the “Old Seven” extending from Knights Key near Marathon, Florida, out to Pigeon Island, transforming it into a beautiful paved path for cyclists and pedestrians that opened to the public last year.
Wolf River Crossing, Memphis, TN
Memphis, Tennessee is known as the birthplace of rock music, but it’s also a great place to bike now, too, thanks to the Wolf River Conservancy, founded in 1985 by activists to protect the nearby Wolf River from mining. Nowadays, the Conservancy has been transforming some of the river’s surrounding woodlands into areas of sustainable recreation and education, including the in-development Wolf River Greenway, a planned 26-mile paved pathway for pedestrians and bicycles that will eventually connect over 22 neighborhoods. One of the latest additions in early 2022 was Wolf River Crossing, a 270-foot cable-stayed suspension bridge over the river and raised boardwalk trail that is enveloped in a canopy of trees.
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