The Bridges of Niagara Falls

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Rainbow Arch Bridge next to American Falls. Photo taken while on boat tour. All photos and filming were taken by the author in August 2018

Hundreds of tour books, written in about three dozen languages have touted Niagara Falls as one of the 1000 places one has to see once in his lifetime. From the author’s point of view, even though the Falls area is one of the largest tourist traps in North America, maybe even the world, with thousands of souvenirs, restaurants and other main attractions, if one wants to see just the falls themselves, there are five ways to do it: 1. At level along the streets and boardwalks, 2. At night with the fireworks display, 3. Via boat tour which takes the person to the two falls, up close and personal, and 4. Via Skylon Tower on the Ontario side of the falls. And while a person can get a wonderful treat viewing the two falls- American and Horseshoe (the latter is the bigger one)- from Skylon, one can also get a treat viewing the Falls‘ bridges, which is the fifth way.

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Horseshoe Falls at night.

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American Falls at night

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While one can get a picturesque view of the Rainbow Bridge while doing the boat tour, one can photograph all but four of the 20+ bridges from Skylon Tower, including the I-190 Bridge, which is 25 kilometers (12 miles) away and spans the Niagara River. However, to get to all of them, one needs the bike or the car. In some cases, they are reachable by foot.  We did all five parts of the tour and got the bridges in the process. This tour guide will show you the bridges one really needs to see while enjoying the view of the Falls. It will feature a brief summary with a couple pics, plus a map showing where the bridges are located. More bridges can be found in the Chronicles‘ facebook and Instagram pages. In the end, the author can make some recommendations as to where a person can find these bridges with a Tour Guide hint to follow at the end of this tour guide.

We must keep in mind that the tour is focused solely on the Falls area. There are countless bridges along the Welland Canal area, but you can view them via Nathan Holth’s historicbridges.org website, which is here.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at the bridges, starting with the one closest to Lake Ontario going towards Erie.

 

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Lewiston-Queenston Bridge

Location: Niagara River at Interstate 190 (US) and Ontario Highway 405 (a.k.a Kingston Highway, Canada)

Bridge type: Rainbow deck arch

Built: 1962 by the Bethlehem Steel Company in Bethlehem, PA; designed by Waddel and Hadesty

Niagara Falls has four steel deck arches spanning the mighty river between Lakes Ontario and Erie and two of these rainbow deck arches, the bridge type characterized by the unhinged, ribbed arch span that supports the roadway going over it. The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, which was built in 1962, is the youngest of the bridges in the region. With a total length of 1600 feet (479 meters) and the main span of 1000 feet (305 meters), the Lewiston-Kingston Bridge is the longest of the bridges in the region. It serves as the only US-Canadian crossing, where a person can head west into Canada. While both sides have border crossings and tax-free shops along the freeways, the best vantage point for this crossing is on the Ontario side, where there is parking along the street on the river side, just as the person is entering the freeway. This was where I got most of my photos.  The bridge replaced an iron suspension bridge, which was located downstream and featured Town Lattice portals. More details can be found here.  About 300 meters south of the bridge is the Floral Clock and Park, where one can get some beautiful shots in the spring and summer time, while having a picnic at the same time. However beware, there are costs for parking there, so have some cash with.

 

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Whirlpool Rapids Aero Car

Location: Niagara River at Whirlpool Rapids

Bridge Type: None- An overhead cable railway

Built: 1916 by Leonardo Torres Quevedo  Rehabilitated three times in 1961, 1967 and 1984

Even though the Aero Car is not a bridge per se, this overhead cable railway is considered a crossing, let alone a tourist attraction that one must see if one wants to visit the Whirlpool Rapids in person. The rapids is rather difficult to see from the street due to the high vegetation and because of the risk of drowning, any private boat traffic along the Niagara River and at the Falls themselves is prohibited by law. The exception is with the tour boats travelling up to the Falls. Instead of risking a massive fine of $10,000 or possible death by capsizing and drowning, one can pay $35-40 to ride the Aero Car for up to 15 minutes, getting pictures of the Rapids directly from below and perhaps the two railroad bridges pending on the weather. One can also see the Whirlpool Rapids State Park in the US side and the Robert Moses Power Station on the Canadian side. The concept was developed by Leonardo Torres Quevedo, who later founded the Niagara Spanish Aero Car Company Limited, which owns the 35-person cable car that goes 700 feet across the river.

 

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Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge (left) and railroad Bridge (right)

Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge

Location: Niagara River near Whirlpool Rapids, carrying Bridge Avenue and Amtrak Railroad

Bridge type: Steel Deck Truss with Pratt Truss features; double-decking with railway on top and roadway at the bottom.

Built: 1899 by Pennsylvania Steel Company; designed by Leffert Buck of Canton, New York

The Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge one of two bridges located at the rapids and the second of three international crossings in the Niagara Falls region. Like with the Kingston, its predecessor was a suspension bridge that had been built 30+ years before. The Highway Bridge is the oldest of the bridges in the region, even though the railroad crossing next door to the south appears older but was built 30 years later. It is one of several bridges of its kind that was designed by Leffert L. Buck, who was credited for designing and building all but one bridge over the Niagara River, but was held accountable post humously for the collapse of the Honeymoon Bridge, which had been built in 1897 but collapsed in 1938. The Rainbow Bridge now occupies this spot. Buck was also credited for bridge building in the New York City area, including the Williamsburg Bridge over the East River, which was built in 1903.  The bridge is measured at 790 feet (241 meters) in total, with the arch span being 550 feet (167 meters). It features a double-decker design, where the roadway is at the bottom and train traffic runs on top. Passenger trains also use this bridge and the Amtrak Railway Station is on the American side. Border controls are also found there, yet access to the bridge is rather restricted. While one can get some photos of the bridge from the Ontario side by foot, it is difficult to find a place to park if traveling by car or bike, as access is not possible unless on private property. Only motorized vehicles are allowed to cross the bridge, thus making it impossible to cross on foot unless risking being arrested.  The Highway Bridge has been maintained really well, with a new paint job and other inspections and the like to keep the structure functionally sound, which can cause confusion because it appears younger than its railroad structure next door. Yet there is a reason behind that, as you will see in the next bridge profile.

 

 

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Whirlpool Rapids Railroad Bridge

Location: Niagara River next to Whirlpool Rapids Highway Bridge, carrying CP Railroad (now abandoned)

Bridge Type: Steel deck arch with Pratt truss features

Length: 863 feet (263.1 meters); main span: 640 feet (195 meters)

Built: 1925 by American Bridge Company of New York; designed by Leffert Buck and Olaf Hoff

The Whirlpool Rapids Railroad Bridge is similar to its neighbor to the north and has a history of its own. Its predecessor was a cantilever deck truss bridge with Whipple and Howe features and was one of the first of its kind in North America, having been built in 1883. Its current structure was based on a design created by Buck. However it was shelved after he died unexpectedly of apolexy in 1909. The design was later taken out and modified by Olaf Hoff (and associates William Perry Taylor and J.L. Delming), who contracted with American Bridge to build the structure alonside the cantilever span, which was later removed. The structure appears older than its age, but this has to do with the fact that the crossing has been abandoned since 2001. According to Nathan Holth, an agreement was made between Canadian Pacific Railroad and the City of Niagara Falls (Ontario) where the railroad and bridge would be abandoned as it ran through the tourist district and it was considered a safety concern and a nuisance. The railroad would keep the bridge but eventually remove it completely. As of the visit in 2018, the railroad bridge is still intact and there were no cranes or other vehicles on site that would indicate that there would be any removal activity. The bridge is barracaded with barbed wire to ensure no one climbs onto the bridge to cross it. One can still get some pics- even better, when standing between the two bridges. The bridge can also be seen from Skylon if one looks at it more closely.  Yet beware that the days of the railroad bridge may be numbered and it could be removed sooner than later, unless a preservation party is willing to step in and claim responsibility for repurposing it for bikes and pedestrians. Until that happens, it is recommended to visit the structure while it is still standing.

 

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The Whirlpool Rapids Bridges was built at the site where John Roebling’s first wire suspension bridge had been built. It was constructed in 1855 and featured a double-decking with the railroad going over the top; horse and buggy the bottom deck. It was dismantled after the Highway Bridge was completed in 1897, but not before having undergone an extensive rehabilitation 11 years before.

 

 

 

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Rainbow Arch Bridge

Location: Niagara River at Roberts Street next to American Falls

Bridge Type: Steel deck arch with closed spandrel arch approaches

Built: 1941 replacing the Honeymoon Bridge

The Rainbow Arch Bridge is the most popular of the bridges in the Niagara Falls Region. It is one where attention is given by the tens of thousands of passers-by and tourists daily, whether it is on even level from the walkway, from the bottom while on a boat tour to the American and Horseshoe Falls, or from high up via Skylon Tower. The bridge is the centerpiece attraction which complements the two falls, day and night. The bridge is the oldest of the rainbow deck arches, but at 1444 feet (440 meters) and a main span of 950 feet (289 meters), it is the shorter of the two bridge spans of its kind. However, when viewing the bridge from a historical perspective, the bridge is the fourth one built at its present location. The first structure was a suspension bridge known as teh Falls View Bridge. It was built in 1867 at the site where the American Platform is located, but despite extensive rehabilitation in 1888 that featured the widening of the bridge deck, the suspension bridge, which had been built by Samuel Keefer, was blown down by a windstorm on January 9th, 1889. It was later rebuilt as a second suspension bridge, needing only 38 days until it was completed and reopened on May 7th, 1889. It didn’t last long, for another wind storm in January 1890 caused significant damage to the structure. Although it survived intact, workers came up with a new plan to replace the suspension bridge, which was the Honeymoon Bridge. Designed by Buck, Pencoyd Bridge and Construction built the superstructure in 1897 and featured a steel deck arch with grided pandrels, a Warren ribbed-arch main span and one bowstring deck arch approach span per side. The bridge remained in service until one tragic day on January 27th, 1938. There, an ice jam, combined with high winds, brought the structure down completely. Two people who were on the bridge at that time, barely escaped death by running across to the New York side. The collapse of the bridge was photographed by Frank O. Seed, which gained popularity. Because it was too dangerous to get out onto the river to remove the structure because of the high waves, wind and the high cliffs, the remnants of the Honeymoon Bridge remained on the icy river until April 13th of the same year, when it was moved down river by up to a mile and later sank to the bottom. None of the bridge has ever been recovered since then. Three years later, Waddel and Hardesty designed its replacement and Bethlehem Steel constructed the current bridge which has been in service since, carrying traffic between New York and Ontario.  The bridge provides some great views and should a book ever be written about the bridges in the Niagara Falls region, it would definitely reach the front cover because of its popularity that coincides with that of the two falls themselves. The bridge is found everywhere on postcards and booklets on the Falls, but eventually, a book on the bridges will need to be considered as well.

 

 

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William Rankine Power Generating Station Bridge

Location: Niagara Falls Outlet at the Power Generating Station on Niagara Parkway.

Type: Closed Spandrel Stone Arch Bridge (5-span)

Built:  1905

Walking past the Horseshoe Falls, we have this bridge, a five-span stone arch bridge that is located next to the city’s power station. Both were built at the same time, and both were built with the purpose of directing part of the flow from the Niagara River to the power station, where it can produce energy via hydro-electric power. It is unknown who the bridge builder was, however, it is one of four bridges a person can find in the area, whose bridge type and aesthetics are the same. Even a smaller crossing along the sidewalk next to the top of Horseshoe Falls resemble a similar engineering artwork.

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Luna Island Bridge

Location: Segment of Niagara Falls at American Falls between Luna Island and Tesla Monument

Bridge Type: Stone arch bridge (one span)

Built: between 1900 and 1905

The Luna Island Bridge is the shortest of the stone arch bridges in Niagara Falls, with a length of no more than 50 feet. It is the closest bridge to American Falls, which provides tourists with an up-close view of American Falls from the American shoreline. It does provide its lone access from Luna Island to the Niagara platform, which was built in 1961 and gives a person a view of both the American and the Horseshoe Falls from the American side. On the Canadian side, the bridge is sometimes difficult to photograph from the walkway along the Falls in the warmer seasons due to vegetation, but one can get a good shot from Skylon if zoomed in as far as the camera can allow for it.

 

 

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Goat Island Bridges

Location: Niagara Falls on Goat Island Drive

Bridge Type: Stone Arch Bridge (each three spans)

Built: 1905

Goat Island Bridge features a thoroughfare crossing that connects Goat Island and the city of Niagara Falls on the New York side, with an intermission going through Green Island. Each section has three spans but according to data, the total length of the entire structure with the island in between is between 180 and 200 feet. Originally, the bridge provided vehicular access, but as of present, access has been reduced to pedestrian and cyclar traffic. The structure can be seen from the Canadian side but also from the Skylon Tower. Yet, measures are being sought to replace both spans due to age and structural deterioration. But the procedure will not be easy. The American Falls will need to be shut down beforehand and all the water flow will need to be diverted through Horseshoe Falls. It would be a first since 1969, should both city governments as well as the Canadian government approve the measure. This measure would be use to rehabilitate the American Falls to reduce erosion, while at the same time, replace the Goat Island Bridges. If and when this will all happen remains open.

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Grand Island Viaduct

Location: Niagara River at I-190 between Sandy Beach and Niagara Falls, New York

Bridge Type: Cantilever deck truss with Warren/Wichert truss features

Built: 1935; additional replica built in 1963

The Grand Island Viaduct is the easternmost bridge in the Niagara Falls area, as the bridge carries Interstate I-190 that connects Niagara Falls with Buffalo. The interstate bypasses the city before crossing the Niagara River the second time at Kingston and entering Canada. While the bridge is not visible on the ground, it can be seen clearly from Skylon Tower, if one has a camera that can zoom as far as what is shown in the picture.

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Bird’s eye view of both American and Horseshoe Falls taken from Skylon Tower

There is a map where you can have a look at the location of the bridges and the places where you can get your best shots of the structures. From the author’s point of view, there are four places where you can get the best shots of the Falls, all of which from the Canadian side which you will be greeted by a crowd of thousands who will have the same idea. But still, with patience, you can get the best shots: on even level along the walkway from the Power Station to the Rainbow Arch, from Skylon Tower, while on a boat tour to Horseshoe Falls and lastly, by crossing the city’s finest bridges, as mentioned here. And while Niagara Falls is a “once-in-a-lifetime” event which one should really see, as a pontist, the bridges in the area are just as important, not only because of its location, but also because of their history. Which is why it would not be a surprise if a book on this topic will be on the shelves within five years after this tour guide is posted. 😉

The Gallery presented here is a fraction of what you can find on the Chronicles’ Facebook page. Click here and you will be directed to the Album, where you can enjoy not only the photos but comment on some of the bridges, including those not mentioned here. A link to some more interesting facts about the bridges in the area can be found here. 🙂

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Wolkenburg Suspension Bridge: A Unique Cable-Stay Along the Mulde

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Wolkenburg (Saxony)/ Limbach-Oberfrohna/ Glauchau- The last of the three bridges profiled here that is debuting along the Zwickauer Mulde is the Wolkenburg Suspension Bridge. Before going further with this bridge, we need to clarify what this bridge looks like as well as its aesthetic value. The current structure, open since May Day this year is actually a cable-stayed suspension bridge, a bridge type where suspenders actually support the roadway from the tower. When looking at them from an American’s point of view, cable-stayed bridges are bland in appearance, ranking them up there with concrete slab/girder bridges that represent a sour taste to the land-/ or even cityscape. This can be best exemplified with two bridges that come to mind: The Fort Steuben and the Russell-Ironton Bridges. Both of them spanned the Ohio River; both of them have the characteristic A-frame tower, whose cables support the roadway; both of them replaced historic bridges that had a lot of characteristic and aesthetic appeal but were neglected by the department of transportation in a successful bid to have them replaced. Both of them have been demolished, leaving nothing but documentation on websites owned by James Baughn and Nathan Holth, respectively. Both bridges are prone to having problems in the short-term involving the cables and the roadway because, like other modern bridge types, there is too much (heavy) traffic using it. We’re even seeing it with a pair of bridges in Germany, which will be mentioned later on.

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But while these cable-stayed bridges are being looked down upon like the other concrete spans in America, pursued by Donald Trump and Elaine Chao with some statues of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and a new quasi-national flag of the US (sorry, I have to be sarcastic with this analogy), cable-stayed bridges in Europe, from an outsider’s point of view, can be viewed as a treat, especially for pedestrians and cyclists using them while on the bike trail. One in three cities in Germany has at least one of this type. And while there are some standard examples that exist, most of the cable-stayed bridges we find here are designed in such an unusual way, that they are screaming for people to stop by to pay homage; whether it is because of tilted towers, curved or even rounded roadways, ….

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or in the case of this bridge, a single tower that is leaning outwards towards the river bank, whose primary cables- all draped over a pointed tower- are supporting the deck. The deck itself has a pony girder approach span with a Warren pony truss main span that crosses the Zwickauer Mulde.

 

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The bridge replaced a century-old structure that consisted of a wire suspension bridge, going by the textbook guidelines that were created by another German engineer, John Roebling. Roebling’s concept was strands of thick wire that were spun together to create the main cables that were anchored between the towers and the ground anchors on shore. The best examples of his design were the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge (1869) and the Brooklyn Bridge (1883, though he died during its construction). The original Wolkenburg Bridge featured heavy cables  combined with vertical suspenders that supported the narrow walkway. The walkway itself was fenced with heavy wire but not trussed like one will see in many suspension bridges today, such as the Golden Gate Bridge or the suspension bridges in New York designed by Othmar H. Ammann.

 

Flooding in 2013 caused extensive damage to the bridge’s roadway and cables to a point where officials in Limbach-Oberfrohna, where Wolkenburg is part of the conglomerate, as well as local officials decided to demolish the bridge, including the tower, which was arched and made of concrete. It took more than three years, combined with lots of money and politicking before the conglomerate let the contract to the firm of Iroplan, based in Chemnitz, and its architect, Klaus Lenz, to build a new bridge at the site of the old one.

 

Construction started in 2016 with the leaning tower and foundations. The roadway was assembled offsite, featuring sliding and welding connections, judging by the author’s observations during his visit. The roadway was lifted into place by crane in November that year, and after attaching the cables between the tower and the roadway, the bridge was completed. What was not completed at the time of the visit in March were the roadway leading to the bridge, the dike to keep the water in the river, and painting the bridge. The bridge was still grey and silver.  The cost for constructing the 80 meter long and two meter wide cable-stayed bridge was 1.2 million Euros.

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After many delays and headaches, people have their bridge back. At the May Day opening, where many people participated, mayor Jesko Vogel led the opening with a bang, as cannons were fired and a historic theater group from Glauchau were on hand for some entertainment. Refreshments were provided by the fire department. While the suspension bridge will forever be in the memories of many who live in Wolkenburg, this bridge reopens a connection between Eichenwald Forest and the mill area, both are northeast of the historic city center. The bridge will be a new icon  for Wolkenburg, providing a picturesque view from the historic city center and its churches and castle on the hill. And contrary to common belief regarding cable-stayed bridges, the Wolkenburg Suspension Bridge serves as an example of a bridge of this kind that, if designed with a good aesthetic taste, can be used for any form of traffic,

 

even if this bridge is open for pedestrians and fishermen only.  😉

 

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The Wrong Picture

Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Over the holiday season, as I was celebrating with family and getting some photo opportunities of some bridges in Iowa and Minnesota, one of my fellow pontists brought this painting up to the attention of the historic bridge community. It was a sketch of low quality showing a tall suspension bridge, trying to go along the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge but it is unknown whether it is the Golden Girl or the Big Mac Bridge (aka Mackinac Bridge) in Michigan because it was too blurry to tell. To an art teacher, the “artist” portraying this bridge would have received a failing grade for its lack of quality. However, both the teacher as well as a historian would have gotten grey hair and wrinkly had they seen that the title of this “pseudo-drawing” been touted as The Brooklyn Bridge!

I think I feel the tremble of the ground as a result of the Roebling family coming out of their graves for that!

While this person had good intentions of making money, and Wal-mart (where the drawing was spotted) was the place to sell the artwork, little did he realize that with the help of the internet and some photos from books and other sources, he would have found out that there is a stark contrast between the Brooklyn, Mackinac and the Golden Gate Bridges. How stark? The photos below speak for themselves…..

Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Transversal view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Nathan Holth

The problem with this misperception of this drawing is that many people do not know what the bridges look like and will take drawings like this one to mislead them into knowing that it is this bridge, when in all reality the actual appearance is anything but that. Furthermore, both the aforementioned bridges have been seen in books and movies, so the differences between them should be obvious. Yet with our total embrace with electronic games and technology as if we are swimming in a pool of water is causing us to lose sight on our surroundings, let along our basic knowledge of history and other core subjects that they all seem to be placed in the backburner. We become disillusioned to what we see, and the younger the generation, the more likely they will identify with the wrong items and have them stick to a point where it becomes more difficult to unglue.

So in order to avoid this type of misunderstanding and misleading identification, here is a word of advice to give to the next person who attempts to draw or paint a picture of something as iconic as a historic bridge: Get it right the first time!

Look at the photos and films, visualize in your head what it looks like and how it should look on paper, and allow yourself an ample amount of time to do the artwork correctly. And don’t worry about the issues of copyright laws. If you do the artwork differently than the one before that, yours will turn out just as well, if not better.

As Gaudenz Assenza, former professor of political science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany and now professor at the Catholic University of Rozemborok in Slovakia once quoted: Quality trumps quantity in all aspects of life.  While this may refer to aspects on the level of academia, it also applies to all aspects in life, especially when it comes to something like artwork. Think about this before putting the lead to the leaf, no matter how you do it.

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The Wrong Picture

Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Over the holiday season, as I was celebrating with family and getting some photo opportunities of some bridges in Iowa and Minnesota, one of my fellow pontists brought this painting up to the attention of the historic bridge community. It was a sketch of low quality showing a tall suspension bridge, trying to go along the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge but it is unknown whether it is the Golden Girl or the Big Mac Bridge (aka Mackinac Bridge) in Michigan because it was too blurry to tell. To an art teacher, the “artist” portraying this bridge would have received a failing grade for its lack of quality. However, both the teacher as well as a historian would have gotten grey hair and wrinkly had they seen that the title of this “pseudo-drawing” been touted as The Brooklyn Bridge!

I think I feel the tremble of the ground as a result of the Roebling family coming out of their graves for that!

While this person had good intentions of making money, and Wal-mart (where the drawing was spotted) was the place to sell the artwork, little did he realize that with the help of the internet and some photos from books and other sources, he would have found out that there is a stark contrast between the Brooklyn, Mackinac and the Golden Gate Bridges. How stark? The photos below speak for themselves…..

Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

 

Transversal view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Nathan Holth

The problem with this misperception of this drawing is that many people do not know what the bridges look like and will take drawings like this one to mislead them into knowing that it is this bridge, when in all reality the actual appearance is anything but that. Furthermore, both the aforementioned bridges have been seen in books and movies, so the differences between them should be obvious. Yet with our total embrace with electronic games and technology as if we are swimming in a pool of water is causing us to lose sight on our surroundings, let along our basic knowledge of history and other core subjects that they all seem to be placed in the backburner. We become disillusioned to what we see, and the younger the generation, the more likely they will identify with the wrong items and have them stick to a point where it becomes more difficult to unglue.

So in order to avoid this type of misunderstanding and misleading identification, here is a word of advice to give to the next person who attempts to draw or paint a picture of something as iconic as a historic bridge: Get it right the first time!

Look at the photos and films, visualize in your head what it looks like and how it should look on paper, and allow yourself an ample amount of time to do the artwork correctly. And don’t worry about the issues of copyright laws. If you do the artwork differently than the one before that, yours will turn out just as well, if not better.

As Gaudenz Assenza, former professor of political science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany and now professor at the Catholic University of Rozemborok in Slovakia once quoted: Quality trumps quantity in all aspects of life.  While this may refer to aspects on the level of academia, it also applies to all aspects in life, especially when it comes to something like artwork. Think about this before putting the lead to the leaf, no matter how you do it.

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Clifton Suspension Bridge Turns 150

Deck view of the bridge. Photo courtesy of Laura Hilton

150th Anniversary Celebrations to take place in December with concert, bridge walk and fireworks

BRISTOL (UK)- Before John Roebling made his mark with the construction of wire suspension bridges in Cincinnati (1869) and Brooklyn (1883), suspension bridges were built using chain cables to support the wooden decking. Chained suspension bridges are one of the oldest and rarest to build. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of a few examples of such bridges that can be found in Europe. Built in 1864, the bridge was one of the prized works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a well-known bridge engineer who constructed numerous landmarks on the British Isle for three decades, during the time where Victorian architecture was becoming popular.  In fact, Brunel was 23 when construction of the bridge started in 1831, and it was his first solo project.  He died just before the project was completed 33 years later. The bridge was eventually dedicated in his honor upon its completion by his colleagues, William Barlow and John Hawkshaw.  Spanning the Avon Gorge between Clifton in Bristol and Leigh Woods in North Somerset, the bridge is one of the key symbols of Bristol, as it can be seen on several postcards and other souvenirs. Over 8,800 cars cross the structure daily. And the bridge has set some historic marks worth noting. With its decking being 75m (or 245 feet) above the River Avon, the bridge was the highest structure in the world built above the water when it was built, and it became the source of its first bungee jumping event in 1979. The last ever Concorde flight went over the bridge in 2003, the bridge was the centerpiece of the 200th birthday of Brunel in 2006 and the passing of the Olympic torch occurred on the bridge in 2012, enroute to London, the venue of the Summer Games.

Now there is another reason for celebration: the bridge turns 150 years old.

To honor the bridge and Brunel, the communities the bridge serves, together with the Volunteers of the Brunel Suspension Bridge are hosting the 150th anniversary celebrations, scheduled to take place beginning December 6th, with the procession taking place December 8th, the 150th anniversary of the bridge’s dedication and opening. A reenactment of the opening ceremony is being scheduled for that day, while a treasure hunt is scheduled for the 6th.  More information can be found via link (here) as well as the Clifton Suspension Bridge’s facebook page (here). Additional events will follow, which includes the bridge walk in January (more information here.) A concert is scheduled to take place on 22 November. According to Laura Hilton, the ceremonies also include the opening of the new visitors’ center and lastly, even a musical piece, TV programme, theatrical and computer app are planned honoring the bridge. While the bridge has attracted 1 million visitors and 4 million motorists annually, the number is expected to increase when the celebrations are in full swing in December.

Even if you do not have the opportunity to visit the bridge during the celebrations, the visitors’ center is open daily and provides guided tours, providing people with a chance to learn about Brunel and the construction of the bridge. For more information, please click here for details.

While the Clifton Suspension Bridge has received many accolades over the years because of its historic significance and magnificant design, it may have another title or two in January, for the bridge is nominated for the Othmar H. Ammann Awards by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles for Bridge of the Year for 2014. Voting for the bridge is scheduled for December with the winner being announced in January. More information to follow.

Opening ceremony of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1864. Photo courtesy of Laure Hilton

 

 

 

Bridge Vibration: Can a bridge bounce?

Delaware River Bridge at Lackawaxen PA- one of the first suspension bridges built by John Roebling and Russell Lord. In use since 1849 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photos courtesy of HABS HAER

To start off this terminology page under the word Bridge Vibration, there is a story that is connected with this bridge. The Lackawaxen Suspension Bridge was built in 1849 by Russell Lord and John Roebling and spans the Delaware River bordering Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Together with the suspension bridge in Nuremberg (Germany), they are the only bridges of its kind in the world where the roadway is supported by odd-numbered towers. This in addition to the fact that they were both built before 1870. But the story goes where teenagers in the 1920s and 30s would try and race their cars across the bridge, then stop abruptly in the middle, creating a wave of vibration that would shake the wooden planking of the 300 foot structure! A dangerous stunt for it could lead to the bridge to collapse, but in those days, a carefree attitude towards bridges did not include liability issues like we have nowadays.

And this is where we look at the topic of Bridge Vibration. Can a bridge vibrate and if so, to what extent can it vibrate in order to make it safe?  This is in connection with some discussion about bridge vibration and how unsafe it is. Three bridges- two in Battleboro, New Hampshire and one bridge at Sylvan Island in the Quad Cities were the primary focus of this issue. City officials in the Moline (IL) portion of the Quad Cities feared that bridge vibration would mean that the potential for bridge collapse was there and subsequentially closed the bridge to all traffic this past May. The 1911 Pratt through truss structure, once serving as the lone key access to Sylvan Island, is now scheduled to be replaced this fall with a concrete structure that is not meant to bounce. The Charles Dana and Anna Hunt Marsh Bridges in Battleboro were on the hot seat lately due to suspected negligence on the part of the New Hampshire DOT and vandalism by someone who justified his actions on bridgehunter.com and claimed that a 250 foot bridge does not bounce. Both bridges are scheduled for replacement in 5-10 years time.  This leads to the question of whether a bridge can or has to bounce. After inquiring about this with some bridge engineers who have worked with this topic, the answer to that question is yes, but with certain restrictions. Says Todd Vierendeel, who works for an engineering firm in South Dakota:  “All bridges will experience some amount of deflection under load. The repeated loading and un-loading of spans due to transient loads (truck and pedestrian) can generate the sensation of vibration, or “bouncing” as has been described here. Excessive deflection and/or vibration can cause structural issues, but it’s actually not desirable primarily from a user comfort perspective.”  Billy Wulff, a bridge engineer from Quickborn, Germany, compares this sort of vibration to a plank sitting on top of a box whose expansion and contraction is restricted in contrast to the plank.  Therefore, “…engineers build in tolerances (which they calculate) of movement.” He also added that engineers have tried to construct lighter bridges, using the same materials for both the structure and the flooring, in order for it to not move.

The danger to such vibration is that too much of it, combined with the usage of light-weight materials for bridge construction will lead to structural failure. Many bridges have collapsed because of what Wulff calls misunderstanding of science combined with unsuitable materials. The most classical example was the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington in 1940. There, too much light materials for the bridge deck on “Galloping Gertie” resulted in excessive bouncing in 40 mph wind, resulting in the bridge’s collapse.  Video of the collapse can be found here.  To regulate the vibration on all bridges, transportation agencies have bridge design codes to ensure that there is a certain tolerance to the bridge vibration; this applies to agencies responsible for highways and railroads, but as Vierendeel states, the guidelines are more stringent for pedestrian bridges as they can notice the vibrations more than automobile drivers or train conductors.

But for older bridges, like the aforementioned bridges, he adds that more care is needed to ensure that the vibrations do not cause any discomfort among drivers and pedestrians, namely because of the increase in loads going across the bridge.  Therefore, some adjustments, like additional beams, weight restrictions, and extensive maintenance are needed to prolong the bridge’s life. As for bridges that are closed to vehicular traffic but open to pedestrians, such bouncing is considered normal for as they were used to vehicles crossing it, its tolerance may have increased over the years, making the bouncing sensation more pronounced. Yet, as many experts have mentioned, it does not mean that the bridge is unsafe and sometimes, additional support and retrofitting the bridge deck to reduce the vibrations is what is needed to prevent any discomfort of bridge users. This happened with the Millenium Bridge in London, where fluid and mass dampers were retrofitted to reduce the vibration frequency caused by many people crossing the bridge.

So to answer the questions, yes it is possible for bridges to vibrate when crossing, but only within tolerances that are imposed in bridge designs approved by transportation agencies. Should bridges witness any excessive vibrations, it is possible to fix the problem by adding support to the decking and retrofitting bridge parts to ensure that the vibrations are at a minimum. There is no such thing as a bridge not vibrating because of factors involving temperature differences combined with the volume of traffic crossing the bridge.  This leads to the question of the necessity to tear down bridges that vibrate when it is all part of the way the structure functions. Sometimes some minor repairs to bridges like the ones mentioned combined with continuous maintenance is all that is needed to ensure that the bridge lasts longer and the tax payers do not have to suffer as a result of tearing down a bridge for something whose quality cannot match that of the one that is destined for the scrap heap.  While it may be too late to save the Sylvan Island Bridge, it is something officials in New Hampshire and other states should consider before deciding on replacement over restoration.

The author would like to thank Billy Wulff and Todd Vierendeel (the names and occupation were changed to protect their identity) for their help in clarifying this topic.

 

Happy Fourth of July 2013

Wabasha Bridge over the Mississippi River Photo taken in Sept. 2010

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Fourth of July- the time to celebrate the birth of America. It started with the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776; 11 years later came the Constitution creating the Republic to which it still stands today. Many historic landmarks still stand today, constructed by many architects and engineers wanting to leave their mark for future Americans to see.

Irene Hixson Bridge, located over I-94 west of Loring Park in Minneapolis, built by Siah Armajani in 1988. Photo taken in 2009.

This applies to bridges as well, for many engineers, whether it was John Roebling, Lawrence Johnson and Gustav Lindenthal, who immigrated from Germany, Ralph Mojeski,  who originated from Poland,  Salvador Calatrava, who was a Spaniard or even Siah Armajani, who gave up his Iranian citizenship to live the American Dream, left their marks on their bridge design and construction for  people to see today. Most of them have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places; some will eventually be listed in the near future because of their design and the example of how these people came to the States to allow for their creativity and fantasy to run wild. Many engineers used Erector sets to draft their dream bridges before building them. Others improvised and built bridges that made people wonder in awe. In any case, many of today’s bridge builders have used the examples of bridges built in the US as a source of inspiration, despite attempts by politicians and agencies alike to have a plain bridge built in the shortest time possible at the cheapest cost- a logic that has caused many in the bridge, preservation and engineering communities to scratch their heads and question their logic. Bridges are meant to carry traffic and goods from point A to point B, yet when they are rendered obsolete, they are meant to be used as a historic marker, recognizing the tire and toil put in by engineers and bridge builders when it was built in the first place, and to be given new life for those engaging in recreational activities, such as biking, walking, jogging, etc.

The Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, the best example of a piece of work built by Gustav Lindenthal built in 1883. Photo taken in August 2010


So that’s why we are here to celebrate the Fourth- in style. Many bridges are part of the festivities including fireworks, dances and boat rides, like the bridge over the Mississippi River in Wabasha, Minnesota, for example. Other bridges are the focus of private venues, for fishing, grilling or just being alone to watch the sunset, a prerequisite to the fireworks that go off on the eve of dusk.  In either case, when you cross a bridge this evening, built by an engineering great, think about the hard work put into building the structure and how it became part of America’s infrastructural history, which seems to be mutating at high speeds, from the first primitive crossings, to the ones built of iron and steel, to the ones that are becoming fancier to see. We must take pride in our work and consider that it is not necessary to have such a plain ugly bridge, but to have one that is a work of art, both past and present, for generations of the future to see as they cross it.

Janesville Bridge over the Cedar River at the Bremer/ Black Hawk County border in Iowa. Photo taken in September 2010

The Chronicle’s questions for the Forum (for you to post either in the Comment section of this article or on the facebook page):

1.       Which bridge do you know is the site of the Fourth of July Celebrations or can be seen during the fireworks display?

2.       Which bridge is your favorite place to visit and do during the summer?

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and its sister column the Flensburg Files would like to wish everyone a happy but safe Fourth of July weekend, no matter where you go and what you plan on doing for the weekend.