For nearly twenty years between the 1980s and the early 2000s, various sides of the Manhattan Bridge were closed to train traffic. While I take my Q and B trips over the bridge for granted, Brooklyn residents know the pain of a closed bridge. What many do not realize is why the bridge was closed.
When the Manhattan Bridge was first built, it contained a huge engineering flaw. Because the four subway tracks — two on the south side and two on the north — were built on the outside of the bridge as opposed to the center, the bridge would sway as the heavy trains drove back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan. As trains — and people — grew heavier, so did the stress on the bridge.
In the early 1980s, as New York City Transit was busy restoring its degraded system to a state of good repair, an examination of the Manhattan Bridge revealed some serious structural damage. In 1985, the north tracks were shuttered for three years. In 1988 through the summer of 2001, the south tracks were closed. From 2001 through early 2004, the north tracks were closed again. Finally, in February 2004, nearly two decades after repairs started the bridge reopened.
We are still feeling the effects of this design flaw. Every few months, the MTA closes the bridge to train traffic and examines the structural integrity of the nearly 100-year-old bridge. The above video underscores the problem. It is a stop-motion video shot from the Brooklyn side of the bridge, and it underscores just how much the bridge sways as trains go across it.
So the next time you find yourself on a B or Q making the scenic trip across the East River, don’t think too much about the bridge beneath. You might find yourself swaying along with it.