View Full Version : 75th Anniversary of George Washington Bridge

Jersey Warren
10-23-2006, 02:10 PM
This was an interresting article in the Bergen Record on how the George Washington Bridge impacted the lifestyle of Northeastern New Jersey.

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2MDYmZmdi ZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcwMDgwODQmeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZU VFeXkx

Sometimes I wish Bergen County looked like it did when I was a boy.

10-23-2006, 07:25 PM
Thanks Jersey Warren - this is an interesting article and I've copied and pasted it below.

GWB at 75 - Bridge opening changed N.J. forever
Sunday, October 22, 2006

It arrived 75 years ago, like some strange machine from the future.

It was bigger and stronger than any suspension bridge on Earth.

Its shining towers and broad deck made the roads leading up to it look like cow paths.

It belonged to a world that didn't exist yet.

We are that world.

North Jersey's suburban culture -- centered on highways, malls, two-car garages and burgeoning edge cities -- exists because the George Washington Bridge landed here practically out of nowhere in 1931.

Dropped here more because of geography than local demographics, and answering to a higher authority, it hammered a permanent link between one of the world's great cities and a collection of modest hamlets with a gaudy amusement park. It reached out into the countryside and drew new roads and highways to its thresholds, while barring the popular trolley cars from its decks. It transformed farms and strawberry fields into tract housing and shopping developments.

It created a culture on wheels.

More than any other single factor, the George Washington Bridge has determined the look, the feel, the pace of North Jersey. Without the bridge, there would be no Route 4 or Palisades Parkway. Routes 80, 95, 46 and 1 & 9 would not all link up in Fort Lee and converge like roots feeding into the trunk of a tree.

Most suburbs in this country evolved gradually. They grew out from central cities in expanding rings, from semi-urban streetcar suburbs to sidewalk neighborhoods to woodsy properties on cul-de-sacs.

That's not how it happened here.

When the great gray bridge arrived, much of North Jersey was rural. Paramus was known for celery farms. Many of the roads were still dirt. Only a few visionaries were clamoring for a connection to New York, let alone a gigantic, futuristic-looking bridge. The project's biggest booster was the man who wanted to build it, engineer Othmar Ammann.

In the early 1920s, people's needs to get into Manhattan were being met by a busy network of trains, trolleys, and ferries. Real estate advertisements for communities like Englewood, Teaneck and Hackensack boasted of ferries that went from Edgewater to 125th Street in six minutes. The Northern Railroad took 20 minutes from Leonia to Jersey City, and from there "The Tubes" whisked people into Manhattan.

But the automobile revolution had begun. In 1927, the year of the bridge groundbreaking, the Ford Motor Co. began producing its Model A. By 1931, the year they finished the bridge, Ford had churned out 4.3 million of them. This area saw a flurry of bridge-and-tunnel building. The Holland Tunnel was finished in 1927. The Goethals Bridge and Outerbridge Crossing opened in 1928. After the Bayonne Bridge and the GWB (both 1931), Ammann and the Port Authority built the Lincoln Tunnel (1937). He moved on to the Triborough Bridge (1936) the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (1939) and, a generation later, the Throgs Neck (1961) and the Verrazano-Narrows (1964) bridges.

All of these crossings were part of a plan for a tri-state arterial highway network that, when the GWB went up, existed mostly on paper. Reactions in North Jersey to the proposed bridge were predictable. Some saw dollar signs and began buying farmland. Some warned that it would turn North Jersey into another Manhattan.

No one expected what actually did happen at first, which was ... not much.

In the early 1930s, the Great Depression was on, and the radios played "Brother Can You Spare a Dime." A dime was what the new Port Authority was charging pedestrians to walk the bridge. The car toll was 50 cents, for those who could afford a car.

But the $59 million bridge didn't have a trolley line to connect with the existing network. Ammann had set aside the center two lanes for light rail, but the tracks were never laid. Why? Probably because people saw rail service as tantamount to bringing the New York subway system into New Jersey, and people fretted about an influx of "undesirables."

The center lanes of the bridge remained unused for 15 years, until after World War II, when the economy took off. Then they were paved for cars, not equipped for trolleys.

America was putting its money into highways. New York City highway czar Robert Moses was well on his way to pulling together his ambitious network. When a lower level was proposed in 1955, there was little serious consideration given to rail lines. The bridge got six more automobile lanes in 1962. And none too soon. By that time, three great highway projects were completed: the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

Bergen County's population mushroomed from 409,646 in 1940 to 780,225 in 1960. Today, it still hasn't exceeded 900,000.

Former pastures and fields were now streets and neighborhoods. In Paramus, 92 percent of the current residential units are post-1940 construction. In Upper Saddle River, the figure is 93 percent, and in Washington Township, it's more than 94 percent.

After the war, a new automobile-centered lifestyle was fast evolving across America, and North Jersey was on the cutting edge. Diners and drive-in movies sprouted along the highways. So did corporate offices, shopping centers and, of course, malls.

Paramus became the shopping capital of the universe with no fewer than four huge malls. It didn't have a downtown, but it had the Bergen Mall, where local people socialized, ate, went to the movies, visited the post office, even went to church and saw plays. During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy held a rally at the Bergen Mall.

What made North Jersey different from other suburbs was its sudden transformation -- from zero to 60 in roughly 20 years -- and the ambivalent relationship it had with its central city.

You need only look to the other side of Manhattan to see how different the suburban-urban equation works here. Like North Jersey, the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn are separated from Manhattan by a river. Their neighborhoods range in character from close-in urban (Brooklyn Heights) to far-away semi-suburban (Whitestone).

But a North Jerseyan would have to cross into Nassau County before things started to feel familiar. There, where the subway lines stop and home rule begins, where soccer moms drive the kids and schools are sprawling one-story buildings, is a culture like this one. Someone from the woodsier suburbs of West Milford or northwest Bergen County might even have to go farther, into Suffolk County, to find familiar sights.

Here there is barely any transition. Beyond the high-rises of Fort Lee and Cliffside Park, aerial photographs show a remarkably green New Jersey side, in marked contrast to the thoroughly urban gray of the New York side. Further separating the two cultures is the state line that runs across the center of the bridge. Not only do we spend more time in cars than the people on the other side of the bridge, but our cars have different license plates. People in the far reaches of Suffolk County may live in developments built on potato fields, but they have the same governor and the same state Legislature as those living in the center of Manhattan.


10-23-2006, 07:26 PM
The term "bedroom community" never really fit this area. North Jersey was never content to be a bedroom to New York. It wanted its own kitchen, dining room, its own shopping, and ultimately its own workplaces. Only 17 percent of people from Bergen County commute to New York City -- a figure that's been steady for the past quarter century.

But for all its independence, North Jersey has never quite decided what it wants to be. The bridge is there because a powerful regional authority was created to build and run it, but no comparable planning authority was created to orchestrate the development that would inevitably follow. Each town was left to pursue its own perceived self-interest, with only volunteer boards and commissions to counterbalance the self-interests of developers.

This area missed out on that late 19th-century wave of civic utopianism that saw great parks built in this country. The idea of setting aside open space and creating grand picturesque parks like Central Park in Manhattan or Branch Brook Park in Newark never caught on around here as it did in older suburbs. So North Jersey, which had so much open space to begin with, has squandered most of it. At the turn of the 21st century, for example, Bergen County's open space was estimated to be only about 4 percent.

The proximity of New York for culture and entertainment has been a benefit, but it has also discouraged North Jersey from nurturing its own institutions. The region has no major museum, for example. Why try to compete with world-class ones?

Most recently, the prejudice against looking urban has resulted in some awkward accommodations. Condominium communities sprout in the middle of suburban neighborhoods, their density hidden by Scotch pines and plastic fences. In Palisades Park, two-family houses are shoehorned into lots stripped of lawns and trees. These create a virtual block of row houses with none of the charm of real row houses like those in Hoboken or Jersey City.

The struggle for suburban identity can show itself in small and sometimes paradoxical ways. Why does a densely developed suburb like Tenafly, for example, eschew sidewalks in many of its neighborhoods? Sidewalks are practical. Without them, people have to walk in the street. But sidewalks have an urban connotation. Having no sidewalks conjures up rusticity, something village-like. But it denies the reality of the cars that race down those streets.

It always comes back to the cars. With problems like traffic and overdevelopment, the bridge can sometimes seem like a questionable benefit. But the bridge -- and the people who run it -- feel no such ambivalence. The bridge never doubts that its purpose is to move people across the river. The Port Authority never doubts its purpose to make sure that the bridge works efficiently.

All this movement. The number of cars using the bridge has steadily risen, from 5.5 million in 1932 to 107 million in 2005 -- more vehicles than any other bridge in the world. Who are all those people? Half of them are your North Jersey neighbors. Others are just passing through. They are truckers, vacationers, business travelers, long-distance commuters. They are coming from the turnpike or Route 80, and heading north on 95. They are moving from one part of the megalopolis to another. In the words of traffic planners, this is a major traffic corridor.

That's us. That's the trade-off, the "What Exit?" joke. The bridge is a regional conduit. It was never really a local bridge. There wasn't enough here in 1927 to justify building the world's biggest bridge. But it fit into a vision of the future that has proved remarkably accurate 75 years later.

Yes, it was partly self-fulfilling. It helped make the future it was built to serve, though our car culture and our suburban lifestyle are hardly unique.

Once upon a time, towns and cities grew up alongside rivers. The river brought prosperity and cultural connections. It beckoned young people and dreamers to lives and fortunes elsewhere. Today, the river that borders North Jersey seems less important than the structure that spans it.

But the bridge fulfills a similar role. Its flow sets the tempo. A big chunk of our economy rolls over its decks every day. It connects us to a city that stirs ambitions and dreams. And, for an area that lacks a center or a great work of architecture, the George Washington Bridge is our Gateway Arch, our Empire State Building, our wonder of the world.

E-mail: zeaman@northjersey.com

I do have some comments on this article - such as - was the bridge beneficial to New Jersey. I think as with many of the connections to New York - it has not been. As is stated in the article - developments sprang up around the bridge, yet there isn't the cultural institutions. It is at the same time nice to know that only around 15% of residents around the bridge area commute to New York. Let's keep business and employees in New Jersey - where we can benefit from the tax revenue!