Monday, October 23, 2006
Slate today has gorgeous pictures of my favorite bridge--the George Washington Bridge. The bridge is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering, and was completed at the time my father was born. It also helped create suburban New Jersey.
Bridges seem politically unpopular right now--they only seem to get built (or proposed) where they aren't necessary. In my town, for instance, there has not been an additional bridge built across the Potomac in nearly 40 years, despite the fact that the metropolitan area has doubled in size. The lack of bridges has created choke-points in the regional transportation system; choke-points that make people unhappy throughout the region, but that people don't seem to want to do anything about. I would guess that a couple of more bridges from the District into Arlington would easily pass any cost-benefit test, but they flunk the political test.
Perhaps the reason for this is that we built too many ugly bridges. The older bridges across the Potomac--Memorial Bridge, Key Bridge and Chain Bridge--are all quite beautiful. Don't take more word for it--the picture on top is of Key Bridge, the one just below it is Memorial Bridge.
Compare these with the 14th Street Bridge:
It is not hard to understand why people don't want more of these.
But bridges have made lives better for people--they have relieved congestion and, because they open up more urban land for development--reduced housing costs. While some urban planners sniffed that the post World War II suburbs of New Jersey and Long Island and Northern Virgina were banal, they also allowed the emerging middle class the ability to own houses at reasonable cost. These places would not exist in the absence of bridges.