Ward's Island Bridge

The Wards Island Bridge, also known as the 103rd Street Footbridge, is a pedestrian bridge crossing the Harlem River between Manhattan Island and Wards Island in New York City. The vertical lift bridge has a total of twelve spans consisting of steel towers and girders. It only carries pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

On the Manhattan side of the river, the bridge is located at East 103rd Street, between Exits 14 and 15 of the FDR Drive. The bridge is accessible from the East River Esplanade and a pedestrian overpass across the FDR Drive to the East River Houses apartment complex in Spanish Harlem. The bridge connects to the southwestern corner of Wards Island and provides access to the many playing fields and scenic waterfront of Randall's and Wards Island Park.

The Wards Island Bridge is available for use from April through October during daylight hours. During the months from November through March, the bridge is kept in the "open" position and cannot be accessed.


The first known bridge to Wards Island was a wooden drawbridge between East 114th Street in Manhattan to the northwest corner of the island. The bridge was built in 1807 to serve a cotton business run by Philip Milledolar and Bartholomew Ward and lasted until 1821, when it was destroyed by a storm.

Pedestrian access to Randall's and Wards Islands was established with the opening of the Triborough Bridge by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in 1936. Although plans to construct a separate pedestrian bridge to provide Manhattan residents better access to the new Wards Island's Park were developed by Robert Moses in 1937, construction of the bridge did not begin until 1949. Designed by Othmar Hermann Ammann, the footbridge was originally known as the Harlem River Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge was built by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and given to New York City.

The Wards Island Bridge opened to pedestrians on May 18, 1951 and was completed at a cost of $2.1 million. The bridge was later opened to bicycles in 1967. Although the bridge was originally painted in a red, yellow, and blue color scheme, it was repainted in sapphire blue and emerald green in 1986.

Restricting access to the bridge during the overnight hours and winter months traces back to concerns from residents of the East River Houses in the 1980s and 1990s over patients from the Manhattan State Psychiatric Center who frequently crossed the bridge into Manhattan. Tenants believed that the patients were responsible for increased levels of crime in their neighborhood.

In 1999, the New York City Department of Transportation proposed that the bridge be converted to a fixed bridge status. However, this proposal was delayed due to the clearance necessary to float construction equipment up the Harlem River for reconstruction projects associated with the Third Avenue, Willis Avenue, and 145th Street Bridges.

The Wards Island Bridge is scheduled to undergo reconstruction between April 2010 and April 2012, which will include replacement of the walkway deck, steel superstructure, and electrical and mechanical control systems.

Cultural references

The bridge is featured on the cover of the 1979 album "Games" by Synergy. The picture was created from a series of nighttime long-exposure photographs.


2 photos

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