What is a Bridge?

When I reached the next pedestrian accessible bridge to get off of Herr’s Island/Washington’s Landing (after having got on it by the converted railroad bridge, see July 15th’s post), the question of what is a bridge stared me in the face.  I’ve skirted that question since starting this blog, sometimes alluding to it in passing, but never really dealing with it head on.  It came up first with Heth’s Run Bridge.  While in the posts on this bridge (see May 31st and June 9) I mention that the deep ravine that the bridge once spanned has been filled in, I don’t discuss what this means for its status as a bridge.  The question there is: Is a bridge still a bridge if what it bridged has been filled in so that the bridge isn’t actually bridging anything anymore?

Then when I wrote about the Bridge Under a Bridge (see June 15th post), I couldn’t help wondering if it was cheating to include this bridge as it was purely an aesthetic bridge built so that a man-made pond could go underneath and it could have just as well been a normal path with two man-made ponds on either side.  Yet I still refused to address the question of what is a bridge?

At this point, I feel it is necessary to address it, this point being where the 30th Street Bridge connects to the River Avenue ramp which connects to the 31st Street Bridge.  From the view above of the 30th Street Bridge, it looks like a bridge.  However from where I got on it (the lower end on the left side) it looked to me like a ramp.  Though I had a suspicion that it might be considered by others to be a bridge, I thought of it as a ramp because it was the only access point from Herr’s Island to the 31st Street Bridge.  While it doesn’t connect directly to the 31st Street Bridge, but instead connects to River Avenue ramp (picture below), its function seemed clear as bringing traffic to the 31st Street Bridge.  So I began to seriously ask myself what is a bridge?

First I thought, “A bridge is a structure that connects two points which would otherwise not be accessible to each other.”  Then I realized that includes ramps. As seen in my current example, there is no other way that River Avenue, which runs at the same level as the bike path in the picture above, would be able to connect to/access the 31st Street Bridge and therefore according to my definition above the ramp is a bridge.

Another thought I had was “A bridge is a structure that spans a geological obstacle.”  Well then, that means that the bridges that only exist to cross over a road or railroad aren’t really bridges.  I discuss these types of bridges some in my post on Cleveland Bridges.  In that post I don’t question whether or not they are bridges, but whether they are significant enough for being counted in comparing the number of bridges cities have.  Though I didn’t state it, I also wondered if they were significant enough for me to include this types of bridges in my bridge walking.  Regardless of their significance, I regard them as bridges.

Merriam-Webster defines a bridge as “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.”  This definition seems pretty good as it excludes ramps, but includes the bridges over man-made obstacles.  I’d say this definition also would include the Bridge Under a Bridge.  However, it doesn’t address the hypothetical situation suggested by Heth’s Run Bridge.  What if the structure “carrying a pathway or roadway” at one time crossed over “a depression or obstacle,” but does so no longer though the structure is still there?  Is it still a bridge?

There is one other dilemma I still have suggested by the 30th Street Bridge/River Avenue Ramp/31st Street Bridge structures, the Fort Duquesne Bridge (see June 19th post), the Veteran’s Bridge (see June 24th post), and London’s Jubilee Bridge (see July 10 post).  This dilemma is perhaps best expressed by “what makes one bridge?”  In the Veteran’s Bridge three separate structures cross over the obstacle of the lower elevation of the parking lots in the Strip before joining to become one structure across the obstacle of the Allegheny River.  So is this one bridge or three?  When I walked the Fort Duquesne Bridge, I was walking a pedestrian bridge built approximately 40 years after the Fort Duquesne Bridge.  The pedestrian bridge is attached to the Fort Duquesne Bridge over the Allegheny River, but on either end it is separate with its own supports.  Is this one bridge or two?  London’s Jubilee Bridge has two separate pathways, but one name and dedication date.  They are separated by a bridge for the underground, which as far as I can tell they are attached to for structural support.  So is this one, two or three bridges?  The 30th Street Bridge/River Avenue Ramp/31st Street Bridge structures appear to me to be one conglomeration, similar to the three structures that merge in the Veteran’s Bridge.  Yet while the elements in the Veteran’s Bridge appear to be considered one bridge/structure, the 30th Street Bridge is considered a separate element from the 31st Street Bridge, at least in so far as it has its own name and its own page on PGHbridges.com.  What makes the 30th Street and 31st Street bridges different from the other examples I’ve listed?

For a continuation of this discussion see What is a Bridge? Part II


4 thoughts on “What is a Bridge?

  1. i want you to look at the bridge over the Muskingum and Licking Creek in Zanesville, the old national road. There are nice photoes on the world wide web from very long ago, but you will want to visit in person some day . . . it is very close by the Zane Grey and national road museum . . .
    nice work

    • Fascinating! I decided today that I want to go to Cincinnati one day (it turns out they have a lot of city steps too with over 400 counted). Zanesville would be a good stop on the way. Their Y-Bridge is definitely a must see. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Pingback: What is a Bridge? Part II | urbantraipsing

  3. Pingback: What is a Bridge? Chicago Edition | urbantraipsing

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