The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Hunters Point Avenue Bridge

indefinable odors

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This is a reblog of the post “indefinable odors“, which focused in on the little commented Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Sorry for the repeat, fresh and new stuff is in the pipes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Down by Dutch Kills, one must persevere to maintain some inkling of hope for the future of mankind.

Saying that, however, in its own way Dutch Kills is actually quite a lovely place- as storied industrial centers which have seen better days typically are. A canalized waterway, Dutch Kills is a tributary of that languid cautionary tale known as the Newtown Creek, and has been isolated for several seasons from its principate source by emergency bridge construction and a changing industrial landscape. I’m down here a lot of course, most recently in the “from some point in space” posting of November 3rd, which includes an intriguing set of high elevation shots of the area which I recently managed to capture.

from nyc.gov

Hunters Point Avenue is a two-lane local City street in Queens. Hunters Point Avenue is oriented east-west and extends from 21st Street to the Long Island Expressway/Brooklyn Queens Expressway interchange in Queens. The avenue is parallel to and approximately one block south of the Long Island Expressway. The Hunters Point Bridge over Dutch Kills is situated between 27th Street and 30th Street in the Long Island City section of Queens, and is four blocks upstream of the Borden Avenue Bridge. It is a bascule bridge with a span of 21.8m. The general appearance of the bridge has been significantly changed since it was first opened in 1910. The bridge provides a channel with a horizontal clearance of 18.3m and a vertical clearance, in the closed position, of 2.4m at MHW and 4.0m at MLW. The bridge structure carries a two-lane, two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 11.0m, while the sidewalks are 1.8m wide. The width of the approach roadways vary from the width of the bridge roadway. The west approach and east approach roadways are 13.4m and 9.1m, respectively.

The first bridge at this site, a wooden structure, was replaced by an iron bridge in 1874. That bridge was permanently closed in 1907 due to movement of the west abutment, which prevented the draw from closing. It was replaced in 1910 by a double-leaf bascule bridge, designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company. The bridge was rebuilt in the early 1980′s as a single-leaf bascule, incorporating the foundations of the previous bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Seldom commented, the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge segments Dutch Kills neatly, and has done so for nigh on a century now. The marshes and streams which once typified the area before the advance of railroad and vast agglutination of industrial installation are long gone, relegated to subterranean sewers and masonry clad spillways, but a century ago- the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge (and its predecessors) allowed egress between the terrestrial isolation of the Long Island City center and the rest of western Queens.

The NY Times, in 1908, commented that Long Island City might someday be known as “A city of bridges” due to the many crossings over the tributaries of the Newtown Creek and the presence of mighty Queensboro at its center.

from federalregister.gov

The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, at mile 1.4, over the Dutch Kills has vertical clearances of 8 feet at mean high water and 13 feet at mean low water. The existing regulations for the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge in 33 CFR 117.801(d) require the draw to open on signal if at least a one-hour advance notice is given to the drawtender at the Grand Street/Avenue Bridge, the NYCDOT Radio Hotline, or NYCDOT Bridge Operations Office. In the event the drawtender is at the Roosevelt Island Bridge or the Borden Avenue Bridge, up to an additional half-hour delay may occur.

The bridge owner, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), submitted bridge opening log data to the Coast Guard for review. The bridge owner plans to operate these bridges with multiple crews of drawtenders. The two-hour advance notice should allow sufficient time for the crews to operate these bridges due to the close proximity of the bridges to each other. Recent yearly openings have been relatively low which will allow the bridge owner to utilize the roving crew concept and still meet the needs of navigation.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge (the 1910 version) was configured differently than the modern structure when first built, although the original was constructed for some $95,214 from plans by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company with the dirty work performed by the Duseath Engineering Company of 114 Liberty St. NY. As you’d imagine, there is a certain logic behind the esoterica presented about this obscure little bridge found in a literal “industrial backwater” in Queens.

But… I can’t tell you what is is yet…   (it was a Bridge centennial parade)

from nysdot.gov

About 1900, most of the Newtown Creek was bulkheaded and occupied by about fifty industrial properties. Undeveloped or less developed sections without bulkheads included Dutch Kills, about 2,000 feet of shoreline in Queens just above Dutch Kills with two LIRR lighterage piers, about 1,000 feet of shoreline in Queens near the Penny Bridge, and about 3,500 feet of shoreline downstream of Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn.15 Dutch Kills, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek, just upstream of Dutch Kills, were developed circa 1905-1912, largely through the efforts of the Degnon Terminal & Realty Company. The Degnon firm created an industrial park with rail and marine access around Dutch Kills between about Hunters Point and 47th Avenue, Dutch Kills subsequently was included within USACE dredging projects. Without federal assistance, Degnon created a 150-foot-wide channel with 2,400 feet of bulkhead, including a turning basin. To create rail links to the development, Degnon helped the LIRR build a new 1,000-acre freight terminal circa 1907 along Newtown Creek east of Dutch Kills on property bought from Calvary Cemetery, including several short piers intended to handle heavy freight such as brick, coal, lumber, and ice. From this terminal, a private Degnon Terminal Railroad was created, largely through local streets. On newly filled marshy margins of Dutch Kills, Degnon Terminal & Realty promoted industrial development both on and away from the water. One iron works and several large building materials firms occupied the Degnon waterfront by the early 1920s. Reconstruction of the two movable bridges over Dutch Kills circa 1908-10 contributed to these developments. On other Degnon lots, large firms included the American Eveready Company and the American Chiclet Company, respective makers of  batteries and candy.16 Facilitating this growth was the construction of the Queensboro Bridge (1909) and the start of the operation of the IRT subway line in 1917.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, I can’t announce the news yet… Let’s just say that it would be a good idea to leave the 11th of December open, and that Long Island City is terrible in its grandeur during the winter months.

More on this will be forthcoming by the end of the week.

from wikipedia

Edward Byrne began his civil engineering career in 1886 with the New York City Aqueduct Commission on the construction of the Croton Water Supply System. It is of interest that on this project he met Robert Ridgway, who also was destined to become a distinguished engineer and an outstanding civil servant.

From 1889 to the close of 1897, Byrne worked on highways and bridges for the old Department of Public Works of New York City.

On January 1, 1898, he joined the Department of Bridges and began a striking and noteworthy service which ended in November, 1933, with his resignation from the position of Chief Engineer of the Department of Plant and Structures (the successor of the Bridge Department), in order to assume the duties of Chief Engineer of the Triborough Bridge. His thirty-six years of service in the Department of Bridges, and its successor, the Department of Plant and Structures, may be divided into two periods.

Borden Avenue Bridge

During this period, he was in charge of bridge construction and maintenance, supervising the construction of the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River, the Vernon Avenue Bridge, the Borden Avenue and Hunters Point Bridges over Dutch Kills, and the old bridge over Flushing River.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Also, as a note:

I get asked all the time what these signs mean, what they indicate, and how seriously they should be regarded. The powers that be don’t make it easy to find out, for despite the “for more information” attribution, the City doesn’t go into much detail at nyc.gov/dep about them. Partly, this is due to the vogue followed by municipal authorities in recent years which allows private contractors to perform public work. The contractor is under no obligation to release their work into the public domain, as government workers are, and many important details about our metropolis ends up hidden behind corporate firewalls.

Here’s a little of the Batman type detection required to penetrate a purposely obtuse subject, which is a skill I’ve been developing over the lifetime of this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Quoting from hydroqual.com

The Bowery Bay WPCP is permitted by the NYSDEC under SPDES permit number NY-0026158. The facility is located at 43-01 Berrian Blvd., Astoria, NY, 11105 in the Astoria section of Queens, on a 34.6 acre site adjacent to the Rikers Island Channel, leading into the Upper East River, bounded by Berrian Blvd. and Steinway Street. The Bowery Bay WPCP serves an area of approximately 16,105 acres in the Northwest section of Queens, including the communities of KewGarden Hills, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Forest Hills Gardens, North Corona, South Corona, Lefrak City, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Maspeth, Woodside, Sunnyside Gardens, Sunnyside, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Astoria, Astoria Heights, Steinway, Ravenswood, and Roosevelt Island.

and from the same document this text and chart

The Low Level service area contains 46 regulators, of which 19 interconnected regulators discharge to the Newtown Creek during wet weather through the 13 CSOs. Of these 13 CSOs, 6 discharge to the tributary Dutch Kills (BB-004, 009, 010, 026, 040, and 042), and 6 discharge to Newtown Creek(BB-011, 012, 013, 014, 015, and 043). An additional 2-feet, 8-inches x 4-foot outfall, BB-049, is listed in the Bowery Bay WPCP SPDES permit as discharging to Dutch Kills near 21st Street, but no further information is available such as which regulator it is connected to.

pillars and niches

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

You might recall, Lords and Ladies of Newtown, that back on December 11th of 2010 the 100th anniversary of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was commemorated by the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission and that I was one of the two Parade Marshalls for the celebration.

There were a few postings about the bridge found here, at your Newtown Pentacle, which detailed the storied history of the structure and it’s environs. Additionally, more than once has the Degnon Terminal been mentioned in prior posts, and appropriately so.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Also mentioned in prior postings (parts one and two), the Newtown Creek Alliance had tasked a small group of it’s members (myself included) with attempting a photographic catalogue of the bulkheads of Newtown Creek and it’s smaller tributaries. Noble in it’s aspirations and massive in capability and resources, Riverkeeper sent a vessel and captain from it’s vast fleet to shepherd us through these very murky waters. These shots were captured from a small launch boat capable of crossing both low ceilings and containment booms which was little more than rowboat with an outboard motor.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Beneath the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, the waters of the long neglected industrial canal called Dutch Kills have been silting up with the worst sort of filth for decades, knowing not the presence of dredging or channel depth engineering. Here, the sediments pile up and erupt from the water.

The only flow of water here comes from rain and sewage, this is a stagnant and forbidding place.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There is only a trickle of dry weather discharge dripping from this combined sewer outfall hidden away beneath the bridge. It hadn’t rained for a couple of days, but still, there was some flow. Though minor, this sort of discharge can add up to hundreds of gallons a day, carrying- for instance- the mop water that a Chinese restaurant on Broadway in Astoria might dump into the corner sewer drain nightly (yup, actual thing, observable every single day).

The reason I mention Astoria is that most of the drains on the Queens side resolve back to the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In this posting, which led up to the Hunters Point Avenue bridge event mentioned above, some logic is offered as to how to decode the DEP “SPDES” signs which are required to be displayed above CSO discharge points. Like all things government, a bizarre nomenclature and specific system of numbering applies to the CSO’s.

It took your humble narrator a little bit to dope it out, so it is offered to save you from having to do so.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Vehicle traffic was rattling by overhead on Hunters Point Avenue, and we observed the surprisingly good condition of the bridge anchorages. Notice the extreme high tide line of encrusted sediment lining the structural elements of the bridge. It would interesting to know what sort of organisms exist in that slime and residue, and what they could tell us about the true nature of the water here.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The bubbles of mephitic gas which had been been popping all around the boat since we entered Dutch Kills began to subside at this point, perhaps it is the permanent shadows beneath the LIE and the two rail bridges which allow the methane producers in the sediment to thrive. The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge’s roadway is a grate which allows quite a lot of light to filter down to the surface.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It must be admitted that long have I desired to see what might be hiding down here, and observe the understructure of this bridge. As it might be guessed, your humble narrator is a bit of an infrastructure geek, and the lesser bridges of New York City often surprise the observer.

This used to be a double leaf bascule, you see, whose mechanism was replaced in relative modernity.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is from the December 11th Centennial event and shows the other more easterly orientated shoreline, where the bascule hinge and bridge house are located, showing the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge in an open position. The spot I shot it from was the abutment seen in the prior shot.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills is a straightaway and engineered canal with a widened terminus, and the term for it is a “turning basin”. Overall, it’s shaped like a giant letter “T”. Heavy industrial concerns all around Dutch Kills built and maintained docks with which they could transfer materials which came to them by barge to rail (and truck, but rail was the key), and then to factory floor for processing. The manufactured product of these industries not destined for the local market would also then be shipped out via these docks.

Today, nothing much happens on the waters of Dutch Kills, and nearly all of the rail infrastructure is relict and abandoned- or purposed solely for passenger service to and from Manhattan.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The benefits, costs, and upkeep of an intermodal transportation hub like this are massive. Unfortunately, most of the modern business in the area is oriented toward an automobile and truck culture rather than to the locomotive or maritime city, and thse docks are abandoned and rotted away. The once mighty rail lines are interrupted or orphaned, and the great factories which they once supplied are either empty, used for warehousing, or carved up into a hundred smaller spaces.

Where titans once thrived, ants now scratch by.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow, the Dutch Kills turning basin at this… Your Newtown Pentacle.

ethereal character

with 5 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The launch we were in had been referred to as the “tin boat” by the Riverkeeper folks, but it was more a smallish rowboat with an outboard engine than anything else. This is the second post of this adventure, click here for the first one.

We had just passed beneath the two rail bridges which vouchsafe and isolate Dutch Kills from the main body of the Newtown Creek, and were heading in the general direction of Queens Plaza when we approached the Borden Avenue Bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, this century old structure has recently undergone a radical schedule of repairs when it was discovered that one of its abutments had begun to shift, and no small amount of complaint arose at the inconvenience from the legions of truckers and ordinary drivers who mourned its unavailability.

Down on the water however, things were pretty intense, from a purely existential point of view.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Those bubbles of gas mentioned in yesterday’s post, which were erupting even when the water was unmolested by our passing, delivered a slightly petrochemical smell when they burst. Another member of the Newtown Creek Alliance who was sitting next to me in the boat began muttering “Oh my god” over and over at this point in time.

It wasn’t fear in his eyes, it was disbelief.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My companion was no virgin or first time visitor to the Creek, of course, in fact his experience of the place is broad and far reaching. When all of your senses get involved with the atmosphere of ruination here, however, one tends to become a bit overwhelmed as your brain attempts to interpret and process the impossible data it is presented with.

The canalized bulkheads of Dutch Kills also tower over you from the water level, creating a sense of forced perspective and inevitability.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The first thing you see when passing the Borden Avenue Bridge is an archaic sewer outfall, and were the brush not at it’s mid summer height, one would observe the shanty home of the Blue Crow above.

For those of you not familiar with this term, Crow is a name assigned in my little section of Astoria to the myriad metal and refuse collectors known to haunt the neighborhood on “Bulk Pickup Day”. Leave something shiny on the sidewalk, a crow will sweep in and grab it.

Metals are collected and sold by the pound in the scrap and recycling markets of Greenpoint and Long Island City, and these guys make their living from hunting and gathering. I assign them color names based on vehicle, or clothing choices.

There’s also a red crow out there.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Here is a winter shot from road grade level which shows the sewer and the ever expanding hut of this particular crow. There is a photo of him to be in this Newtown Pentacle posting from February of 2010. Don’t be mistaken, I am not insulting either his industriousness or tenacity, if I were in a similar situation things would go far worse for your humble narrator. This man has been surviving in what has to one of the world’s most extreme environments for years now, and rent free.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking back toward the Borden Avenue Bridge, the ominous humming which echoed along the bulkheads and emanated from above signaled that we had passed under another of the bridges of Dutch Kills. This bridge was built high, and called an expressway by Robert Moses himself.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Some 106 feet over road grade, the high flying Queens Midtown Expressway leg of the larger Long Island Expressway feeds into the yawning mouth of the Queens Midtown Tunnel less than a mile from here. I call this part of Dutch Kills DULIE, or Down Under the Long Island Expressway.

One of the common complaints heard by eastern bound commuters in the early days of the 20th century was about the horrible smells they encountered when crossing through Long Island City. Moses built his auto bridge as high as engineering and budgetary considerations allowed in response to the plume of industrial outgassing which distinguished a trip through the area in his time.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills is a particularly important tributary of the Newtown Creek, from an industrial history point of view. What is today a relict of brown fields, industrial spills, and toxic leave behinds was once the economic and manufacturing heartland of New York City. The heavy infrastructure here is no accident, and the waterway was a critical feature that drew one of the great (and largely forgotten) men of Queens to the Waste Meadows at the start of the early 20th century.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of the 19th century, none of this was here. Sure, there was a muddy road made of creosoted wood blocks and riprap bulkheads called Hunters Point Avenue which ran between isolated industrial sites, and a slightly more modern causeway called Borden Avenue which hosted a few large operations, but this was a swampy and pestilential bog. Brackish creeks wound along knolls of marsh grass and the stubby trees held together mud islands.

The place was lousy with all the junk floating down from Blissville and the sewers in Brooklyn and only Mosquitos and ticks found the place hospitable.

Dutch Kills needed to be fixed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Another sewer outfall is found directly after passing the LIE’s massive footing, which is the sort of improvement that benefited somewhere else rather than Dutch Kills. It was decided by the city fathers in the first years of the 20th century that something had to be done with these swampy wetlands, so close to Manhattan and the gold coast of the Newtown Creek.

Something was needed- a plan with vision, executed by someone who understood the byzantine politics of Tammany Hall and the recently consolidated City of Greater New York. Additionally, it would have to someone with proven “know how” who could “get it done”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

From the mid 1930′s on, that person would have been Robert Moses. The ultimate political fixer, Moses employed the greatest engineering minds of a generation to shape and design our modern City. While Moses was still in diapers, however, no shortage of great men existed in the City. A plan was presented, and approved, and in both Albany and Washington- strings were pulled by the Tammany men and budgets were approved.

The Army Corps of Engineers were assigned here to canalize, deepen, straighten and erect industrial bulkheads at Dutch Kills in 1914. Land was reclaimed by dumping the fill and spoils produced by the digging of the Belmont Subway Tunnels (leading to to Manhattan) amongst wooden pilings driven deeply into the mud.

The modern shoreline of Queens began to assume it’s current shape.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It is apparent what happened here, when you see the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge appear before you.

Progress had arrived in Queens, and his name was Michael Degnon.

A few recent shots from Dutch Kills

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- photos by Mitch Waxman

Funny, these shots only represent a duration of a couple of weeks, yet the variation in water condition is remarkable. The odd white goo coating the bottom observed in the first few shots has been reported to me as existing at the Gowanus Canal as well.

I’m going to be taking a little break, as far as hard core posting goes, to accommodate the holidays. Expect a few more slideshows, and some short posts until after the seasons festivities have passed. The winter session at this, your Newtown Pentacle, will officially begin in the new year but for now the posts will be terse but regularly offered.

Today’s holiday, of course, is Festivus.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2010 at 12:55 am

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