Should the Manhattan Bridge Be Painted?

by Bryan

I was taking a long walk along the East River the other day when I realized something: the Manhattan Bridge is the wrong color.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. It’s true.

There’s something that’s never quite sat right with me about it, and I could never put my finger on it. It dwarfs the Brooklyn Bridge—its smaller, older brother—in stature, but that’s about all. The Brooklyn Bridge is a part of the American consciousness; the Manhattan Bridge just goes to Chinatown. There are no marriage proposals on the Manhattan Bridge, though I wouldn’t be surprised if divorces were finalized there.

All of this is true despite the fact that the Manhattan Bridge is quite wonderful, both aesthetically and functionally. With trains actually passing over the bridge’s span, more people travel over it on a daily basis than the Brooklyn Bridge, or any other East River Bridge. More eyes may be trained on the Brooklyn Bridge, but that’s not the Manhattan Bridge’s fault. After all, it’s one giant piece of camouflage.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the Manhattan Bridge is pained a deep blue, the origin of which is found in old Dutch delft tiles—best known as white-and-blue pottery from the 17th and 18th century you’d see at the Met. The decision to paint the bridge this color was likely an homage to New Yorks’ Dutch ancestry. If that was the case, the bridge-painters succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Just as the Dutch influences on modern New York have been erased but for some unmissable place names (Spuyten Duyvil is not the Dutch U.N. representative, and Hell’s Gate has nothing to do with the place way downtown), so has the meaning of the bridge’s blue been obscured.

In fact, the bridge might as well be missing from the East River landscape; it exists seemingly for function only. From loud, commercial Flatbush Avenue to loud, commercial Canal Street, it’s good for the Point A to Point B-ers. You won’t have anyone slowing down to enjoy the scenery, at least (some may prefer this). But I think one real coat of paint, and all of that might change.

As it stands now, the Manhattan Bridge’s color almost looks like it was chosen specifically not to overshadow the Brooklyn Bridge or the buildings on either side of it. Well, it’s there, so I think we might as well make the best of it. Instead of a bridge whose water-like color inspires people to slide off of it as soon as possible, why not go for a color people may look at?

So here’s my solution: paint it brown. Like a brownstone. (Or red. Or dark orange. I’m not picky).

What will it do? It’ll give the bridge a distinctly Brooklyn feel. If the Brooklyn Bridge is forever associated with Manhattan—and it is—the opposite may as well be true. It’ll also become a living, breathing thing like the Golden Gate Bridge, which needs to basically be constantly repainted. That would be pricey, but a) I’m not making a city budget, and b) if it was brown from the beginning, no one would think twice about it. The bridge would stand out against the water, and appear to be a living connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan, which the Brooklyn Bridge is not. Its stone slabs are a monument to human achievement, but they’re also a tomb. Not just symbolically, but literally. Hundreds of people died creating that bridge, victims of the difficulty of building in water. It may be gray to the eye, but it’s inexorably connected with the waves underneath.

The Manhattan Bridge should resonate differently. It should celebrate our triumph in engineering not by shrinking it against the river or its more famous brother, but by bringing it to life. Play the bridges off each other, and they’d both look better.

I’ll admit, I’m still working out the details. But I’m happy, for now, with the rarest of phenomena: a Manhattan Bridge proposal.