Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tracks in the Snow

As a transportation engineer, I have always been fascinated by railroads, particularly as they fit into urban and rural landscapes. Compared to modern highways, rail lines are much narrower and therefore were built less intrusively.

In the winter, it becomes somewhat obvious whether a rail line is used or not. Here in Cambridge, we have two infrequently used freight branch lines. Running through the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and East Cambridge is the Grand Junction Branch, with about 2 to 5 trains per day. In the western portion of Cambridge, running through the reservation at Fresh Pond in the Watertown Branch, which is recently abandoned.

The picture above on the right and the first two photographs show the Watertown Branch. The first photo below shows the rail line cut into the rock that makes up the core of a low drumlin forming the southern boundary of the glacially-carved Fresh Pond. The second, just a few hundred feet from the first, finds the tracks in a flat terrain. The final photograph is looking down the Grand Junction branch from Hampshire Street, just outside Kendall Square.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Longfellow Bridge

The Longfellow Bridge is perhaps the most distinctive bridge crossing the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. With its large steel arches and distinctive towers (that give the bridge its nickname “salt and pepper”), it is more massive and rises higher above the water’s surface than its upstream and downstream neighbors. This elevation provides some of the iconic skyline views of Boston.
(The photograph above right is from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s website describing the upcoming repairs to the bridge.)

For me, the 102-year old Longfellow Bridge is my way to work. It’s a “multi-modal” facility as we say in the transportation field. It has 4 lanes for motor vehicles, two tracks of Boston’s Red Line subway (or metro as they call it in some countries), two bike lanes, and two sidewalks. Being a multi-modal transportation engineer, I find myself crossing the bridge almost daily – sometimes driving, most often on the subway train, sometimes riding my bicycle, and occasionally walking. My photographs reflect all four modes.

Below: Riding my bike into work early on Sept. 21, 2010, I caught the towers of Boston's Back Bay bathed in the light of the sunrise. The two tallest buildings are the John Hancock tower (left) and the Prudential tower (right).

Below: Walking over the bridge on a bright and warm New Year's Eve 2010, this view back captures the towers of Boston's financial district behind Beacon Hill, all framed by the Longfellow Bridge's distinctive "salt and pepper" towers).

Below: Stolling over the bridge towards Boston on a picture-perfect July 4, 2010, this view captures recreational boats in the river and another view of Beacon Hill in front of the towers of downtown. Look very close and you can pick out the gold dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Below: A close-up of the ornate detailing of the bridge railings. (Also, Dec. 31, 2010.)

Below: Taken while driving home over the bridge from work, one of the towers is silloeted by the setting sun.

Below: Taken from the train platform of Charles Street station looking west from Boston into Cambridge, this is my all-time favorite photograph of the bridge [and is included in a previous blog post]. The Red Line subway and roadway cross the Charles River. First thing that moved me was the striking lighting effect created by eclipsing the setting sun with a lightpole, bathing the view in a warm yellow light. And the back-lit cloud over the steam power plant across the river. And the peaceful and empty view with only one young woman standing on the platform, no traffic on the bridge --- all in stark contrast to an otherwise bustling Saturday in Boston. It was Aug. 18, 2008, and I was on my way to see the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona in its first week of release.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New York's Riverside Drive and Park

Christmas afforded me a change for another ever-so-brief return to my home town, New York City. So I am taking a little liberty with this post of urban vists about 230 miles from Boston.

On Christmas day, between opening presents and supper, we had a chance to stroll along Riverside Drive and Riverside Park. Located on the upper west side of Manhattan Island, this area has more in common topographically with Beverly Hill than the rest of the flat urban plate on which the famous skyscrapers are built. Here, there are steep hills, revines, and sudden drop-offs. But the urban fabric is pure NYC; no mistaking that!

Here, we start with some views up and down river along the mighty Hudson, which ebbs and flows along the west side of the isle of Manhattan. I was a cold and overcast day, and views are dreary, but none the less, spectacular. As a engineer, I was fascinated by the Riverside Drive viaduct which carries this parkway near 100 feet (30 m) high above the city streets. Built in 1900, with gracefull, repeating arches, the structure possesses an eligance missing in most present-day engineers roadway bridges.

Walking through Riverside Park had the feel of Central Park, if it were streatched out, made much hiller and relocated to the banks of the Hudson. I could tell in the texture of the park, the lanscape vocabulary of park lamps, benches, and railings, there the hand of Fredrick Law Olmsted was present. Olmsted was the landscape architect for NYC's Central Park and the Emerald Necklace in Boston.

One innovative idea, not noticed by most park goers, is that a rail line runs under the park in a tunnel. Thus, the park is partly built on what we now call air rights. This line, formerly New York Central's West Side Line (the north end of the now famous High Line), now feeds Amtrak intercity trains from upstate New York to Penn Station.

Below Left: View downriver, with the tower of Riverside Church high about the waters of the Hudson.

Below Right: View upriver, with the George Washington Bridge visible

Left: Close-up of Riverside Church

Below: Riverside Drive runs high above Manhattan Valley near West 125th Street on a great steel viaduct.

Below: The hand of Olmsted is clear in the elements of Riverside Park, from the stone arches to the lampposts and railings, all reflective of his work in Centeral Park.