Running through Philadelphia a few years ago, I crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge near dusk from Old City into Camden. I ran through the Rutgers campus there.
The bridge has a pedestrian walk the climbs above the traffic of the bridge, and running across the bridge is especially fun when a PATCO train is crossing into the city on a hot, muggy day when there’s a strong wind sweeping across the Delaware River. The sort of day I’d like right now, in these months when winter clings to the mornings.
On this particular run it was a little past 7:30pm, and I was nearing the bridge on the Camden side when a police officer whose car was parked near the base of the bridge steps called out to me.
“Everything alright officer?”
“Where are you looking to end up tonight, Philadelphia or Camden?”
“Alright, fine. We’re getting ready to lock the bridge gates so you would be stuck if you were trying to make it back to Camden tonight.”
As I ran back across another officer in a jeep was riding across the pedestrian path from Philadelphia asking people on the bridge the same question, making sure everyone ended up on the right side before the gates were shut.
That the bridge’s walking path ever closed was news to me, though in retrospect it made sense as a way to keep troubled people off the bridge at night. I’d guess it also functions as a way to cut down on crime—keeping anyone from coming across the bridge at night on foot versus in a car whose plates can be photographed and tracked. I might be reading into that too much, but the surveillance state has certainly earned suspicion.
Anyway, the whole thing struck me as a throwback to the Middle Ages, giving me a mental image of a King’s soldier’s securing the city gates.