When the Senators were in town, it was said that Washington was "first in war, first in peace, last in the American League." The Senators are long gone, but our area has another area in which it can claim last place: river crossings. Despite Michele Dyson's argument [Close to Home, June 13], we need another crossing.

Here is a sampling of major metropolitan areas that are almost evenly divided by a major river, listed in order of population with the number of crossings (almost all bridges) within 30 miles of the downtown business district. Thirty miles roughly defines the extent of suburban sprawl here.

* Minneapolis-St. Paul (Mississippi River): population 2.8 million, 23 crossings, or 8.2 per million residents.

* Portland, Ore. (Willamette River): 1.9 million, 13 crossings, or 6.8 per million.

* Kansas City, Mo. (Missouri River): 1.8 million, 10 crossings, or 5.6 per million.

* New Orleans (Mississippi River): 1.3 million, six crossings, or 4.6 per million.

* Jacksonville, Fla. (St. Johns River): 1.1 million, eight crossings, or 7.3 per million.

* Richmond (James River): 1 million, 11 crossings, or 11 per million.

* Harrisburg, Pa. (Susquehanna River): 700,000, nine crossings, or 12.9 per million.

Then we have metropolitan Washington with its population of 4.7 million and its seven crossings of the Potomac. That comes out to 1.5 crossings per million. (This analysis does not include the number of total crossing lanes, distribution of crossings -- all of Washington's are bunched inside the Beltway -- or mass-transit crossings.)

One could also include other metro areas in the analysis, which might make the comparisons more exact, but would not change the basic conclusion: that the Washington area is crossings-impoverished. Why?

The other cities were built on mostly industry and transportation. Bridges were not just a convenience -- they were an integral part of the industrial complex. The phrase "on the waterfront" meant manufacturing and distribution, and bridges fit right in.

By contrast, Washington always has been a white-collar town. Here, the waterfront generally has meant either parkland or upscale housing. In this setting, bridges are often regarded as necessary evils that can detract from the quality of recreation or living.

Now even the other cities have converted waterfront to parkland or affluent residential areas. Yet they still have far more crossings than we do.

Does that mean they should demolish their "superfluous" bridges?

NAT KIDDER

Ashburn