10 Seriously Amazing Things About the New Bay Bridge
It took almost 25 years, but wow, was it ever worth it. These are a few of our favorite things about San Francisco's newest monument.
You might have heard about a rather large (6.9) earthquake that hit the Bay Area during the World Series in 1989. It brought the city to a halt for a month or more, and collapsed a section of the Bay Bridge. At first the city thought repair and seismic retrofitting would be safe enough, but a 1996 re-analysis of the situation by the Army Corps of Engineers demanded something that would be more earthquake-friendly and long-lasting.
The first plans for a plain causeway were roundly rejected, and the city called a contest for a new design. The winner was the awesomely named Donald MacDonald, whose thoughtful aesthetic has now come to life.
There has been a lot of bickering about the bridge. Defective bolts had to be replaced. Some sections were built in China. There was a whole troll question.
And the darn thing still doesn't have a name. But even the most jaded resident has to feel a lift finally driving across the finished structure, which opened on Sept. 13, 2013. It's gorgeous, all right. And there's a lot more to love about it.
Here are the best of the best things about the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge:
- The View: On the old bridge, kids (and short adults) would have to peer over and past various cantilevers and trusses. Going east, drivers would be stuck on a claustrophobic lower deck. The new structure is open, curves gently in view of the bay and San Francisco, and offers sweeping, unobstructed vistas.
- The Nickname: Donald MacDonald calls it "the white span," which makes it sound like a transport system for a Pegasus or a new ballet choreographed by Matthew Barney.
- The Fake Bridge: The way this bridge works, the deck holds the cable and the cable holds the deck — everything is symbiotic. But to get them both built, the engineers had to create "false work," a bridge that could hold both aspects until they could be joined in self-supporting perpetuity.
- The "Sacred Geometry": Mathematicians, artists of every stripe and naturalists have long been fascinated by the "golden mean," a ratio that has the most aesthetically pleasing proportions. It's a concept that can drive you nuts if you think about it too long: This golden mean appears in nature and has been used across cultures (in the building of the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and Notre Dame, for instance). MacDonald shaped the tower legs and chose the placement of the deck according to the same calculation.
- The Rocket Inspiration: All the manned Apollo missions were launched with the same type of rocket, the Saturn 5. MacDonald, like so many, was inspired by the rocket's iconic shape and echoed it in the shape of the bridge's tower.
- The Asymmetry: Yeah, the Golden Gate can keep its perfect symmetry. The white span has one tower, and the lights stand on one side (though they light up the entire roadway with LED lights designed for maximum energy-conservation and safety). Who needs ballerinas when you've got Martha Graham?
- The Size: It's the largest single-tower, self-anchored suspension span in the world. One long cable wraps up, down and around the bridge's tower. This makes it stronger and more beautiful than its predecessor, according to another of its architects, Marwan Nader.
- The Depth: The base of the new span is set 200 feet deeper into the ground than its predecessor to reach solid-enough ground to help the bridge withstand future earthquakes much bigger than the 1989 one.
- The Choices: The new Bay Bridge span includes pedestrian and bike lanes so East Bay residents can catch pneumonia in a scenically enjoyable way.
- The Beauty: The Bay Bridge is a little weird to start with. It's actually two bridges: a regular suspension bridge between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island, and then a 2.2-mile section from that island to the East Bay (where Oakland and Berkeley are). This is what was rebuilt, and it truly rivals those international-orange towers leading to the North Bay.
To read more about Donald MacDonald's thoughts about the bridge, buy his beautifully illustrated book, Bay Bridge: History and Design of a New Icon. To understand more about the bridge's engineering, go to the Bay Bridge's official site.