hacker emblem
jaegerfesting
Search | Tags | Photos | Flights | Gas Mileage | Log in

Unbuilding

Started: 2016-05-22 17:59:50

Submitted: 2016-05-22 20:03:52

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator bikes along the New Bay Bridge and watches a major unbuilding project

Since arriving in San Francisco I've traveled across the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland several times, in my car and in the back of a bus heading to a an amazing board game cafe in Berkeley. Every time I've marveled at the towering bulk of the remains of the derelict cantilevered eastern span, slowly being dismantled, though while driving I had to pay attention to the road, and in the bus I was limited by how much I could actually see out the window and around the people next to me.

A couple of weeks ago I took a ferry across the bay to Jack London Square, to grab coffee then turn around and go back to San Francisco. I could see the bridge in the distance, but I knew there was one foolproof way to get up close and personal with the bridge: bike along the path suspended from the southern side of the New Bay Bridge. The only problem was that to get there, I had to get to the Port of Oakland.

I finally decided that the best way to get there would be to take BART into Oakland, and bike the rest of the way to the trailhead. (I could drive to the trailhead, but that seemed silly when I'd just be carrying my bike along for the ride.) Last Sunday I pulled my bike out of the garage, dusted it off (I'd stuffed my bike in the corner of the garage when I moved out of my temporary apartment in Mission Bay and started taking BART to work) rather than biking, discovered that the front derailleur was stuck in on the lowest gear, and biked up the hill to my nearest BART stop.

Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline
Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline

I rode BART to the first stop on the other side of the Transbay Tube, the West Oakland stop. I biked west from there, back along the path of the train, first along an above-ground viaduct, then at the east portal where it went underground to eventually dive under the bay. I crossed under I-880, rerouted to the west around the site of the Cypress Viaduct that collapsed in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I headed first to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, a park surrounding a chunk of bay being restored to a more-natural state, surrounded by various docks at the Port of Oakland, where giant container ships were being unloaded as I watched. I could look straight down the dock and see the gantry crane grab a container from the ship and hoist it onto a waiting truck to be carted away to another part of the dock, where containers were stacked and sorted.

Seaspan Felixstone docked at the Port of Oakland
Seaspan Felixstone docked at the Port of Oakland

From the park I biked to the still-under-development Bay Trail. The trail was in better shape than it had been two-and-a-half years ago, when I first walked along the New Bay Bridge, but the former trailhead had been colonized by big-rig parking, with vague signs pointing to a new trailhead further down the road. I found the right entry point for the trail and biked at ground level through the maze of viaducts and flyovers connecting the highways of the East Bay with the approach to the Bay Bridge.

The trail's approach to the bridge had been improved since my last visit: the final approach had been finished, and it no longer looked quite like a construction zone. The trail still stopped short of Yerba Buena Island, with signs promising that the trail would be completed "in summer 2016". I wasn't sure if this had been updated since the bridge was built or not.

Old Bay Bridge next to the New Bay Bridge
Old Bay Bridge next to the New Bay Bridge

The demolition of the Old Bay Bridge had progressed since I last set foot on the New Bay Bridge. The cantilever main span itself had been removed, and along the trusses that made up the approach to the cantilever the upper bridge deck had been removed, and several main sections of truss had also been removed.

Old Bay Bridge next to the New Bay Bridge
Old Bay Bridge next to the New Bay Bridge

The wide path hung out from the side of the New Bay Bridge, starting close to the trusses of the old bridge, then gradually growing further apart. The bridge climbed along a gentle slope, from just above ground level to the height of the main span over the secondary shipping channel on the east side of Yerba Buena Island.

Where the bike path ends on the New Bay Bridge
Where the bike path ends on the New Bay Bridge

I reached the end of the path, tantalizingly close to Yerba Buena Island (in fact, I was physically over the island), with only a few sections of path waiting to be attached before the the path along the bridge would be complete. The island blocked my view of San Francisco, but I had a great view of the tower of the self-anchoring suspension bridge, and the end of the old bridge and the barges attending the dismantling of the bridge. I could look back to Oakland and see the port there, stacked high with square containers in bright primary colors, looking like giant Duplo bricks.

Main tower of the New Bay Bridge
Main tower of the New Bay Bridge

I took a bunch of pictures on the way back, studying how the old bridge was being dismantled, and the contrast between the two bridges, built seventy years apart in wildly different styles. The old bridge was utilitarian, built in steel with sharp lines and exposed trusses. The new bridge was sweeping and elegant, built with curved lines in reinforced concrete, explicitly trying to make a statement with its elegance and daring design.

Old Bay Bridge being dismantled
Old Bay Bridge being dismantled

I stopped to study the truss structure of the old bridge, my mind involuntarily running the truss mechanics problem posed by the exposed structure: which members were in tension, and which were in compression?

Old Bay Bridge next to the New Bay Bridge
Old Bay Bridge next to the New Bay Bridge

I returned to the MacArthur BART station and caught a train back home, happy to have gotten the opportunity to have seen the Old Bay Bridge in the process of its demolition.

We want our content solutions to be your content solutions too. Thank you.
- splash page for Bitscape's Lounge