Sunday, September 15, 2013

Traveling the New Bay Bridge Trail

The new bay bridge trail is a radical new experience for anyone familiar with this part of the bay.  Travelling on the new structure, I was able to observe a relic from my past from an uniquely new vantage.  All the bay views were new as well.  The experience reinforced something I tend to forget:  It is the perspective and way in which we interact with our environment, as much as the environment itself, that shapes and defines our sense of a place.

Travelling alongside a bridge I knew so well as a child was an oddly "out of body" experience if one considers the confined perspective from which one normally takes them in.   The difference in bridge colors only heightens this sense.  The new bridge is a celestial white and, as you travel in your parallel universe, you are able to see all the gritty supports and underpinnings of the old bridge.  There is a beautiful, somewhat gothic, quality to this old bridge.  There is something celestial about the new.

One rarely experiences the support structure of a bridge when one crosses it and in this way most bridges celebrate the idea of flight as they transport you aloft seemingly without the aid of any visible support.  When you do see the bridge supports on the new bridge, they are primarily cable tension members and have all the lightness that a suspension bridge maintains over a trussed structure.  You travel in a pristine world apart, seemingly airborne while the remains of the past lie in a soiled, heavy and run-down state off to the side.  The old bridge is literally marginalized.

The fact the pedestrian bridge comes so close, but does not touch down, on Yerba Buena Island, only heightens the removed and celestial state of this new bridge for the time being.  When it goes to Yerba Buena, as its slated to do in 2014, there will a new practical element to it that will be wonderful.  It will change the character of the experience completely.

One further note on the nature of the new bridge needs to be mentioned.  For those familiar with the pedestrian "Sundial Bridge" of Calatrava in Redding, it is hard not to appreciate the impact of that smaller sensitive design with its glass floor and solar geometry.  For all of its larger functional goals, the east span of the new bay bridge is, in many ways, a "knock off" of this early Calatrava work.

Its nice to see good ideas take hold on more modest projects and impact larger projects.  For those in the design profession who are trying to cultivate new ideas, it is important to remember that the scale of a project can also send people running for precedent.  New ideas and project size can be inversely proportional and any small project is also an opportunity to create something truly new.  In this way, for those running a design business, there is a conservation of interest across project types.

If all of this is sufficiently interesting to visit the Bay Bridge Trail, there are two ways to get on to this pedestrian/bike bridge.  The popular option appears to be from the Ikea Parking lot near the end of Shellmound Street in Emeryville.  The less hyped portal of Burma Road and Maritime Street in Oakland (see image below) is closer and provides ready access to the bridge base.

The Oakland entrance is more gritty and industrial than the IKEA parking lot but it also is easier to find parking.  It is presently my preference for this reason, since IKEA officially requires you to shop in their store to park near the access point.  Either way, you will approach the bridge in way that bay area citizens couldn't before now; weaving underneath the maze of onramps and off-ramps that precede the bridge.  Even here there is a strange industrial beauty that,  if there is the will, can be cultivated over time and provides a psychological respite from the exposed nature of the bridge.

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