I was so geeked to see the new Bay Bridge that I pestered my wife to let me give her a ride to work this morning even though I had no need to drive to SF today. That's right, I braved a commute with new traffic patterns for no reason at all other than to see the bridge.
It was more than worth it! The new bridge is just wonderful. Riding over it this morning made me see the entire Bay Bridge and the way it connects San Francisco to Oakland/Berkeley an a very new light.
Some background - the San Francisco Bay Bridge is actually two very different bridges that meet at, and tunnel through, a big rock in the middle of the bay called Yerba Buena Island. The western span is a 4 tower, double decker suspension bridge. It is a good looking bridge with a classic prewar aesthetic. Not as pretty as the Golden Gate, for sure, but a very good looking bridge none the less. The eastern span is also a double decker bridge, but is a heavy, strong looking, cantilever and truss bridge. It looks, from a distance, like it should carry trains. Very functional looking, like it belongs next to a working port (which it is).
The drive from Oakland to San Francisco was on the upper deck of the old bridge. But since the bridge is of cantilever construction, the view is obstructed by the heavy steel beams of the bridge's construction. As a driver, you see the bones of the bridge, very strong looking, working class, little nod to being pretty. As you emerged from the tunnel in Yerba Buena Island, you see the tall, graceful towers and flowing cables of the suspension span first. The height of the towers let you see the path that you were taking, even though you couldn't see the road deck due to the curvature of the bridge. Then, weather permitting, you see the skyline of San Francisco, maybe even the Marin headlands and the golden gate bridge. Some or all of this may be obscured by fog, but even then, it really is a beautiful sight.
The return to the East Bay on the old bridge is an entirely different story. Since you are on the lower deck of the bridge, there is no view. You are basically in a tunnel the entire way with nothing to see in front or above you, and very obstructed views to the side. There's no anticipation, very little beauty, just waiting to get to the other side.
Now, with the new span, when you come through the toll booths in Oakland (heading west to SF) it's almost as if the roadway itself just rises up gently towards the sky. No heavy support structures are visible, just minimal vertical light poles running down the center, between the east bound and westbound lanes (which are side by side). You're pointed off towards the North Bay but it almost seems that you will simply fly into the sky. The road bends gently to the left and the main tower of the new self anchored span comes into clear view. Because of the nature of the self anchoring suspension construction, none of the support cables appear vertical from any point on the bridge (or anywhere else I think). The effect is one of constantly changing geometry as you drive. It seems very high tech and etherial. The view to, through, and from the tunnel is as before. The overall effect is that you start your commute in the East Bay on a beautiful, high tech bridge and end your commute on a classic suspension bridge with a great view of San Francisco. Not a bad way to start your day.
The trip home is where the change is most dramatic. The beginning of the trip is the same, in the guts of the bridge, nothing but ugly. But as you approach Yerba Buena island (during the day at least), you can see light. As you exit the tunnel, the west bound section of the bridge moves away and you are outside in the light. You can see the new tower structure with all of its interesting angles and in the distance, the beauty of the Berkeley hills. As you round the gentle bend past the tower you see Oakland hills and the beauty of the East Bay. This is an entirely new experience and it makes coming home even better. The old commute home started ugly and didn't get any better until you arrived somewhere that you liked. This commute showcases how lucky we are to live on our side of the Bay. At this time of year, it's heightened by the difference in the weather between SF and Oakland. Leaving SF, it is likely to be cold and foggy. The skies clear and the temperature rises so that by the time you touch ground in the East, you're ready to hit the backyard and fire up the grill.
I can't wait to make the drive in the dark to see how the bridge looks all lit up. Hmmmm... sounds like an evening road trip.
Here's a link to sped up view of the drive from just before the bridge opened: http://bit.ly/14seZTm