The Bay Bridges

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During my trip to California earlier this year, on the way back to the hotel after shooting in Oakland and travelling across the Bay Bridge, I made a snap decision to try a shot I’ve wanted to take before, even though it was getting late and blue hour was long over. This meant once again heading onto the section of Yerba Buena island owned by the US Coastguard, ignoring quite a few signs, and hoping that I’d go unnoticed!

This view, looking east towards Oakland and Berkeley, is accessed via a single-track road that circumnavigates the coastguard station, which is on the very peak of the hill. Parking the car in the only available location, under some trees a few hundred metres further along, and walking back, the spinning radar antenna towering above me in the pitch dark gave the place a definite sense of foreboding! As I would have to shoot from the road, hoping that nobody came along while I was doing so, I knew I wouldn’t be staying for long!

There is a small section where the road runs right along the edge of a cliff, right above the tunnel that the bridge passes through. A chain-link fence at the edge of the road, far too high to see over with my tripod, proved an additional challenge, but after a minute or two of searching I discovered that a handy lens-shaped hole had been cut in the fence. Although it wasn’t quite big enough for my lens, it did allow me to get a mostly-unobstructed view down onto the bridge.

This photo shows the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. This section of the bridge is undergoing replacement due to the original bridge being prone to earthquake damage, as seen in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake when a section of the original double-deck bridge partially collapsed, with one fatality. With the high probability of a larger earthquake striking the area at some point in the future, the replacement bridge project began construction in 2002, and was scheduled to be completed in 2007, but only opened to traffic last year after numerous delays. The bridge is designed to withstand an 8.5 magnitude earthquake, the largest expected in the next 1,500 years.

The new bridge (lit up) is the widest bridge in the world, carrying five lanes of traffic in each direction, with room for emergency vehicles on both sides. Unlike the old bridge, for most of the distance it is a single-deck bridge, but as it approaches the tunnel through Yerba Buena island, and the double-deck bridge on the other side, the two lanes split, with the westbound lane on top of the eastbound lane. On the right hand side, the old bridge can be seen, partially disassembled and in darkness.

Despite being well after blue hour, the heavy haze in the air picked up the light from Oakland and Berkeley and gave a strong orange glow above the cities in the distance. The bright LED lighting illuminating the new tower, which is 525 feet high, can also be seen lighting up the air above it. In the distance between the two towers of the old bridge, you can just make out the Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley, the third tallest clock tower in the world.

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