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Bridges: Designing, Building, Preserving
Celebrating 125 Years
WHY I LOVE BRIDGES
I’ll never forget the first time I walked across
the Golden Gate Bridge. It was in March 2000, and I had a conference in
San Francisco. It ended at noon on a Friday. I was staying at the Hilton
near Union Square, and my goal was to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge,
walk across the bridge, and get back to my hotel before 6 p.m. when I
was supposed to meet a friend for dinner.
This was early in both my walking and city exploration
careers, and the tight timeframe of this walk made me nervous. I was thinking
the bridge was around 8 miles from my hotel, so if I walked at a rate
of, oh, let’s see, 3 miles an hour because of the hills, that’s
almost 3 hours to get there and 3 hours to get back, oh dear, I wasn’t
sure it would be possible. So the minute the conference ended I bolted
back to my room and put on my walking shoes, grabbed my map, disposable
camera, and rain coat (we’re in San Francisco, remember) and headed
for the bridge.
What an adventure! I stopped at a deli for food that I could eat on the
run – or walk, as it were – and kept moving. It wasn’t
long before I could see the bridge. It’s huge, and it’s orange,
so of course you can see it for miles. I kept thinking, well, I’m
almost there! But it took a heck of a long time. When I finally got there,
I had a tourist snap my picture on the south end of the bridge, and then
I started across.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a major American landmark, right up there with
the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. One book I read says
the bridge is “admired for its magnitude and graceful beauty…tremendous
towers, sweeping cables, and great span.” All that and it’s
235 feet above the bay, so walking across it gives you a good head rush.
Did you know the towers are taller than the Washington Monument? True
story. It’s a good walking bridge in the sense that it has a wide
pedestrian lane, but it’s also used by bicyclists who whoosh by
you in a big hurry. Lots of people walk across the bridge, though, so
it was fairly crowded. I didn’t see any jumpers – apparently
that’s a popular pastime with San Franciscans since more than 1,000
people have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge since it opened
to pedestrians in 1937 – but I did see lots of crisis telephones,
just in case you were THINKING of jumping but then change your mind. Anyway,
when I got to the end of the bridge, windblown and exhilarated, I found
another tourist to take my picture on the Marin County side. And then
I turned around and walked the 1.7 miles back across.
I won’t bore you with how lost I got in the Presidio on the way
back to the hotel because I was trying to take a short cut (who designed
those streets, anyway?), but suffice it to say that I was extremely annoyed.
But I got back in time, and I have to say that I count that first walk
on the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the Great Walks of my life (the other
most memorable bridge walk being the Brooklyn Bridge at night, but that’s
Well, that’s how my great love affair with bridges began. I really
can’t explain why I’m fascinated with them. Maybe it’s
because, being no structural engineer, I can’t fathom how these
enormous things are built. Maybe it’s because of the history of
the bridges and the stories of the designers and engineers and workers
who actually built the bridges. Maybe it’s because they’re
just so darn beautiful. I dunno. I just know I like them.
So it shouldn’t surprise you that I got really excited when I got
a magazine in the mail a couple of years ago that had this gorgeous arched
bridge on the cover and a note attached that said the bridge was designed
by an Iowa State alum. The magazine, The Oregon Stater, featured
photos of half a dozen bridges along the coast of Oregon, all designed
by Conde B. McCullough, a 1910 civil engineering graduate. McCullough
died in 1946, but many of his 600 bridges are still standing in the state
That got me thinking about other bridges, and their connections to Iowa
State. The result is this issue’s cover story. I hope that even
if you’ve never given bridges a second thought, even if you’re
terrified to drive across them, even if you just think of a bridge as
a device to get you from here to there, that you’ll take a look
at the beauty and diversity of the bridges we’ve chosen to feature,
and the alumni, faculty, and students who have been involved with them
in some way.
And take my advice: Next time you’re in San Francisco, walk across
the Golden Gate. But hang onto your hat! It’s windy up there!
the Writer | Carole Gieseke is the
editor of VISIONS magazine.