Tag Archives: interstate 80

Cathedral Window

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My brother John and I were standing on the platform of the MacArthur BART station in Oakland once, years ago. The platform is set in the midst of a big freeway interchange. It’s got a nice view of towering overpasses in one direction. Since it’s elevated and bounced by four lanes or so of traffic on each side, it actually has an open view to the Oakland Hills on one side and out toward San Francisco Bay on the other. With all the traffic, the soaring, gracefully curved highway structures, the trains coming and going, you’re really conscious of how much industry and energy goes into what we build. And more than that, too. Standing there, John said, “These are out cathedrals.” Not that we build our highways to give expression to our understanding of the divine, but these structures somehow embody both a creative urge and give voice to how we see our connection with the world.

Anyway, yesterday, I was out on a short bike ride (to pick up the A’s tickets featured in another post), and took a bike lane that skirts the Maze, the huge tangle of overpasses and ramps that distribute eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge south toward San Jose, east and south toward Livermore and Stockton and Walnut Creek and Concord, and north toward Berkeley, Richmond, Vallejo and Sacramento. It was a beautiful early afternoon, and what was most striking was the way the highway structures framed the hills and mountains of Marin County.

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Cathedral Window

bikelane030913.jpg

My brother John and I were standing on the platform of the MacArthur BART station in Oakland once, years ago. The platform is set in the midst of a big freeway interchange. It’s got a nice view of towering overpasses in one direction. Since it’s elevated and bounced by four lanes or so of traffic on each side, it actually has an open view to the Oakland Hills on one side and out toward San Francisco Bay on the other. With all the traffic, the soaring, gracefully curved highway structures, the trains coming and going, you’re really conscious of how much industry and energy goes into what we build. And more than that, too. Standing there, John said, “These are out cathedrals.” Not that we build our highways to give expression to our understanding of the divine, but these structures somehow embody both a creative urge and give voice to how we see our connection with the world.

Anyway, yesterday, I was out on a short bike ride (to pick up the A’s tickets featured in another post), and took a bike lane that skirts the Maze, the huge tangle of overpasses and ramps that distribute eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge south toward San Jose, east and south toward Livermore and Stockton and Walnut Creek and Concord, and north toward Berkeley, Richmond, Vallejo and Sacramento. It was a beautiful early afternoon, and what was most striking was the way the highway structures framed the hills and mountains of Marin County.

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PM Getaway, Holiday Eve

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I almost never drive to work in the city (San Francisco) at regular commute hours. I go in at midday, usually, and return home well after the last of the evening commute. But today I drove because it was the day before the holiday and the morning rush hour was light. I waited a little too long to start home, till almost 3:30, and this is what happened: a long (but standard) jam on the western approach to the Bay Bridge. The stop-and-go and merge after merge after merge slows you down so you can reflect on why you love living here.

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Illinois Wind Turbines

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One big change in the Midwest landscape I’ve seen on my occasional visits over the last decade: Lots of wind turbines are being installed (hundreds and hundreds of them in Illinois so far, with many more coming). I shot this pair–just off Interstate 80 on the southern outskirts of Geneseo–as we blasted past (my brother Chris was driving) on Labor Day on our way from Iowa City back to the Chicago area.

Chris asked “how much power do those things put out?” My researches have uncovered the following: These two turbines are Vensys 77‘s, each rated with a generation capacity of 1.5 megawatts. How much is that? The math isn’t straightforward: how much power is actually generated depends on weather conditions; the turbines need wind, of course, but they’re apparently also sensitive to high temperatures. In practice, the generators at this site might produced enough power for about 1,000 homes. The city of Geneseo, population roughly 6,500, said before the turbines began operation in October 2009 that it expected the turbines to provide between 12 percent and 15 percent of the electricity the town needs.

And: How big are those things? Big. The rotor diameter, which I take to be the diameter of the circle swept by the turbine blades, is 77 meters. About 240 feet. The top of the tower is about 300 feet.

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Overpass World

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Down where the northern slope of San Francisco's Potrero Hill flattens into the southwestern edge of South of Market, two big elevated freeways merge–Interstate 80, which begins its cross-continent trip about a mile west of the Bay Bridge, and U.S. 101, which emerges from its southbound passage on city streets and heads toward San Jose and Los Angeles. Below the freeways are a maze of streets where at least two of the city's clashing grid systems come together. I've worked in the area on and off for nearly a decade, and when I take the North Berkeley casual carpool over to the city, I hike through the heart of the area beneath the freeways–Overpass World, you might call it. It's bordered by an interior design district to the east and to the west by jewelry, antique, and auction houses. Overpass World itself is full of parking lots, invisible clouds of particulates spewed out by the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that pass overhead every day, homeless camp sites, and the occasional attention-grabbing graffito. And regarding those last couple of items, above is a scene from my walk into work on Friday morning, on San Bruno Avenue near 15th Street.


View Underpass World in a larger map

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Freeway Overpass

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From Friday night on Potrero Hill. From Utah Street just south of Mariposa, there’s a pedestrian overpass crossing U.S. 101 to Vermont Street on the east side. I can’t quite explain it, but I alway like walking over the freeway there. Something about getting to watch the traffic from so close by without being part of it, maybe. Last night after work I went up there and experimented with some time exposure by placing my camera on one of the railings of the pedestran bridge (there’s a fence to prevent it from falling onto the highway) setting the shutter on delay before releasing it.

This view is looking north. Interstate 80, which goes all the way to New York City, starts where you can see the green highway signs in the left center (if you click for the larger image, you can see that one of the signs directs drivers to the Bay Bridge, which is visible in the right center).

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Two from the Road

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As mentioned in a road-addled state earlier this week, I drove up to Eugene on Monday, then drove right back. Not that it was a world-class ironman stunt or anything, but still: 512 miles up there, 512 miles back. We were actually rolling at 9:14 a.m. (projected start: “8 o’clock at the latest”), and we pulled into Thom’s driveway near the University of Oregon at 5:37; that was with one fairly long stop (40 minutes) in Ashland gas up and then sit down and have lunch (Pangea; wraps highly recommended). I got another tank of gas in Eugene and was driving south again at 6:12 p.m. There was no traffic to speak of all the way south, but it started to rain when I got about halfway down the Sacramento Valley. It started to rain, and I started to get tired. Along the way, I experimented with some night-time windshield pictures. The one above is from southwestern Oregon, north of Glendale, Grants Pass and Medford (as the road sign indicates several times). The one below is from Interstate 80 in Vacaville, just after leaving i-505. Things were starting to look a little fractured at that point.

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Four Lanes

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Monday evening, just about to cross the last little pass on westbound Interstate 80 into the town of Vallejo. From the top of the pass — it’s a pass, though I don’t know its name — you catch your first glimpse of bay water. At the end of a 500-mile trip back from western Oregon, or a much shorter one into the Central Valley, the sight says you’re almost home.

It was about 5 o’clock as I drove up this long incline out of the westernmost edge of the valley. The sun, just the other side of that ridge to the right, shockingly brilliant. Just a hint of green coming out across the hills after our foot of rain. The traffic was backed up for miles and miles going the other way, partly because of rush hour, partly because of an accident of some sort down the hill to the east. The volume of traffic on I-80 is always impressive and has been for years and years. I wrote a short editorial for The Examiner in the summer of 1991 describing a Friday night drive from Berkeley up across Donner Pass. It felt like being carried along in the surge of a river, a flow so powerful it bore everyone up-country all the way to the top of the mountains and beyond.

So seeing masses of cars, especially at going-home time: Not a surprise, but always a reminder of how crowded this place has become and how we live amid all this beauty.

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