Berkeleyana I

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Several years ago, the city of Berkeley built a pedestrian-bicycle bridge over Interstate 80, which runs along the shore of San Francisco Bay. The bridge links the town, to the east of the freeway, with waterfront trails and parks to the west, and you have to give the city and the engineers/designers it hired high marks for doing the project right, both practically and aesthetically.

Before the bridge was built, getting to the west side of the freeway involved riding industrial back streets to a narrow asphalt path beneath the University Avenue overpass, crossing a dark high-speed ramp exiting the highway, climbing a long flight of stairs to a narrow sidewalk across the overpass, scurrying across another exit ramp, and negotiating a busy intersection. You had to be really determined and somewhat foolhardy to make the trip.

The new bridge eliminates all the climbing, crossing, and scurrying. Aside from its beauty, it does something I like about other over-freeway pedestrian bridges, too: It creates a seat to look out over this rushing no-man’s land that’s so much a part of how we live and who we are. All that traffic. All those cars. All those lives tied up in their trip home, or to work, or off across the country somewhere. It’s impressive, amazing, and even a little horrifying to be a spectator to what you’re usually engrossed in yourself, what you take for granted, and watch the surge of activity that’s got a life all its own.

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