Hum of the city: Golden Gate Bridge

[Posts lately have been light and will continue to be for a few weeks: I broke my finger and it’s a bear to type right now. For those of you waiting to hear about the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day and the Faraday Porteur—sorry!]

The toll plaza without cars--it was eerie.

The toll plaza without cars–it was eerie.

Earlier this month, the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to car traffic for a weekend, for the first time ever. The reason for this was to install a new barrier between the north and south lanes. The old barrier, consisting of soft plastic poles, didn’t really keep drivers from running right into each other. As a result, a hard barrier was installed on the bridge (and it can be moved using zipper trucks; this process is wildly cool). You might think that this not-incredibly surprising news about soft plastic poles could be exported to design safer bike lanes, but so far, not so much.

The southern approach to the "closed" bridge

The southern approach to the “closed” bridge

The week before this happened, residents received multiple notices that the bridge “would be CLOSED.” Not true, it would only be closed to CARS. And this was an opportunity that we didn’t want to miss. We have tried to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge before, when our kids were stroller-age, and never made it past the first tower. The noise of passing cars was overwhelming, and they were so close to the sidewalk that the experience of walking was kind of scary. Historically, the bridge has only been closed to cars for a few hours at a time; an hour in 2012 for the 75th anniversary, 6 hours in 1987 for the 50th anniversary, but never before for a whole weekend. I doubt I’ll live to see it again.

He is a strong rider now.

He is a strong rider now.

Our son decided to ride by himself, even though the hills en route are non-trivial to say the least. He did fine. Once we got there things got a little more difficult. We were not the only people who had the idea of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge during the construction work. What’s more, the bridge administrators decided to close the west side bicycle lane that weekend. (They close the west side a lot, for reasons that have never been explained. Maybe they hate active transportation.) At any rate, it was crowded. The worst were the multiple lines of lycra-clad riders from Marin, who came in huge clumps and who made no effort to hide their fury that they were being forced to slow down for other users. “DON’T STOP!!!” one screamed from behind me when I slowed to avoid hitting a toddler who wandered in front of me. I heard a tourist say in disbelief, “Why are those bikers so angry?” Good question.

Little girl on a big bike, and an empty expanse where the cars usually go

Little girl on a big bike, and an empty expanse where the cars usually go

So it was a tough ride. We had towed our daughter’s bike there so that she could ride the bridge by herself, but she didn’t have the skills to navigate the crowds and had to go back on my bike. Our son was grouchy about having to deal with so many people at once. Our bikes are huge and earned us the lifetime enmity of pretty much every recreational rider in Marin County.

And yet. Despite all of the hassles, it was sort of magical to cross the bridge in silence, especially as we got further north and the crowds thinned out. Every once in a while a bus or a construction vehicle would go by, and the noise would echo loudly, overwhelming the sounds of birds flying by, and of people having conversations. Just one car could drown all those living noises out. Yet on every other day on the bridge there are thousands of them. Until that weekend, no could ever hear anything at normal volume on the bridge. The bridge constantly roars with passing engines.

Listening to the waves and the seagulls

Listening to the waves and the seagulls

I named this blog Hum of the city because I fell in love with the noises of a city when I heard them for the first time. It took a trip to Copenhagen, which redesigned itself to cut back dramatically on relentless car traffic, before I even knew they were there. Now that we’re back in San Francisco, I listen all the time, but I only hear them in snatches—during a light cycle that’s briefly red in every direction, on a residential street block party, on a car-free Sunday, or on a once-in-a-lifetime weekend, crossing Golden Gate Bridge.

5 Comments

Filed under car-free, destinations, family biking, San Francisco

5 responses to “Hum of the city: Golden Gate Bridge

  1. Not because it’s important… just because I can’t stop myself… cement is a powder. The new barriers are concrete.

  2. blobree

    I could have told you it would be a mad house. I headed over there too, but early so as to avoid the crush. It was awesome. I didn’t have enough time to go across, but the silence (other than the jack hammering) was bliss. Also, my guess is that a number of the MAMILs were from SF not Marin. Likely on the way back from a ride. Really dumb of the transit authority to close the West side too.

  3. BikePretty

    I looove your daughter’s bike style. She is so chic in that fur-trimmed coat!

    My husband and I rode across the bridge that Sunday. It was packed but pretty fun, as usual. I don’t know why anybody expects to make it across the GG bridge quickly, no matter how kitted out they are. Even when the west side is open, there is such a range of skill level of the people on bikes, the best policy is just to take it slowly and enjoy the view.

  4. I crave the hum of any city without the roaring motordoms. Several times a year northern San Diego beach cities close part of PCH for triathlons and marathons. It is then I could hear the roar of the ocean, the birds, the voices and the silence. On any given weekend, the beach cities are just noisy with too many motor vehicles cruising along PCH.

  5. DDD

    west side is frequently closed because that is the side the bridge workers use…

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