Talking Bridges: Two Bridges, Two Wonderful Stories

The traditional chain-cutting opened the new Bay Bridge in California on Labor Day 2013

The traditional chain-cutting opened the new Bay Bridge in California on Labor Day 2013. Photo courtesy See also, First Across: The Bay Bridge Opens to Traffic

The Labor Day weekend was all about bridges with two major events in two different parts of the country.

First, I want to send out congratulations to the California Department of Transportation, Bay Area Toll Authority and California Transportation Commission on the opening of the new Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland. This project has been under construction for years, so getting it open to traffic is a tremendous accomplishment for the transportation organizations, their designers and constructors – and all the men and women who worked to build the structure.

In Michigan, the locals and the Michigan Department of Transportation co-sponsored the 56th Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. More than 40,000 people were expected to turn out on Labor Day to walk the length of the historic bridge, which the third longest suspension bridge in the world. I’m sure the workers who helped open that bridge in 1957 would be proud to see so many people enjoying the crossing.

There is something about bridges. They symbolize connections. They represent opportunity and usually their history entails the vision of at least one dreamer who infects an entire community of dreamers to make them reality.

Since this blog is about the practice of communicating about transportation, I should note two interesting tactics that were used to support the Labor Day bridge events.

First, Caltrans and the rest of the organizations involved in the bridge were in a tough situation deciding how best to celebrate the opening of the new bridge, which has not been without its critics and controversy. My Washington State Department of Transportation colleagues and I faced a similar challenge when considering how best to celebrate the opening of the New Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 2007. While our circumstances allowed us to throw a huge community party, the California folks deserve a tip of the hat for choosing a pared down, understated opening ceremony that helped keep the focus on the bridge and how important it is for those who want to cross it.

While the Bay Bridge opening was not a huge public event, the bridge builders have created a beautiful online “viewing” area that gives people access to the most important areas of the bridge and helps tell the story of its design and construction. In fact, their web site and social media supporting the bridge construction and opening are top-notch.

The Michigan DOT folks, meanwhile, turned to social media again this year for its second annual “Tell us your story” competition, using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The winner receives a guided tour of the bridge and a trip to the top of the bridge towers! Last year’s competition was captured on Storify. The bridge stories are great and the online campaign highlights a community of bridge supporters that might not otherwise be so obvious.

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