Bridges as Barriers

As a bridgetender for nearly two decades, I’ve come to view bridges as ways to connect people. They can often be the fastest route from one side of a river to another. They’re a delightful transition from here to there.

At the same time, I’ve known many people who see bridges as things to avoid. If it takes you 5 miles to get from point A to point B, and there’s a bridge along the route, many people will go 7 miles to avoid what they see as a bottleneck. The thing is, they’re often using interstates to avoid these bridges, even though the distance between exits is much longer than the average bridge, and in fact they’re often going over several overpasses in the process. Interstates tend to jam a lot more often than drawbridges. So I don’t get this aversion that people seem to have about them.

This is not the first time I’ve ranted about this subject, so when a friend came across an article entitled, “In Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago, Bridges Have Become Barricades”, she naturally thought of me. (Thanks, Jen!) But this adds a whole new spin to my rant. Mayor Lightfoot is intentionally causing bridges to hinder passage. This horrifies me.

It seems that during recent Chicago riots, the mayor has been ordering the city to raise the drawbridges and keep them raised. Yes, I’m sure this is rather effective in keeping looters from their targets, but there are several issues with this concept that bother me. First of all, I can’t imagine that this is putting the city’s bridgetenders in the most comfortable position. They can now be targeted by the rioters and will be every bit as trapped as the rioters are. Also, I would hate for Chicago’s beautiful bridges to be the focus of vandalism.

But the thing that bugs me the most about this concept is the inhibition of the free flow of Americans. I’ve spent my entire career trying to make my bridge openings as short as possible to avoid impeding traffic too much. We are even told that we should continue our bridge openings even if there’s an ambulance or a firetruck en route so as to speed the vessel’s passage through and close as soon as possible, but every bridgetender worth his or her salt will raise a traffic gate back up for an emergency vehicle if it’s at all possible.

Using a bridge as a barricade is making it perfectly clear that some neighborhoods are better than others. It sends the message that more privileged areas need to be protected from the unwashed masses. It pits one part of a city against another.

I love bridges. I look at them as sacred. I hate the idea that they are being politicized in this fashion.

I think a better idea is making the protestors feel heard. Listen to their needs. They deserve accommodation as much as any other citizen does. If they’re treated with dignity rather than met with teargas and walls, they will be more willing take pride in the community in which they are an integral part.

Another side rant is that the article I link to above refers to us as “bridge tenders”. Would you call someone a bar tender? No. It’s bartender. It’s bridgetender. I don’t care what your spell check says. Get it right.


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When in Doubt, Blame the Bridgetender

Recently they did a long overdue rehab of the Ortega River Bridge here in Jacksonville, Florida. It took about 9 months. During much of that time the drawbridge was in the open position. Boats could come and go, but the road was closed to traffic. Not only were there big orange and white reflective barricades with flashing lights, but there was a huge sign saying that the bridge was closed, as well as heavy concrete barricades the likes of which you see on interstate construction sites stretched in front of the span, and of course you couldn’t miss the 25 foot high span sticking straight up in the air, now could you? Or could you…


(This is a photograph of a photograph, by the way. That’s why you see duct tape on the sides.)

Late one night a man drove his car through the barricades, past the flashing lights, past the signage, another three hundred yards and obliterated the concrete barriers before hitting the bridge itself. He must have been going at an incredible rate of speed to do this type of damage. When the police arrived a crowd had gathered, but no one was owning up to being the driver. Using deductive reasoning, though, and seeing the blue jeans beside the car (you can see them in the photo), he quickly determined that it must be the highly intoxicated man standing in his boxer shorts.

The man wasn’t hurt at all. He walked away without a scratch. He said he took his pants off because he had soiled himself, and that he had been driving across the bridge, minding his own business, when the bridgetender opened the bridge right in front of him with no warning at all.

We bridgetenders simply cannot be trusted.