May 3, 2013 at 6:36 PM
Sketched May 1, 2013
The giant pieces of steel were lifted and lowered so fast by the barge crane, I doubt many in South Park saw what happened here Wednesday.
Two years after construction of a new drawbridge over the Duwamish River started, workers are beginning to install the guts of the bridge — the actual steel mechanisms that will make the spans go up and down.
“Today is a milestone,” said project engineer Tim Lane, who joined me by the river bank and borrowed one of my sketchbooks to diagram how the “teeter-totter” will come together.
“You have to have the fat kid on one side,” he said, referring to the counterweight that will be held in place by these three3-story steel towers shown in my sketch.
Lane said the bridge is about two-thirds done and on schedule to open next spring. He expects the first draw span to be bolted to these pieces sometime in July.
The excitement of the engineering team was shared by Via Vadi cafe owner Maria Porco, one of the nearby business owners I met in 2010 when the old bridge closed permanently for safety reasons. “You know things are going to get better,” she said. “It’s starting to look like a bridge.”
— ooo —
Lane downplayed his sketching skills, but he quickly scribbled some great diagrams. The two “trunnion towers” installed Wednesday will be connected with more prefabricated steel beams and the whole structure will hold the south span of the bridge. The little circle in the side view is the trunnion, the pivoting point for the bridge’s span. Next to it you can see the counterweight, a big rectangle marked with an “x.”
After the towers were installed, I put on a hard hat and reflective vest and stepped down a 20-foot wooden ladder to access the space inside the pier, which is about the size of a basketball court. Lane and fellow engineer Jill Marilley gave me a crash course on the history of Seattle drawbridges, pointing out that most of them were built in the late 1910s and early 1920s following the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The original South Park bridge was built in 1931.
As we chatted, a worker drove the Genie cherry picker out of the way and the barge crane dropped a big container loaded with tools. Marilley commented what a special project this is for Seattle and for South Park. “Moveable bridges don’t get built very often,” she said.
February 15, 2013 at 6:19 PM
Sketched Feb. 6, 2013
The side-by-side Interstate 90 floating bridges were built for cars and buses, but if you’re not in a hurry, I recommend a visit on foot to gain a new perspective on these transportation wonders.
If you start on the pedestrian lane along the north span, you’ll recognize the portal over the westbound lanes — that’s what you see when you drive into Seattle. The original art-deco portal is another story. Besides quick glances in the rearview mirror as you drive east, there is little time to appreciate it. Those semicircular tunnels handled traffic in both directions when the bridge opened in 1940. I was able to make a sketch from 35th Avenue South.
Despite the loud traffic, I relished the 50-minute walk to Mercer Island and back. I spotted a great blue heron perched on a buoy, flapping its wings at the wind, took a peek at some waterfront mansions, and watched cyclists zoom by.
While the debate on tolling continues (the state is accepting public comments through next Friday), enjoy driving — and walking — I-90 for free!
Here are more sketches from my walk:
A view of the floating bridges with Mercer Island in the background. Drawn from the viewpoint at Lake Washington Boulevard.
The viewpoint is right above one of the longest pedestrian tunnels I’ve ever seen.
Walking at brisk pace, I arrived to Mercer Island in 24 minutes. You can still see some of Seattle’s tallest skyscrapers from that side of Lake Washington. I noted the Columbia Tower to the right of my sketch.
Have you walked or biked across the bridge?
I invite you to share your comments here or on my Facebook page at facebook.com/seattlesketcher.
August 20, 2012 at 1:33 PM
Did you see my last post? Above is another sketch of the soon-to-open West Thomas Street pedestrian overpass as it zig-zags over Elliott Avenue West.
I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for lower Queen Anne neighbors to live so close to the waterfront, yet not being able to access it without having to walk to the Olympic Sculpture Park or the Helix bridge.
August 17, 2012 at 8:55 PM
Sketched Aug. 8, 2012 [Click sketches to enlarge]
More than a decade since it was envisioned, a new pedestrian bridge connecting lower Queen Anne with the waterfront is scheduled to open by mid September.
It’s not just any overpass. John Coney, of the Uptown Alliance, calls the West Thomas Street bridge the launchpad for the “Lake to Bay” loop, a pedestrian and bicycle trail connecting Lake Union, Elliott Bay and treasured city locations in between such as the Seattle Center, Myrtle Edwards Park and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Given its starring role in that grand plan, I was a bit disappointed by how bland it looks, far from Amgen’s eye-catching Helix bridge further north (I know, that one was privately funded, but still.)
Luckily, cyclist Larry and his cute dogs stopped by in time to spice up the scene I wanted to draw.
For information about Lake to Bay loop visit lake2bay.org.
Here’s a striking bridge over the waterfront railroad tracks that I could spend days sketching. With its giant steel tubes twisted in the form of a DNA molecule, the Amgen Helix bridge provides a magnificent gateway into Centennial Park, not to mention an interesting commute path for those who work at the local offices of the multinational biotech company.
For background about this bridge, which opened in 2004, you may be interested in this story or this architectural review.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!
May 6, 2011 at 7:31 PM
Sketched May 3
“I wish we’ll still be here when the new bridge opens in 2013.”
That is Julia Ramos’ hope. She is a South Park restaurant owner I first met a year ago right before the aging drawbridge that crossed the Duwamish River was closed permanently for safety reasons.
All the businesses I visited last year are still open, but life has not been the same without the bridge and the customers it brought. The lunch crowd at Jalisco is less than half of what it used to be. “We are hanging by a little thread,” said Ramos, 51, one of several longtime community members King County awarded with a keepsake piece of the old bridge. Sunday is the 19th anniversary of Jalisco’s opening on May 8, 1992.
Ramos is giving out more coupons to attract new customers and looks forward to welcoming the bridge workers arriving in August, when construction is scheduled to start. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held this week as part of Cinco de Mayo festivities.
She’s also advocating for better signs to help drivers reach South Park. “We want to stay here. These two years will be a test.”
Next door business owner Jose Vasquez, who runs Video Mar Tech Consulting, said the bridge closure has had one positive effect: it has brought the community together. “The neighbors and the business owners are taking an active role. We want to create a vibrant community,” he said.
That was the spirit I found a Via Vadi Cafe, another business I visited last year. “We felt we had an obligation to patronize businesses in South Park,” said Jeff Hayes, a customer who has lived for 12 years in the neighborhood and works for the Seattle Fire Department.
Kathi George Wheeler, who runs a graphic design studio just blocks from the bridge, said the closure has galvanized the community. “When something bad happens, people pull together.”
Wheeler, who is known as George in the community, took inspiration from the neighborhood’s resilience to design South Park’s new logo, which depicts the silhouette of a salmon up against three bands of color. Like the fish, “the people here are swimming upstream against the odds,” she said.
South Park neighborhood on Facebook
South Park bridge on Facebook
King County South Park Bridge project
A look back
Last year I spend three days in South Park right before the bridge was closed. Here are my stories:
-South Park neighborhood prepares to lose its bridge
-Time to get around the bridge
-A community mourns its bridge
-Bridge operator ready for last day on the job
-Businesses face future without bridge.
One week every month, I take my sketchbook to a different community following suggestions from readers. Where should I go next? Send me your ideas via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!
April 22, 2011 at 7:58 PM
Sketched April 19, 8:01 p.m.
The wake of a tugboat settled, and the spans of the bridge lowered, as I found the perfect bench to draw this quiet scene at the Montlake Cut.
On Saturday morning, however, my picturesque urban hideout will turn into a jampacked sports venue. Thousands of fans are expected to crowd bridge railings and sidewalks to watch the best college rowers in the country power their boats through the narrow canal. The occasion: the 100th dual race between Washington and California, a heated intercollegiate rivalry that goes back to the early-1900s.
For the Huskies, rowing through the Montlake Cut is as good as it gets. “You can hear the fans cheering. You feel like a football player may feel at a football stadium,” said Michael Callahan, who competed against Cal in the mid-90s and is now the UW men’s head coach.
The spectacle is free and fast for the fans, but it takes a lot of effort and teamwork from the student-athletes. Depending on the wind, the men’s varsity eight covers the 2,000-meter course in five or six minutes, Callahan explained before a practice this week.
Saturday won’t be the last chance to support the Huskies at the Montlake Cut. On May 7, UW rowers compete against Stanford, Oklahoma and Cambridge in the Windermere Cup.
Men’s and women’s races start at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Blog extra! Here are other drawings from my visit to Conibear Shellhouse at UW’s campus:
Coach Callahan talked to the eight varsity team before the afternoon practice. He said they’ve been training six days a week, three hours a day since school started in September. They all stand tall at an average of 6′ 4″. To warm up, they kicked a soccer ball around and stretched at exercise equipment where they can practice the same rowing moves they do in the boat.
I wondered what would happen if you let those eight big guys row backwards without knowing where they were going. But coxswain Michelle Darby sits at the back of the boat and steers them in the right direction. She wears a microphone and the rowers can hear her through several speakers placed throughout the 60-foot-long shell. Darby is from North Andover, Mass., and will graduate next year with an engineering degree. She said it’s become more common in collegiate rowing for women to cox the men’s crews. “The guys are like big brothers.”
During the practice, Callahan instructed the crew through a megaphone while team manager Ben Dagang took notes. The coach’s launch is nothing fancy as you can see. Even Callahan sits on a plastic patio chair like those on sale at Walmart for $5. I tried to hold on to mine as I sketched, hoping not to end up in the water!
Coming up: As part of my once-a-month neighborhood exploration (see previous posts from my visits to White Center and Beacon Hill,) I’ll be sketching around Shoreline next Tuesday. Do you know of a good story waiting to be drawn? Send me your suggestions via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Have a great weekend!
February 4, 2011 at 7:06 PM
Sketched Feb. 1
Nearly 200,000 people commute on the Highway 520 bridge every day, but in four years of living here I’ve only taken this route a few times. I’m still in awe of the bridge’s engineering and its unique location.
On a clear day this week, the view of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and the Olympic Mountains from the bridge’s tower was breathtaking. Still, bridge technician Bruce Watkins said it’s easy to get used to it. He’s also used to seeing waves crash over the road and drivers run out of gas.
As a member of the bridge’s maintenance crew, Watkins also gets a view of the bridge from the inside. A boat ride to one of the 4,725-ton floating pontoons helped me understand how the bridge floats and stays straight. The “ah-ha” moment was seeing one of the steel cables that anchor the bridge to the bottom of the lake.
The 47-year old bridge will soon have tolls that will help pay for a replacement slated to open by the end of 2014. The new bridge will not have a tower, but I look forward to sketching the view from its pedestrian lane.
Here are more sketches from my visit:
On this sketch you can see some of the mechanisms that open the bridge. The spans only open for big boats or barges that can’t clear the highrises on the ends, or during storms with sustained winds of more than 50 mph. The last time that happened was in December of 2006. Bridge maintenance technician Paul King referred to the elevated walkway across the traffic lanes as the “guillotine.”
The bridge’s maintenance crew uses this boat to access the 33 pontoons that keep the highway afloat. The entire lenght of the floating section of the bridge is 1.42 miles, which makes it the longest floating bridge in the world.
Bridge technician Paul King invited me to tag along with the crew for a routine check of the pontoons. When water leaks into their hollow chambers it has to be pumped out. Each pontoon is 360 by 60 feet and there are different rooms inside connected by water-tight doors. The depth of the Lake at the center span of the bridge is about 200 feet.
The columns supporting the east side high rise of the bridge rest directly onto the last of 33 pontoons covering the length of the bridge. One of them is pontoon Z, where I followed technician Mark Epstein down a hatch to see one of the anchor cables that helps keep the bridge straight. Their length ranges from 200 to 600 feet.
Coming up on TV:
“Forbidden Access”: Travel Channel tours SR 520 floating bridge
This bridge can tweet:
Anonymous impersonator posts bridge updates on Twitter and Facebook.
Sketch-worthy Seattle. Where should I take my sketchpad next? Do you know of a good sketch story waiting to be drawn? I’d love to learn about it. You can send me your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook or Twitter.
February 1, 2011 at 5:17 PM
Sketched Jan. 25, 11:26 a.m.
Anytime I drive through the old Highway 520 bridge the experience sticks with me for the rest of the day. The thought of travelling over giant hollow concrete pontoons floating on Lake Washington defies any logic for someone with little understanding of physics like me.
The bridge is not part of my commute so I’ve never sat idle waiting for the traffic to move. But I don’t think I would mind it too much. With such spectacular views, I would probably pull out my pocket sketchbook and do some quick drawings before someone behind me starts honking the horn.
Last week I walked around the area north of Madison Park searching for a good vantage point to sketch. I found it at the Edgewater Apartments complex, where more than a dozen two-story brick buildings are neatly laid out around ample lawns with views of the water.
June 26, 2010 at 11:55 PM
Enter the bridge’s north tower and you’re stepping into history. For 13 years, John Walker has been at the same controls his predecessors have used to operate the bridge since 1931. “The control panel will probably go to a museum,” he said as I tried to find a spot in the tiny room to sketch him.
On Wednesday, he will press the siren, turn the master switch and pull the levers that open the draw spans for the last time. This bridge’s life will end and so will his job.
Walker said he’ll miss long nights watching the barges go by and clear days with a picture-perfect view of Mount Rainier. He’s hopeful to find a new job through King County’s outplacement program.
As for the bridge closure, he’s not surprised. “I’ve been hearing about this for many years, that it’s not in the best shape.”
According to an independent engineering study released by King County in May, the 1931 bridge can’t be operated safely any longer. More than 1.5 million pounds of steel in each of its draw spans are too heavy for the crumbling pillars standing on the river banks — on a scale from 1 to 100, the bridge score is 4.
King County engineer Tim Lane said the bridge’s foundation is moving in erratic ways. “You can see massive cracks on the bascule piers.”
I can see John Walker’s tower from the marina south of the bridge. From here, the bridge looks just like any other one. Its enormous steel draw spans arch gracefully over the Duwamish River as I sit to talk and sketch Rich Crow, owner of the 160-boat marina.
Crow said it will be hard for customers coming from the north to get there after the bridge closes. He and his brother, Guy, have operated the marina since the mid 1970s.
About this series
The South Park Bridge is set to shut down Wednesday night, and a replacement could be years away. I spent three days sketching around the neighborhood and these are some of the scenes I captured:
-South Park neighborhood prepares to lose its bridge
-Time to get around the bridge
-A community mourns its bridge
June 23, 2010 at 5:16 PM
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the South Park Bridge’s draw spans will open for a last time and stay that way until the entire structure is soon demolished.
The 78-year-old bridge has reached its useful life and will be permanently closed for safety reasons, cutting off a vital transportation link across the Duwamish River — 20,000 vehicles cross it every day — and further isolating a neighborhood that locals say has always been forgotten.
Today the State of Washington announced additional funding for a new bridge, but it may still take years until one is in place.
“We know that it’s going to take approximately two-and-a-half years to build … best possible scenario is three years without the bridge,” said Bill Pease, a 10-year South Park resident and member of the South Park Bridge Committee, a neighborhood group that has been lobbying for funding for a new bridge for six years.
When I recently walked, drove and drew around the area, I discovered a close-knit community that I enjoyed for its small-town feel and diversity. Here I could put my Spanish to use at the stores and join in the morning chat at the café or the bus stop.
While the bridge’s poor condition is no suprise to most people –it sustained serious damage during the 2001 Nisqually earthquake– the neighbors and business owners I talked to along 14th Avenue South were shocked and angered the bridge will close before it can be replaced. They said the street will be a road to nowhere after the bridge closes, a ghost town.
Over the next few days, I will share the stories I came across sketching near the bridge. The sketches were done in South Park on May 19 and 25, and June 8. You’ll also find some of the sketches and stories in Sunday’s printed edition.
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