Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tempe Town Lake Bridge Opens: Bridges as Moments

I have questions.
First, some thoughts to set up for the questions.

THE PAST: Memory, the north bank of the Salt River at Tempe Town Lake
THE PRESENT: Awareness, the new bike-pedestrian bridge across Tempe Town Lake
THE FUTURE: Imagination, the south bank of the Salt River near the Center for the Arts

Tempe Town Lake Bridge opened this week with a sunrise ceremony on Tuesday

The present moment is a bridge from the past to the future. Our stream of awareness flows across the bridge as our various imagined futures coalesce into the present moment, cross the bridge of awareness, and form into memory. As we cross the bridge, we carry as freight our rich collections of memories to refer back to, looking back over our shoulder at the riverbank we're leaving behind:

  • to guide and enrich our crossings
  • to form and (re)create who we are as we cross
  • to enhance our understanding and present awareness
  • to affect which of the possible futures we choose to strive toward
  • to help us handle the possible futures we have no control over
  • Walt Whitman: "I project myself a moment to tell you—also I return."

Check out those graceful shadows of the crossed-arches...hey, wait a minute!

Some methods of crossing a bridge, walking and biking primarily, will be at a pace and exposed to the environment such that the crossing is an experience in itself, not merely a transition to be gotten through as quickly and trivially as possible.

Some bridges will be conducive to a mindful crossing: Soleri Bridge in Scottsdale, the new Tempe Town Lake Bridge, Vancouver's Capilano suspension bridge, etc.

Some bridges are narrow high-speed nightmares you just want to drive across as quickly as possible to get to the other side and put them behind you: the 1/9 Pulaski Skyway bridge for example.

The arch shadows are actually pseudo-shadows, artifice, art

The basic questions:
How fast, how quickly do you cross?
Do you pause in the middle to reflect on the crossing?
Do you consider the bridge itself as you cross? Its design, its purpose, the possible intentions of its designers? Do you consider the skill of its makers, the grace of its design, the art, the engineering, its messages?
Does the bridge appear graceful to you? Does it have its own sort of beauty? Can you see its bones? Does it bear its burdens, its deadweight, its wind loads, its traffic, its stresses and strains, with ease and power? Does it sing in the wind? Can you feel it move? Does it have expansion joints to manage thermal changes?

Can you walk your dog on it? Do you take time to look into your child's eyes?

New bridges are built against the backdrop of the old bridges and other methods of crossing previously used. Sometimes the old bridges are left in place. Sometimes they are still used, other times they are closed yet remain, often rusted hulking shadows across the water. The old ferry piers and terminals, are they still there? Other times the old routes are erased, the spans blown up dropped into the channel and cut up into scrap, the old piers and ferry crossings destroyed and turned into parks, venues, fast food stands, waterfront. There should be a question here: your current bridge, how did it deal with the past crossing methods? At this point, it would be edifying to go and read Walt Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry". Please:

Show me your forces, allow me to calculate your moments and thrusts

Did not Uncle Walt capture the exact sense I am wondering about herein?
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the day;   
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme—myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme:   
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future...

I gaze back and across at older crossings, defunct ferries, and new light rail bridges that light up at night

Sun water dappled, in shade, gazing at wetlands and great egrets in the shallows and reeds

Once across, do you turn around right away and go back, which can only be done with bridges and not with past-present-future, or do you dwell a while on the far bank with curiosity and openness, to discover what's over there?

with bikes

In conclusion the final questioning: we are not molluscs, dwelling in an ever-present moment isolated from past and future one to the next unconnected merely being, nor are we machines since we have sensation, awareness, emotion, hope, dreams, intent, will, integrated sense of self. Sometimes we may be stressballs dwelling on worries and spinning on fears but we cross that bridge; sometimes we may be negative narrators telling ourselves stories of woe and wear and tear and weakness and age but we cross that bridge; and sometimes we are flowing beings of light and love moving in smooth and rich transition from past through the present into the future, and we cross that bridge, too. Freighted with memory. Buoyed by imagination. We look across, and we ask: where next?


  1. I'm digging them faux shadows!

  2. Note to readers. Whil I don't understand the reference, if you click on the "" it reveals an interesting series of posts. Just saying'.

  3. Steve, The Seven Bridges of Königsberg (a city in Prussia) was a historical mathematical problem which asked if one could find a route walking through the city that would cross each of the seven bridges once and only once. The great mathematician Euler proved that you can't, that there's no possible solution to the problem, in 1735. According to Wikipedia, the city is now called Kaliningrad, Russia, and has five bridges.

    limom, moi aussi.

  4. I love bridges, especially ped/bike ones. My favorite that I've seen is the Purple People's Bridge that goes from downtown Cincinnati to Kentucky - a former auto bridge that was too narrow for modern cars and then fixed up and open to pedestrians and bicyclists.

    However, this one looks equally gorgeous. I wonder if Tempe's Tour de Fat parade used this bridge to cross over.

  5. Sam, Purple People's Bridge is a great name, I hope to check that one out some time. Also, I was directed to look at the Humber River Arch pedestrian bridge in Toronto, which looks quite striking. I have a thing for bridges.

  6. Meh! I went out of my way on my commute home Friday to cross the bridge to find it packed full of families playing. They were actually angry at me for trying to ride my bike past them at a very respectable slow (practically crawling) pace. I am sure it could be nice sometimes, but I'd rather ride down priest and avoid slowing down.

  7. Tanner&Emily, I wondered about that factor. Unless you are a particularly avid walker, though, the bridge doesn't really go to/from anywhere at this point--the south bank is a long way to a parking lot from the bridge, and there's no particular attraction at it's south terminus for a pedestrian. But it's a good connector for a cyclist who doesn't want to ride around the lake but just wants to cross. So I am thinking that all the people hanging around on it are looky-lous checking out the new bridge, which is great, since they will dwindle particular on work days during commute time. I think.

  8. I mean, "the north bank is a long way to a parking lot", of course, got them mixed up. The south bank has the Tempe Arts Center and lots of parking right near the bridge.


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