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San Francisco Bay Bridge


San Francisco Bay Bridge

San Francisco Bay Bridge

© 2006 by Betsy Malloy. Used by Permission

The San Francisco Bay Bridge is made up of two spans, its western section reaching from San Francisco to Treasure Island and the eastern segment running from Treasure Island to Oakland. Eastbound lanes travel on the lower deck, and you can see little from them. The view going west is much nicer.

There are no pedestrian walkways or vista points on the bridge, but you can drive on the bridge and stop midway at Treasure Island for a nice view of the it and the San Francisco skyline.

Visiting the San Francisco Bay Bridge

The best ways to enjoy the San Francisco Bay Bridge are:

From the waterfront along Embarcadero Street, where you can see and photograph the span and walk under it.

From Treasure Island: Drive east on toward Oakland to the Treasure Island exit, stop in the waterside parking area and you'll get a great view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and city skyline. Drive to the east side of the island and you can see the new span. There is no toll if you turn around at Treasure Island and drive back to the city.

No matter where you see it from the Bay Bridge celebrated its 75th (diamond) anniversary by getting all dressed up in glittering lights. At sunset, the light sculpture that adorns it starts to flicker and it's on until the week hours of the morning. It's well worth a trip to see it then, and in the Bay Lights Guide, you can see an image of it and find out about all the ways to see it.

San Francisco Bay Bridge History

In 1928, the San Francisco Bay looked much different than it does today. Neither of its landmark bridges had yet been constructed. Forty-six million people crossed the bay that year, all of them traveling on ferries. The waterways were rapidly becoming clogged with ferry traffic, and new alternatives were needed.

In 1929, the State of California began studies to find an alternative to the ferries. After years of study and a little more than three years of construction, the San Francisco Bay Bridge opened to traffic on November 12, 1936. Its total cost, including an electric railroad which has since been abandoned, was $79.5 million.

Initially the San Francisco Bay Bridge upper deck carried 3 lanes in each direction, with trucks and the inter-urban railway traveling on the lower level. However, by 1936, the San Francisco Bay Bridge had already reached traffic levels projected for 1950 and it became clear that something would have to be done. In 1959, the railway was removed and the lower deck converted to carry five lanes of eastbound vehicles. The upper deck was then devoted to five lanes of westbound traffic.

While the San Francisco Bay Bridge towers weathered the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake (7.1 on the Richter scale) without damage, the decks were not so lucky. Bolts sheared, part of the upper deck came unhinged and fell onto the lower deck. Earthquake retrofit work, including replacing the eastern span is ongoing.

San Francisco Bay Bridge Facts

The San Francisco Bay Bridge structure consists of two separate spans, joined by a tunnel cut through a hill on Yerba Buena Island. On the San Francisco side of the island, it consists of two complete suspension bridges, back-to-back with an anchorage in the middle.

A few San Francisco Bay Bridge facts and figures:

  • The two San Francisco Bay Bridge sections combined are 23,000 feet long (4.5 miles)

  • From one approach to the other, the San Francisco Bay Bridge is 43,500 feet long (8.5 miles).

  • West span: 2,310 feet (9,260 feet total length), 220 feet above the water. The cables are made from 0.195-inch diameter wires, 17,464 wires in each cable, with a total diameter 28.75 inches.

  • East span is currently a cantilever bridge: 1,400 feet (10,176 feet total length), 191 feet above the water. In late 2013 a new, cutting-edge structure will replace the old one, which will be the world's longest self-anchored suspension bridge.

  • The San Francisco Bay Bridge was once the longest high-level, steel bridge in the world.

  • The Yerba Buena Tunnel, which connect the two sections of the San Francisco Bay Bridge is 76 feet wide and 58 feet tall.

  • The deepest pier extends 242 feet below the water's surface and contains more concrete than the Empire State Building.

  • Over a quarter million vehicles cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge daily.

  • San Francisco Bay Bridge construction consumed more than 6% of the total United States steel output in 1933.

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