Any day is a good to be a cyclist, some days are better than others. On May 23, 2013, a section of the I-5 bridge in Burlington collapsed into the Skagit River after being struck by a commercial truck. Evidently bridges are struck all the time by commercial vehicles and are built, to one degree or another, to withstand taking some hits. How many hits they can actually take is anyone’s guess. Obviously the I-5 bridge reached its limit in May, and sent three people and their cars crashing into the 40-degree water. Fortunately and surprisingly, everyone survived and will have great stories to tell their children and grandchildren who will then grow up to be hopeless gephyrophobes (pronounced JEFF-ri-o-FO-bes), which with means, if you couldn’t figure it out, having a fear of bridges or people named Jeff.
I’m a bit of a gephyrophobe, myself. I’m pretty sure it’s because my mom used to regale me at a tender age with the story of my great uncle who threw himself off the Aurora Bridge in Seattle during the depression. (There’s a reason they called it “the depression.”) Every time we’d cross that bridge, I’d fixate on that story and be utterly horrified. Then there was Galloping Gertie, aka the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Built in 1938, this suspension bridge would move vertically in the wind. Scientifically it’s called aeroelastic flutter, which exactly describes what my stomach feels like when I cross a bridge. It collapsed in 1940 in 40 mph winds. Being a child of the Pacific Northwest, I cut my teeth on footage of Gertie’s flutters and her eventual collapse. I still can’t watch that footage without freaking out.
The I-5 bridge connects everything north of it, including Bellingham, to the rest of the world. There is a nearby bridge that will get you across the river but now with the main bridge out, you can expect to be tied up for hours trying to get across it. There is also another route motorists can use, but that takes like forever so you can imagine the utter havoc this is playing in the lives of those who live in area or who are trying to just travel through it. Fortunately, I don’t ever need to be anywhere south of here so other than for prurient interest, the collapse hasn’t affected me. Unless you count last Thursday when we were waiting for my friend Sara to arrive from Sea-Tac airport, expecting her for dinner. She showed up just in time for us to keep from eating the cats but just barely.
Anyway, bridges just don’t collapse that often so when one does no one is really prepared for it except gephyrophobes, who are completely baffled when bridges don’t collapse. So, it takes some scrambling and time to iron out the kinks with alternate routes until the bridge can be repaired. Believe me, there’s been a lot of general seething and gnashing of teeth. My favorite example is when a local news station interviewed bus riders the day after the collapse. One woman just could not believe that she had to wait longer than 15 minutes for her bus. I guess she was expecting helicopters or magic to get her bus through the morass of traffic and confusion. I think she should have taken the waaah-mbulance.
But as awful and inconvenient as the whole thing is, there’s still a bright spot. Well, if you ride a bicycle. Cyclists seem to be getting around the collapse better and faster than most vehicles. As one rider in the National Bike Challenge put it the morning after the collapse, “It’s a good day to be a cyclist.” And I imagine it was.