Dalton Highway, Alaska

With so many eyes turning northward at this time of year, we thought we take a look at the northernmost highway in the United States, Alaska’s Dalton Highway.

The Dalton Highway (Alaska highway 11) begins north of Fairbanks and extends northward towards Prudhoe Bay along the Arctic Ocean. It actually ends a few miles short of the ocean in the town of Deadhorse (what a great name!) with private roads covering the remaining distance. The southern section of the highway passes through the state’s forested interior, and on the E.L. Patton Yukon River Bridge. This is apparently the only bridge crossing the Yukon River in Alaska.

[Photo by Stan Stebs via Wikimedia Commons.]

As one gets further north, the trees disappear and highway winds its way through the sparse and undulating terrain as a narrow gravel road parallel to the pipeline. It is this landscape that perhaps most uniquely defines this road.

The stark landscape of clean rolling hills and muted greens looks quite interesting and inviting.  But it is easy to forget that it does get very cold and covered in snow and ice for quite a bit of the year, and can be quite treacherous.

The landscape flattens out and becomes more barren as the highway approaches its northern terminus near the Arctic Ocean. It ends at a very unassuming intersection at the edge of a lake in Deadhorse, as seen is this image from Google Street View:

It looks like the left turn leads into the town itself, which includes the sign shown to the left and where one can book tours to the coast.  The right turn appears to lead towards the oil installations, with street view stopping at a gate.  Interestingly, the entire length of the highway can been seen on Google Street View. I can only imagine the scene of one of the Google cars traveling alone along the road.

Alaska is one of six states in the U.S. I have not yet visited. If I do make it there, I would like to see this highway. But probably not during the winter.

Fun with Highways: The Bay Bridge Turns 75

This past Saturday, November 12, marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, known conventionally as “The Bay Bridge.” It is a regular part of life for many of us here, one of our main connections to the communities across the bay and a principal landmark during walks in my part of the city. It has been featured in many previous articles here on CatSynth.

The Bay Bridge is a workhorse, spanning over 4 miles and carrying an estimated 270,000 vehicles a day, making it second busiest in the U.S. after the George Washington Bridge in New York. But the western double-span is quite a beautiful structure, both as seen from the hills of San Francisco and from up close.


[Click to enlarge]

[Click to enlarge.]

Don’t let that last photograph fool you. Even though it may look like it was taken 75 years ago, it was actually taken yesterday using the iPhone Hipstamatic app during an early afternoon walk by the bridge.

It was quite an engineering feat when it was built, the longest bridge of its time and built in challenging geography of the bay.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

This video (as seen on the official Bay Bridge info site) captures both the era and the engineering:

Much like the Brooklyn bridge when it was first built, the Bay Bridge towered over the surrounding architecture of the cities it connected. It is anchored in the middle to Yerba Buena island with tunnels connecting the two spans of the bridges. On the the San Francisco side, it is anchored to Rincon Hill, once an upscale neighborhood in the late 1800s that fell into rapid decline and largely destroyed in the 1906 quake. The eastern bridge was built resting on mud rather than bedrock. It was the most expensive bridge built to date.

The idea of a bridge crossing the bay has been around since the 1800s. Indeed, such a bridge was proposed by Emperor Norton in the 1870s (I think this even made it into Gino Robair’s opera I Norton). But unlike his other proclamations, this one seemed like a good idea. After that, there were many proposals, such as this one that in some ways resembles the bridge that was actually built.

The bridge proposed in this drawing connected to Telegraph Hill rather than Rincon Hill, and has suspension bridges on both sides of Yerba Buena island.  The spires also make it look like some of the older suspension bridges on the East River in New York.

When bridge first opened, it carried US Highways 40 and 50 as well as the trains from the Key System in the East Bay. The upper deck had longer ramps leading to Harrison and Bryant Streets at 5th, roughly the same as the rather long ramps at those streets today. On the Oakland side, the bridge had viaducts from Cypress Street (Highway 17) as well as San Pablo Avenue and the Eastshore Highway (US 40). The bridge now carries Interstate 80 across the bay. The railway is long gone. Gone also are the connections to the old Transbay Terminal and Embarcadero Freeway, both of which have been demolished. The area under the bridge on the San Francisco side, once a gritty industrial waterfront, is now a picturesque boulevard that is great for walking. Through all of the changes, the bridge itself has not changed very much at all…

[Bay Bridge approach, 1940s]

[Bay Bridge and Embarcadero, 1970s and 1980s. Photos from Wikimedia Commons.]

[Present day, Bay Bridge and southern Embarcadero. Photo by CatSynth]

…until now. The eastern truss span, which was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake, is now being replaced with a new more graceful cable-stayed span. The construction has progressed to the point where the tower is in place and the cables are being hung. It is indeed a bit distracting when traveling the bridge. But I am looking forward to seeing it completed, probably around the 77th anniversary in 2013.

Fun with Highways: The Port of Oakland

I found this photo on Facebook yesterday while following events at the General Strike in Oakland.

More people protesting a little later….the freeway is full on their way to the Port of Oakland during the #GeneralStrike. People can’t drive….10,000 people are marching.

In actuality, it is not a freeway. But it does appear to be the point in West Oakland where Adeline Street crosses over the train tracks and becomes Middle Harbor Road, which would be en route to the port where demonstrators successfully and peacefully shut down operations for the remainder of the night. That is quite an impressive feat.

I unfortunately was not able to join in the events in Oakland yesterday because of health reasons, but I am planning to be out again with a group in San Francisco on Saturday. In the meantime, here is a first-hand account from fellow Bay Area new musician Myles Boisen. He plays a mean blues guitar.

Shut Down! – Occupy Oakland 11/03/11 Vol. 7

Vol. 7 in a series by Myles Boisen

Port of Oakland SHUT DOWN
Wells Fargo SHUT DOWN
Bank of America SHUT DOWN
CitiBank SHUT DOWN
Comerica Bank SHUT DOWN
Chase Bank SHUT DOWN
Union Bank SHUT DOWN
Bank of the West SHUT DOWN
Nara Bank SHUT DOWN
T-Mobile SHUT DOWN
Burger King SHUT DOWN
Walgreen’s SHUT DOWN

Highlights of the Oakland general strike:

10 a.m. As I start reading news feeds I see Angela Davis is addressing the early morning crowd at 14th and Broadway. Unconfirmed rumors come and go that the Port of Oakland is already closed, with possible wildcat strike action and trucks unable to get through.

12 p.m. I arrive at Oscar Grant Plaza. On the way over radio coverage on KPFA-FM says that Wells Fargo bank is already shut down. People are streaming continuously toward downtown on foot and on bicycles. The crowd at 14th and Broadway is estimated at 5,000 or more. With friends I tour the area, photographing banks and corporate businesses that have shut their doors due to the strike. The crowd is made up of elders, working people, union representatives, teachers, religious leaders, and schoolchildren present with their parents.

By the BART station we meet Ethel, a senior citizen who is gathering signatures on a petition to end the death penalty in California. One member of our party – Phil, a well-read anarcho-syndicalist – has recently moved to Alameda County, and Ethel suggests that he can go to City Hall to get the requisite voter registration papers. Could City Hall possibly be open today? We go on a mission to find out.

After finding a side door that is open, we are ushered into an eerie calm of City Hall by a private security guard. There is practically no one inside. Entering the Office of the City Clerk, there is once again no one around, though there is a small hotel bell at the counter. After ringing the bell for a few minutes, this Kafkaesque scenario is resolved when a woman emerges and directs Phil to the proper documents. I ask her “How’s it going today?” She gives me “the look” and replies “ask me after 5.”

1:30 p.m. Our group wanders about, taking in dance performances, rappers, signage, the bustling kitchen, the music stage, and more. We run into two stilt walkers that I am acquainted with, as well as my friend Victor Lewis who is immediately recognized by someone as being the guy from the film The Color of Fear. Victor gets that a lot.

2:30 p.m. I return to my car to find a parking ticket – my first one of the year. Damn! A bite of lunch, and I fall in with a group of musicians associated with Mills College. From there it’s off to move my car and survey downtown on my own, again taking photos of shuttered banks. There are broken windows at the Chase Bank downtown, with reports of additional vandalism at the Whole Foods grocery by Lake Merritt.

5:00 p.m. I return to Oscar Grant Plaza to try and meet a friend when I notice the march to the port is moving out. People walk briskly, excitedly, and despite my best efforts I can’t catch up to the beginning of the procession stretching many blocks in front of and behind me. We wind through industrial West Oakland with minimal police presence.

6:00 p.m. The final approach to the Port of Oakland (the fifth-largest port in the US) is by way of an overpass that sweeps gracefully over once-bustling trainyards. The top of this overpass affords a stunning vista with the iconic cranes to the west, a maze of train tracks to the north, and Oakland’s office buildings to the east. Sunset yields a golden light with its own rich photo ops. Then darkness finds most of the crowd on the move again, back to Oscar Grant Plaza, BART, or homes and family. After a final visit to OGP I see broken windows and anarchist graffiti at the Wells Fargo Bank, then return home to write and work on photos. Arriving home I read that a frustrated driver ran into two marchers in downtown Oakland, sending both to the hospital and then being allowed to go home himself after filing a report with the OPD.

2:07 a.m. As I am finishing up this post I get a call from Cherie. Police have moved into downtown and tear gas is being used at 16th and Telegraph. My heart sinks into my stomach, and yet somehow I find the energy to drive back downtown to see what is going on. Many streets are blocked off by lines of police. At 16th and Telegraph there are three dumpsters turned over in the middle of the intersection, contents spilled and a burnt trash smell. I hear that the camp is surrounded, with no one getting in or out. Walking seven blocks around the perimeter of the police-occupied area I find this is not true.

14th street is open, and there is lots of graffiti with anarchy A’s that was not there this afternoon. Windows are broken, including the Tully’s coffeeshop at 14th and Broadway which overlooks Oscar Grant Plaza. A double line of police spans the broad intersection of 15th and Broadway. Asking around, I learn from an eyewitness that “anarchist kids” had set the dumpster fires using M-80s or road flares, and that a fire was also set around an abandoned building that had been occupied. One young man named Chris had been tear gassed earlier, and was concerned about his friend who had been missing since then. I gave him the NLG hotline number, wished him luck, and returned home to write.

5 a.m. Bedtime for citizen journalists.

The presence of violence and a destructive element in our midst is deeply troubling. And I am really saddened that such a powerful, peaceful and successful strike involving so many has been stained by the anger of a few. These actions present a new challenge for a movement which is committed to non-violence. Just yesterday I wrote this: When the police turn violent, the Occupation thrives. But if Occupy turns violent (or is perceived as being violent) that will be the one thing that will bring it down. The vandalism is not widespread – just broken glass and spray paint as far as I know now – and it should be cleaned up in a couple of days. But it will now be a long struggle for the movement to effectively distance itself from a violent minority, and somehow deal with similar incidents in the future.

The phrase on everyone’s lips after the strike is “what next?” Well, what do YOU want to happen next? Get down to the Oakland GA (7 p.m. every night in Oscar Grant Plaza) and make a proposal. I can’t be at the GA on Thursday, but I know there will be a lot to talk about.

On Thursday Nov. 3 5:30 P.M. (today!) a City Council special meeting will address the police actions of 10/25/11. Council chambers of Oakland city hall.

Fun with Highways: Wall Street

Some streets take on a status beyond their physical extent. One of those is Wall Street, which is simultaneously an actual street in New York City, a neighborhood name, and shorthand for massive finance and investment industries of the United States.

Wall Street itself is quite short, and runs from South Street along the East River to Broadway. It’s terminus on the east side is underneath the South Street Viaduct (why a duck?) that carries the FDR drive to the tip of Manhattan and underneath Battery Park. The Broadway ends at historic Trinity Church. It is not a part of the city that I know particularly well. Most of my adventures don’t take me further south than Tribeca or the Brooklyn Bridge. It is interesting to look at the street names and arrangement, narrow streets with names like “Pine” and “Cedar”, “Front Street” and “Water Street” that we would associate with numerous coastal American cities and towns but not distinctly with New York (San Francisco has all four street names, as does Santa Cruz where I lived for several years). The streets are evidence of the long history in this part of the city.

The current #occupywallstreet protests are not actually centered on Wall Street, but in a park to the north along Liberty Street (officially named Zuccotti Park), just one big block away from the World Trade Center site and the new 9-11 Memorial. But things have grown since the initial encampment and march and while it was largely ignored by the mainstream media for the first couple of weeks or addressed as little more than a curiosity or object of derision. Now it appears in the news every day, and the protests themselves are growing organically. Here is an image yesterday from protesters occupying Foley Square, several blocks to the north near City Hall and the off-ramps from the Brooklyn Bridge (from the official website).

And a recent report of the massive march via Democracy Now!:

Towards the end of the video, one can see what happens as protesters approached the actual Wall Street.

If you want to support the movement but can’t make it to New York or one of the local “occupations” that have spread to other cities, you can send donations, or even order them a New York pizza courtesy of Liberatos Pizza. And we all know that New York pizza is better than what we get here on the west coast. They do recommend ordering vegetarian or vegan options, but the official “Occu-pie” looks suspiciously like pepperoni:

In the publication “Occupied Wall Street Journal”, they print a map of the plaza encampment:

I like how they label the sculpture on the plaza as “Weird Red Thing”. As reported in Hyperallergic, the “weird red thing” is actually Mark di Suvero’s “Joie de Vivre”. I quite like the sculpture, with its clean lines and curves, and red color against the grays of the Wall Street buildings.

[Photo by ElvertBarnes on flickr]

I will be visiting New York again in November, and I’m sure I will be downtown quite a bit…

Fun with Highways: California Highway 114 (?)

I find myself on US 101 at least once a week for work, heading south from San Francisco to Palo Alto. A couple of weeks ago a started noticing a new route marker in a construction zone near East Palo Alto for Highway 114.

Highway 114? I did know there was such a thing. It turns out it is in fact a define short route along Willow Road between 101 and CA 84, leading to the Dumbarton Bridge, as described at cahighways.org.  It is only about one mile long.

I was also not familiar with 109, which runs along University Avenue in East Palo Alto but is unsigned.

So I wonder why 114 suddenly became signed as a detour route during this construction project? Is it perhaps a legal requirement, or maybe it will be signed in the future?

Fun with Highways: 401 and 427, Toronto

Another listless Sunday evening, another highway interchange.

This is the bizarrely complex interchange of highways 401 and 427 near Toronto and Mississauga, not far from Toronto Pearson International Airport.  They are known colloquially as “the 401” and “the 427”, similar to way highways are referenced in southern California.

It looks like there might have been a plan to build another freeway extending due east from interchange, which could explain it’s strange configuration. It could also just be due to the fact that 401 is a huge highway. South of the interchange towards Mississauga it widens into 18 lanes divided into four sections (one collector and one express) in each direction. To the north it thins out but becomes as 16 lane collector/express system again as it approaches Toronto. This would make it one of the largest in the world, certainly larger than the New Jersey Turnpike at its widest, or I-5 south of Los Angeles.  It is also one of the “busiest highways in North America” (see this reference.)

Here is a view of the interchange looking east along the 401:


[Photo from Floydian on Wikimedia Commons.]

The 401 extends all the way to the western end of province to Windsor, just across the U.S.-Canadian border from Detroit. I have thought about a musical “401 tour” a few times, that would start in Detroit (and leave time for photography) and extend to Toronto. As such, leads on experimental musicians and performance venues along this route would be welcome.

Fun with Highways: Doylestown

Today we resume are series from towns and cities that feature prominently in our Facebook page insights. One that had been appearing for a while was “Doylestown”, which we assume to be Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Doylestown is central Bucks County, north of Philadelphia. The area served by by “Doylestown Bypass” PA 611 and US 202, which runs through the center of town. It does appear that there is a freeway for US 202 as well, south of the town that currently ends at an interchange with 611. One can see half of the interchange and the roadway beyond are dirt, which I thought was interesting.

It turns out this is part of a large project to build a US 202 Parkway. It is scheduled to open in mid-2012. Follow the link to find out more about the project.

The downtown is northeast of the highways. Like many downtown areas, it has had its past ups and downs with changing economic times and competition from large shopping centers, but is now doing well as a regional cultural center and attraction, with small downtown shops and institutions like the Mercer Museum, a large concrete structure built by Henry Chapman Mercer. The museum houses Mercer’s collections of early American artifacts and collection known as “Tools of the Nation Maker”.

In addition to Mercer, Doylestown is the hometown of several other well known individuals. I had no idea of Oscar Hammerstein (of Rogers and Hammerstein fame) was from here until I did the cursory online info gathering for this article. Writers James A. Michener and Pearl S. Buck are also natives of the town.

Fun with Highways: Livingston (?)

Every so often we like to have fun with the cities and towns that appear in our Facebook Insights and Google Analytics. One town that has been appearing prominently in our Facebook page stats recently is Livingston. However, we have no idea which place called “Livingston” this actually is, so we will explore a few possibilities.

Based on the demographics of our readers and Facebook fans, it’s probably in the U.S., and it is most likely Livingston, NJ, a town east of Newark along I-280, not far from New York City.

Livingston is a medium-sized suburban town. Though its history dates back a long time (about 300 years), it was relatively sparse until automobiles and highways arrived in the 1920s. Notably, it is named for William Livingston, the first Governor of New Jersey. It is also near the Riker Hill fossil site, also known as Walter Kidde Dinosaur Park, a major paleontological site – I remember hearing about the “major dinosaur fossil site in New Jersey” a few times while growing up across the river in New York.

It could be Livingston, California, a town along the Highway 99 corridor in the Central Valley, between Modesto and Merced.

Like much of this part of the Central Valley, it is primarily an agricultural town.

It could also be Livingston, Montana, a picturesque town along I-90 and US 191 north of Yellowstone National Park.

[Image by Jonathan Haeber (http://www.terrastories.com/bearings/) via Wikimedia CommonsClick image to enlarge.]

It has that classic “old US downtown” look with mountain ranges in the background. It also seems like a relatively prosperous town (much of its economy is related to tourism). As of this writing, however, it sounds like they are at the edge of this year’s intense flooding along rivers in the U.S. and the Yellowstone River is again above flood stage as of the writing of this article. We hope they stay safe and dry! In late May, flooding on the Yellowstone River closed parts of I-90 near Livingston.

Livingston, NY is in the Hudson Valley and quite a ways north of New York City. It is considerably smaller than its counterparts in New Jersey, California and Montana.

In the strange way that I remember such things, I am pretty sure I have been through the junction of US 9, NY 9H and NY 82 (and NY 23).

Smaller yet is Livingston, Louisiana.

It is along I-12 east of Baton Rouge. I mention it because it has a gravitational wave observatory. That is cool. Gravitational waves are theoretical ripples in the curvature of spacetime that propagate as a wave – a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but never directly detected.

Fun with Highways: Seattle

After New York and San Francisco, Seattle has recently been among the top cities for this site and our Facebook page. So today we are paying tribute with a visit of some of the city’s highways.

Two of the major highways in the U.S., I-5 and I-90 meet in downtown Seattle at this massive interchange:

I did actually travel to Seattle through this interchange a few years ago, while on tour with the band that would later become Reconnaissance Fly. I-5 may look wide here as it passes under I-90, but further north it felt narrow and windy, more like the highways inside New York City, with buildings on either side of us.  We took the exit for Madison Street and headed up the hill to our gig, not far from some cool-looking transmission towers (Is it weird that I actually remember these particular details?).  It was a bit of a nostalgic trip to go back and read the gig report, and see how far we’ve all come musically since then.

To the west of I-5 is State Highway 99, the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is a double-decked elevated highway along the industrial waterfront, and actually seems quite interesting, both looking at it from the bay and for the spectacular view of the city and bay that one would see while riding it.

In some ways, it seems like the former Embarcadero Freeway in here San Francisco, including the fact that it is scheduled to also be “former” soon. Plans are to demolish the elevated highway and replace it with a tunnel, and surface boulevard that connects the downtown to the waterfront. The replacement plans seem to be as controversial as the highway itself. Both fall along predictable lines, the typical reaction of many who see a highway like this as an “eyesore”, and those who are worried about the costs of replacing it. The bored tunnel seems quite impressive, and more walkable space seems like a good concept. The replacement of the Embarcadero Freeway here with an open and walkable waterfront space seems quite successful (it was all done before my time), but I still felt a little sad seeing those last vestigial bits of the old infrastructure get demolished last year. I thought they were architecturally interesting (and photogenic). These views (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) show the underside and details of the Alaska Way Viaduct.

Hopefully the project works out well for Seattle. Demolition began earlier this year.