BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 196

This week’s Pic of the Week takes us to a familiar bridge but whose setting taken by the photographer raises some eyebrows among pontists and photographers, especially those who are experts in night-time photography. This photo, taken by Danny Crelling, features the twin spans of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, just after the sun left the horizon and dusk was settling in. Unique about the suspension bridges here is the lighting. The bridges are illuminated with yellow lighting that reflects off Pudget Sound, something we don’t see much of these days. The reason: The high-pressure sodium lighting is being phased out in favor of LED lighting and its neutral white color.

When we look at the history of lighting, we can see not only the development with the use of materials needed to illuminate the lighting, but also the color the lighting illuminates. Incandescent lighting had a light brown to beige color. Mercury Vapor had a emerald green to light blue color. Magnesium had a light pink color. But high pressure sodium had a color of yellow to orange illuminating on the streets. Invented in 1956, it was introduced on the streets in 1970 and by 1990, all the towns in America were illuminating in bright yellow. It had a warm appeal for some, but for others, especially if they are utilized in industrial settings, it had a dystopian appeal which reminds me of the film released in 2011 entitled In Time, with Justin Timberlake. A trailer can be found here and it is highly recommended.

This twin suspension span will have its sodium lighting replaced with LED in the near future, as they have several advantages. First and foremost, LEDs produces less energy than its predecessors. They are brighter thus providing more security for homes and businesses as well as safety for motorists. And lastly, the colors can be adjusted either for a special occasion or to please the residents who prefer to have a good night sleep with a low light setting.

Aside from the brightness issue, the colors can be depressing, even when some communities have adjusted the color to having a purple or dark yellow setting. And the new fixtures are not being accepted warmly by many who, like me, have taken a liking to the fixtures that were produced by GE, Nemo and Westinghouse and are sure that these LED lights could actually be fitted into these fixtures. A pair of videos will show you some examples.

Nevertheless, the photo of the bridge here represents a good example of how colorful our night settings have become- nothing all yellow and dystopian but one where we can see the many different lighting in action. Whether this will continue to be the case in 10 years’ time when the last of the sodium bulbs are phased out completely depends on how communities and highway agencies will operate the LEDs and whether the people will accept them.  One variable that will remain constant though, the history and unique design of the suspension bridges, especially as they were built as successors to Galloping Gertie and were the focus of a documentary which came in second in last year’s Bridgehunter Awards in the category Bridge Media and Genre. For more on that, click here. Gertie’s successors, built in 1950 and 2007 respectively, continue to serve traffic to this day and like its history, these two bridges will be around for years to come.


The Flensburg Files has an English activity that ties in the history of street lighting and grammar. Enjoy the history and the exercises when you click here.


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