Much useful and good information

And, in the read more section at the bottom, the Star Tribune’s article from this morning about the smoking gun–engineers were on the verge of condemning the I-35W bridge in late 2006 and early 2007.

Much useful and good information from the City Pages. Unfortunately, it is a link; I wasn’t able to get a copy.

City Pages–bridge who’s to blame

Who’s to Blame?
In the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse, it’s time to take a hard look at
the politicians and policies that may have contributed to the disaster.

And this is a link to their blog’s photo gallery.

And here is an editorial from the New York Times.

One Bridge Doesn’t Fit All

Published: August 18, 2007

Princeton, N.J.

Maxwell Loren Hoyoke-Hirsch

AS many have pointed out, the deadly bridge failure in Minneapolis was symptomatic of a system of bridges that will continue to corrode, crack and crumble if not maintained. But maintenance is not the only problem. We also need to design and build better bridges.

The I-35W bridge was of a type called a “truss deck” bridge; of the 760 bridges around the country having the same design, the Federal Highway Administration found 264, or 35 percent, to be structurally deficient in 2006. Of the bridges having a similar “truss thru” design, 58 percent were labeled deficient. By comparison, only 13.4 percent of the nearly 600,000 bridges of all types were found to be structurally deficient.

While we don’t know yet exactly what caused it, the Minneapolis collapse is hauntingly similar to the collapse in 1983 of another interstate highway bridge over the Mianus River in Connecticut. That disaster led to inspections of similar bridges, which found dangerous cracks from deferred maintenance.

What the Mianus and Minneapolis bridges had in common was not just neglect. Both were the products of a design mentality in which engineers simply used a standard form, and often the same detailed features. Public bridges are all too often designed by anonymous teams, and the results can be seen on our highways.

The goal of good bridge design is to integrate efficiency, economy and elegance in a single design. Few bridges built over the last century have achieved this. Most are efficient but strictly functional; a few that aspire to elegance have done so at the expense of efficiency and economy, like the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is estimated to cost more than four times its original budget.

Having given seminars to many state bridge engineers, I am aware of the political pressures they face to control costs. But there are often opportunities to improve design even in the case of very ordinary bridges.

For example, a few years ago, in a discussion with bridge engineers from a Midwestern state, I suggested an alternative to a conventional overpass they had built, only to be told it would have cost too much. Challenged, I redesigned the overpass myself, and sent the plan to a steel fabricator the state worked with. The fabricator did a cost analysis and, to everyone’s surprise, found that my version would have cost slightly less than the standard design. The revision was also, in my view, better looking.

American bridge engineering largely overlooks that efficiency, economy and elegance can be mutually reinforcing ideals. This is largely because engineers are not taught outstanding examples that express these ideals.

Elsewhere, however, there is a great history of such integrated education. In the early- and mid-20th century, two professors at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich — first Wilhelm Ritter and then Pierre Lardy — used that broader approach and turned out such eminent designers as Robert Maillart and Christian Menn, experts in reinforced concrete, and Othmar Ammann, who worked in structural steel.

Maillart never built in the United States, but Ammann designed several immense spans in the New York City area, including the George Washington, Bayonne, Bronx-Whitestone and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges. Professor Menn is generally considered today’s greatest practicing designer, and his Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston has become a symbol of that city in the four years since its opening.

The goal of these three designers was always to create long-lasting bridges disciplined by the conservation of structural materials and public money yet with great visual appeal. This is why photographs and models of their bridges are the only works of structural engineering regularly exhibited in art museums.

Good design need not be limited to giant projects. An example was the design competition in 1989 for the United States Naval Academy Bridge in Annapolis, Md., organized with the help of Professor Menn. It was patterned after the Swiss practice of having public juries of experts and citizens evaluate designs, and the result was an efficient and elegant bridge for essentially the same amount of money that a standard design would have cost.

In the end, it is to the credit of state bridge engineers that despite their tight budgets, there have been relatively few fatal collapses caused by structural deficiencies. However, more money, better maintenance and new regulations will not be enough to change things if new bridges are no better than the ones they replace. The public and our elected officials must learn to see bridges — of all sizes and in all locations — as more than just utilitarian objects. Bridges should be cared for in the way we treat works to which we have an emotional attachment as well as a physical need.

A 2000 report by the Federal Highway Administration indicated that an average of about 2,500 new bridges are completed each year; each could be an opportunity for better design. The best will be elegant and safe while being economical to build.

The key is to require that every bridge have one engineer who makes the conceptual design, understands construction and has a strong aesthetic motivation and personal attachment to the work. This will require not only a new ethos in professional practice, but also a new focus in the way engineers are educated, one modeled on the approach of those Swiss professors, Wilhelm Ritter and Pierre Lardy.

The first opportunity to move toward this new outlook will be in choosing the replacement design for the Minneapolis bridge. I would urge the State of Minnesota to organize a jury of public officials, engineers and community leaders to recommend a design after a holding a competition along the lines of the one in Annapolis.

We have a choice: we can replace the standard-form truss with another bland and anonymous work, or we can come up with an efficient and elegant form that helps engineers educate the public in the possibilities of turning our nation’s bridges into safe, economical and beautiful landmarks worth maintaining.

David P. Billington is a structural engineering professor at Princeton and the co-author, with David P. Billington Jr., of “Power, Speed and Form: Engineers and the Making of the 20th Century.”

Continue reading Much useful and good information

Bridges London. River Kwai. Mostar.


London. River Kwai. Mostar. Santa Monica. Oakland. A few bridges come to mind. The first thing that I thought–I swear–when I heard about the I-35W (from Yuna, in France, no less) was: Enough with the tax cuts, already. Another off the cuff thought–the bridge falling, the neglect or carelessness, is equivalent to terrorism. One group in society taking from another.

This morning, after I drove to the Y, still on the super-early morning wake up schedule from the trip, and I was sitting in the van in the parking lot, waiting for the doors to be unlocked. There were three or four people standing in front of the door, too. It was about 5:20 and it opens at 5:30. I decided to drive over and take a look at the fallen bridge.

It was still dark as I took the Cedar Avenue exit just after crossing the I-94 bridge and headed for the West River Road. I didn’t get far on the River Road, though, before I came to a check point. A police car, barricade, yellow tape. I drove back around and parked in Cedar Riverside by the co-op and walked across the University of Minnesota campus, past the Humphrey Institute, the Wilson Library and out across the open, second-level deck of the Washington Avenue bridge, but I could see anything.

After walking back to the van, I drove down past the Holiday Inn and parked as close to the Stone Arch bridge as I could. As I walked in the gathering light, I could see the halogen work lights on the Tenth Avenue bridge–closed because of proximity–and I could hear helicopters above. I walked half way across the Stone Arch bridge, and wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I called it quites and headed for work, where, when I arrived about 7:00, workoutless, I took my gym bag in with me and showered there.

It occurs to me that the bridge collapse is like 9/11. I know that they’ve had two weeks now. There were places along the river where still visible yellow police tape has been superseded by chain link fence.

“You can’t get any closer than this,” the helmetless, leather jacket-clad, goggles around the neck guy on the Harley said to Dorothea and I later in the evening, she and I on our bikes, pulled up to the edge of a parking lot overlook the bridge. This was on the west side of the river between the Tenth Avenue bridge and the still standing approach to I-35W. I guess you had to be there. Made an impression on me, though.

We continued on our way, our destination being the Thursday concert at the Mill Museum ruins. We locked our bikes up in front of the Guthrie and headed for the that crazy half-bridge to nowhere that juts out toward the river. There was a young woman at the door to the outside of that bridge, only letting people go out as others came in so that there wouldn’t be too many people out there. There was a pretty good crowd of gawkers.

The band was Cuban salsa. We listened for a couple of songs, standing in the doorway to the ruin courtyard where the band was playing. Then we headed across the Stone Arch. What I hadn’t realized when I had been there this morning was that you can see the crumpled green iron-work draped over the east pier. That had not been evident in any pictures that I had seen. That was the twisted, most mangled.

As a side bar, I thought much about mechanical failure as I was flying across the North Atlantic at 35,000 feet altitude and as I was whizzing around in the Paris Metro.

Finally, we stopped on the east side of the river, at the edge of MetalMatic. That was close-up and dramatic.

Also, talked to my mother today. She fell in the shower probably right after we left, and got banged up. Pulled the red safety chain for help.

We also got word today that someone just got diagnosed with breast cancer.

Time Zone Craziness While staying

Time Zone Craziness

While staying in Paris and Morlaix, France, during the first two weeks of August, we were quite amazed at how late it was still light outside. 10:00 PM seemed still to be pretty bright. We thought about the issue of latitude. St. Paul, where we live, is right on 45 degrees North latitude. Paris and Morlaix seem to be just about 49 degrees. I just now got to checking that on my father’s old National Geographic globe. But the latitude difference doesn’t seem to be enough to explain. Also, daylight started in the morning later than here. I am not exactly sure when, since we were sleeping in so late because we were staying up so late. But I was wondering about time zones, and now think that the time zone setup explains much. The link below leads to a world time zone map.

Note that the Greenwich Meridan runs right through the middle of France. This is shown nicely with this map.

But, even so, France is an hour ahead of GMT. In addition, western France is near the edge of the time zone. I think that the factors of latitude, and especially this time zone craziness, accounts for the late, late light in summer.

We are back, safe and

We are back, safe and sound, if a a bit discombobulated. Dorothea and Liam are already off to Bemidji to visit. Madeline is watching TV, recovering from her first soccer practice.

In posting photos to Flickr, I came across somethings a la Bretagne on YouTube. The stuff from this fellow seems quite good and tasteful, like “wish I could have done that.”

Lots of waves and rocks

Short clip of dancing

And, totally apropo of nothing, except links from about led me to it–a YouTube of Leo Kottke and Michael Johnson. But isn’t that what blogging is all about?

voyage en Bretagne — the first half of this is quite good, then devolves into family photos–though even that is quite good.

Thinking of all the things that can be added to the pictures that I posted to Flickr, all the text, but I am done.

No, wait. Here’s a video that is a great representation of the music that we danced to in Locquirec.


Today is Thursaday, so we went to Versailles. Our Metropass got us there. Actually, it being Thursday had nothing to do with it.
Dorothea was talking to Yuna on the phone about arrangements for our going to visit her in Brittany, and she told Dorothea about a bridge collapsing. At first I thought that she was talking about Paris. What with us zipping around in the Metro and having recently flown across the North Atlantic, catastrophe is on one’s mind.