A Pontification on Bridges


I was thinking the other day about bridges, highway bridges to be specific. After all I do seem to spend a lot of time either crossing them or going underneath them. Now I suppose you are asking yourself “What could this guy possibly be thinking about highway bridges?” And that would be a good question unless you live in Massachusetts like I do and where every time we cross a bridge we have to worry about whether it will fall or not. However, that isn’t what I was thinking about.

No, I was thinking about the fences on the bridges. Can anyone tell me why the fence on one side of the bridge is curved and the other is straight? It isn’t like this on all bridges, only some and there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to which is which. The obvious reason for having a curved fence would be to deter people from throwing things over the bridge on whatever is below (and I have noticed curved fence are only used on bridges over other roads). After all, we don’t want people throwing stones, bricks, bodies or themselves onto the cars below. But if this were true, why are these curved fences only on one side of the bridge?  The road below doesn’t stop halfway, does it?curved bridge

This one-sided observation led me to further theorize on why there would a curved fence on only one side, perhaps there is only a sidewalk on the curved side, therefore, this is where someone would be more likely to throw something from. This hypothesis soon falls apart after you realize that this isn’t always the case, sometimes there is a sidewalk with a straight fence aside it. In addition, if someone wants to throw something off a bridge, the lack of a sidewalk will probably not deter them.

Some of the other theories I have posited have included:

  • Wind deflection – Obviously I threw this one out rather quickly for the obvious reason that a chain link fence, whether straight or curved has very little effect on wind deflection.
  • Snow Control – Other than the same reason as to why they wouldn’t be used for wind deflection, I have seen the “One Curved Fence” phenomenon in places which are not prone to snow.
  • Total Randomness – For some time this was my most likely reason for why some overpasses have one curved, no curved or two curved fences. However, since these fences more than likely have to go through some form of extensive government design and approval process, the chances that these are in fact random is highly unlikely. After all government agencies are certainly models of efficiency.
  • Space Issue – This is another theory I held for some time (and admittedly probably the most likely), and that is if there is no sidewalk the amount of room between the guardrail to which the fence is attached and the travel lane it is possible a large truck or other vehicles could hit the fence if it were curved. I have yet had the opportunity to test this theory at any time I drove a truck which would potentially be high enough to hit this, I needed my job more than I needed proof.

And while we are on the subject of bridges, over the years I have also concluded I do not want to ever see a bridge with my name on it. Now there are some who might think this would be quite an honor but have you ever noticed one thing in common about bridges which are named after people? They all are signed with the person’s name and these signs, aAmidown1910t least once a year if not more often, are adorned with wreaths and flowers. If your name is covered with a wreath, it means you are no longer among the living. No little white signs covered with flowers for me thank you. A building would be okay after all buildings with people’s names on them are usually named for the owner or builder. For example in the town I grew up in there is a building named “Ammidown” named for the original owner. Now you may think “But this guy is still dead.” Yes, but he built the building was built when he was alive.

Back to fences… The question remains as to why there is a difference between the two fences on the bridge. I really would like the answer.

Now, a totally random, well maybe not totally, quote from Robert Frost:

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’  

Please feel free to share this post with those you know as well as comment on it. After all, any comments will give me, even more, to think about while on the highways and byways of America.

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