After a Long Stretch of Darkness, the Bay Bridge Lights Are Returning

After a Long Stretch of Darkness, the Bay Bridge Lights Are Returning

The gray Bay Bridge, the region’s workhorse bridge connecting San Francisco with Oakland, has never gotten as much acclaim as its splashy red neighbor to the northwest. But lately, it’s been even more muted than usual.

For the past 14 months, the bridge’s Bay Lights art installation — 25,000 LEDs that twinkled across 300 cables on the western span of the bridge — has been turned off.

Now, fans of the 1.8-mile stretch of sparkle can rejoice. The team behind the installation says it will be coming back with nearly twice as many lights. The target date is next March.

“I feel like there’s a hole in the night sky,” said Ben Davis, the founder of Illuminate, the San Francisco public arts nonprofit behind Bay Lights. “It’s going to feel so good when we bring them back.”

Davis surprised Bay Area residents in January 2023 when he announced that the installation had deteriorated so badly after 10 years that it had become too difficult and expensive to maintain. He turned the lights off that March, and promised a sturdier version if donors would contribute $11 million.

Raising the funds took a lot longer than expected, he said, but Davis finally has the money. “The project,” he said, “is officially a go.”

Leo Villareal, the artist behind the original Bay Lights, is busily crafting the new version. Known as “Bay Lights 360,” the display will include 46,000 lights shimmering in abstract, wavelike formations that never repeat — similar to the old installation, but with better quality lights.

“It’s like tuning a musical instrument,” Villareal said. “We’re trying to do something that’s very, very complicated in a brutal environment in terms of the moisture and vibration and all the things that happen on the bridge.”

The old display was constructed in such a way that the lights were seen mostly by those living in the northern part of San Francisco and Marin County. Now, they’ll be seen by people in the city’s south side and the East Bay, too.

The new lights are being custom-made by Musco Lighting in Iowa so that if one light goes out, it won’t affect the others. And, the company says that the lights should stand up better to bridge traffic and San Francisco’s always-changing weather.

The plan is to begin removing the old lights in September. Saeed Shahmirzai, a senior construction manager for Zoon Engineering, which will install the new lights, said the work would mean nighttime lane closures this fall.

Mechanized baskets will lift workers up and down the cables to install the lights with safety crews positioned underneath. The lights should be in place by the end of the year, and, after a couple months of testing, flicker on in March.

Davis eschewed any public funds, figuring that City Hall has more urgent matters to spend its money on, and also rebuffed corporate sponsorship.

Donations came from the WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, the WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, and the philanthropists Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock and Tad and Dianne Taube, among others.

The final $200,000 donation that pushed the project across the finish line came from Roger and Adrienne Bamford. He’s an architect at MongoDB, an open-source document database company, and she’s an investor and consultant for tech companies.

The couple acknowledged their self-interest: Their condo at the Infinity has huge windows that look out over the Bay Bridge. They can see rush-hour traffic, side shows and protests — but they miss the nightly light show and want it back.

“We’ll appreciate it even more because it went away,” Roger Bamford said.

Adrienne Bamford nodded. “It’s so special,” she said. “A little piece of magic.”

The wandering salamander is a species that lives in the tops of the California redwoods and is able to glide through the air on wind currents.

In a study published by Current Biology, researchers tested the skills of the salamanders by carefully dropping them at safe distances into a wind tunnel. When dropped, the salamanders would stretch their limbs to catch the current and were able to stay completely upright while gliding.

Experts are still perplexed, though, by the salamander’s ability to contort its body to catch the flow of air.

“We can’t interview them,” said Christian E. Brown, an author of the study, “and it’s hard to know what a salamander is thinking.”

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