Bridge Symbolism

Having worked on drawbridges for over 12 years, I’ve come to know how strongly many people feel about bridges in general. Just publish your plans to demolish or replace one, and brace yourself for the public outcry. People love to walk and jog across bridges, and many’s the time I’ve witnessed marriage proposals. Fishermen often have their regular spots staked out, and people love to hop out of their cars during bridge openings to enjoy the weather. For some inexplicable reason, the mentally ill are drawn to bridges as well.

Another strange thing about bridges is that people view them as bigger barriers than regular streets, even if they are fixed span bridges with no chance of causing a delay. People will not hesitate to take a 10 minute drive on an interstate which has the same length of road without exits as even the largest of bridges possesses, but if their route contains a bridge, that same 10 minute drive is viewed as a hassle to be avoided.

What do bridges symbolize to people? In the tarot, the bridge card means progress, connections, and stability. Often people view bridges as the only way to reach a destination, and therefore bridges are a way to overcome obstacles. Bridges also represent transitions. “Crossing over” is a euphemism for taking that journey from life to death. Perhaps that’s also why so many people use bridges when they’ve made the unfortunate decision to end their lives, a decision which, speaking from personal observation, is made far more frequently than is reported in the media, and is also a decision which they instantly regret, judging from their screams on the way down. You can be fairly certain that any bridge that you cross that is more than 40 feet above the water has been a place where someone has died.

Perhaps my favorite bridge symbol, though, is that of hope. If you can just get over that bridge, you may find yourself in a better place on the other side. Some bridges are harder to cross than others. If you’re afraid of heights they can be scary. If feeling the surface shaking below your feet unsettles you, then your crossing can pose a challenge, but trust me, that challenge is deceiving. You do NOT want to be on a rigid and inflexible bridge. Not if you want to live. So in some ways bridges can represent a struggle, but one with the prospect of better things on the far shore. I find that inspiring.

If you’re reading this, welcome to my most popular blog entry! The fact that it’s so popular has me flattered and also confused. So I’d love it if you’d tell me why you’re here in the comments below! Thanks!

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19 thoughts on “Bridge Symbolism

  1. KerrickM

    Hey, maybe landing in that net is fun…you can charge people for it and raise maintenance/repair money…The super trampoline, with a view…Joke…
    All right, for me the interesting thing about bridges of the sort you work on is the complementarity of their functions. It acts as a barrier and then a gateway to road traffic and marine traffic by turns–two diametrically opposite conditions, applied to two orthogonal thoroughfares. Plus, some are so beautifully symmetrical in themselves. And they move gracefully [usually]–the rotational geometry of bascules, and the smooth braking of vertical lifts. What’s not to love?

  2. KerrickM

    And I forgot to mention The Horn. I was astonished to find that this kind of bridge even has a voice. One can miss it sometimes when not far away in heavy traffic, and then in a quiet neighborhood one can hear it from 2 or 3 miles.
    I was present at a ceremony some 20 years back marking start of work on a twin to a double bascule that we have here, right next to it, and there came the mayor’s turn to speak, and he got up on the platform, grabbed the mike and opened his mouth and just then–“TOOOOOOT!!”, loud enough to flutter the tent –and everyone cracked up and he opened his mouth again and “–TOOOOOT!!” and people cracked up even more, and once again, “TOOOOOT!!” and then he finally got to talk, but I had ducked out to get a picture of the state’s biggest one in motion. I guess you just had to be there…

    1. That’s funny. But yeah, the Coast Guard CFR-33 requires that we do a horn signal on open and close. One long, one short for the open, 5 short blasts for the close. Much to the consternation of nearby residents. But if you buy a house near a drawbridge you get what you deserve. These regs were from a time when people didn’t have marine radios, and they would signal their desire for an opening by these signals, and we would reply in kind. Most boaters wouldn’t know to do that today, even if their radios malfunction. Mostly they just use rude gestures. They’re a bit outmoded, but the close signal is still helpful, because you’d be amazed how many boaters rush the bridge without notifying us of their intent. If they’re incommunicado, the horn is the only way they’ll realize they’re about to get crushed.

  3. KerikM

    Our bridges used to have horns pitched somewhat in the middle of the keyboard. But now, at least some of them seem have been switched out for more treble versions, and not so loud–no doubt at the behest of waterside dwellers. Ferries have bass horns and these go the farthest.
    Another cool thing. When the bascules have a grating for a deck, you can see right thru it when it lifts. They are like dragonflies, they have transparent wings. Some other people like how it hums under their wheels, but a lot of the folks in power have decided that slipperiness and pollution of the waterway are too problematic, and are moving to solid decks, even though these might add to the weight. Our new one at South Park has a solid deck, and the runoff goes to a rain-garden, so the Duwamish is going to be a little cleaner than how it was.
    The Aurora bridge, a high immobile one, is also a hotspot for jumpers, but the powers that be just put a high fence on it, so your view of the waterway is as from a cage, though a high and airy one. My dad once said they should just put up a diving board. I hope they don’t add a fence to the Deception Pass one up north, as that view is truly beautiful [awesome currents, also]–despite it has been several people’s last.
    What they should do is set up a deal for folks to bungee jump from it–and use the proceeds for social programs that’d make suicide less of an appealing option…

    1. That’s actually a really great idea! Bungee jumping is all the rage, so why not? And it would put people up there regularly, so it would be harder for jumpers to jump, too. Yes, fencing bridges isn’t very aesthetically pleasing, but I suppose it is a necessary evil. I suspect if you prevent jumpers, they’ll just find another way. I don’t know, though. Maybe the fact that it takes more time will give some of them just enough time to think better of it. Hard to say.

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  6. Pam


    Our family is having a harvest table made and we are deciding between a full slab of fir for the top, or have it made out of reclaimed wood from an old fir bridge (we live in BC). My heart told me bridge for many reasons and so I googled bridge symbolism. Your posting has helped me confirm my heart is in the right place.


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