Great View, Uncomfortable View
I took the accompanying photograph last Sunday in Seattle. It is for a revised, updated version of my Scenic Seattle book that will soon be published in a print edition (scheduled for spring 2016). This is a view of Lake Union, a portion of downtown Seattle, and Mount Rainier from the Aurora Avenue Bridge (officially named the George Washington Memorial Bridge, though I have never heard anyone call it that).
Great view, but … The sidewalk is fairly narrow and separated from the traffic lanes by a short wall. The other side of the sidewalk is separated from the great void below by vertical cabling (the cables are there to prevent people jumping off the bridge to commit suicide. The bridge is nearly 170 feet, or50 meters, above the water). This gives the sidewalk a kind sided cage-like feel – with the roaring traffic in the cage with you. The speed limit on the bridge is 40 miles per hour (64 kph), but in my experience, if you drive 40 mph on it, you will get rammed from behind. I’d guess the average traffic speed is above 50 mph (80 kph). And there are six, narrow lanes of traffic. Not a comfortable place to shoot.
And to make matters worse, whenever you photograph along busy roads, there always seems to be at least one jerk (I’m being kind here; I want to use a word my Mother would not be proud of) who honks their horn while you are studiously looking through the viewfinder. I was on the bridge about 10 to 15 minutes Sunday and was surprised only one person honked. But that honk did nearly scare the pants off me. (So maybe it was a good think the cables were there so I didn’t jump.)
Further, those cables don’t make it easy to take a photograph. Typical DSLR lenses are small enough to stick through the cables, but only when pointed 90 degrees off the axis of the bridge. To take the shot shown above, you need to angle your camera at 30 to 45 degrees off the axis of the bridge. With my camera, that means physically forcing pushing the cables aside with the lens barrel. In some spots, it wasn’t possible. The cables were too tight. But I did find a spot with the gap between cables slightly larger and the cables a bit looser than average. With a bit of strength, I was able to turn the camera and force the cable apart enough to take the shot. With the cables pushing back, I had to use a fast shutter speed – which was probably needed anyway because the whole bridge shakes with the traffic (forget about using a tripod here).
I possibly could have wedged my camera completely through the cables and used the live view function to compose a shot. But with the long drop, I didn’t feel particularly good about that option either. But for shooting with a phone or a small camera, reaching past the cables is viable if you trust yourself to hang on.
Still interested in getting the shot? The access is rather easy. Park on Troll Avenue N between N 35th and 36th Streets near the Troll (the Fremont Troll statue is underneath the Aurora Bridge at the intersection of Troll Avenue and 36th). Take the stairs on the right side of the Troll up to the bridge and walk south until you reach the view you want. Just don’t expect to be too comfortable.