To make a long story short, to save a little money, the city skipped some engineering testing on some elements of the bridge – which had been greatly modified to save money already. Once the thing was finished, several cable anchors cracked in the high winds that are common in Texas. There was an orgy of blame and recrimination and I really thought that the bike part of the bridge would never open.
Finally, the city decided to pony up seven million dollars or so for repairs and try to claw that money back later.
So when I crossed that bridge for the first time I took a look at the cable anchors to see what was done. There wasn’t much that was all that obvious.
Here’s a photo of the original cable anchors:
So it looks like the rod connecting the cable to the bridge is a bit thicker. The big difference seems to be the addition of cable dampers – which are (I guess) the funny looking barbell-looking things mounted to the cables right above the anchors.
They look kind of cool – but it’s hard to believe that these little things are keeping a two hundred million dollar bridge from falling down.
“It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos. What it’s going to be, I don’t know. Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. And maybe knowing isn’t the point. Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Let me check the date on this photo – sometime mid 2015… six years ago. It actually seems like longer than that. They had already been working on the bridge/highway complex for three years, they started in 2012. This was the base of one arch, down in the Trinity River bottoms, near downtown Dallas. I was down there on my bicycle, riding the muddy gravel paths. The other half of the arch was further along – reaching up into the sky.
These massive arches, designed by Santiago Calatrava were never intended to support the roadway. That would be too expensive and unnecessary – a simple concrete causeway was all that was needed. The immense, soaring arches would cost 125 million dollars and support a bicycle/pedestrian bridge – and look good.
As a cycling advocate I had very mixed feelings about this. Of course, another route across the river was welcome – but 125 million dollars was way too much – that money could do a lot of good in man other places. Well, nobody asked me – and they went ahead and built the Margaret McDermott Bridge – way behind schedule and way, way over budget.
And then things went from bad to worse. When the thing was finished, it was discovered that corners had been cut, the bridge cable fasteners were not properly tested, and the thing was in danger of falling down in high winds.
I had resigned myself to never having the bridge opened… after all these years, but I was wrong. A couple of weeks ago I received in invitation to ride my bike across the bridge during a grand opening ceremony. Now, truth be told, most of my cycling friends had already rode around the safety barricades and crossed the bridge over the last couple of years – but I never did. So I was excited to go down there and ride across.
There were about a dozen bike riders – we picked up our… what do you call them? The things that you pin to your shirt at an event? Running bibs? Yeah, that must be it – it says “Printed by Boulder Bibs.”
And off we rode. It was fun – I’ll be back. There are steep spots – especially on the north (pedestrian) side. I need to look at moonrise – the bridge will be fun at night – the view of the downtown skyline is spectacular.
Folks at the ribbon-cutting. The arches are spectacular from the bike/pedestrian lanes – maybe they are worth the money.
View of downtown from the bike lane on the bridge.
The ceremony made all the news shows. Here’s a good one – you can see me from behind riding my bike near the end, at the 1:56 mark.
Delightful smells of flour, butter and sugar from Mrs. Baird’s baking plant filled the intersection of Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway for almost 50 years.
But in 2001, the North Texas queen of bread closed down. What once was a highly efficient plant is now a Southern Methodist University data center and tennis complex.
The bakery’s absence left one reader asking Curious Texas: “Whatever happened to Mrs. Baird’s Bread?”
Executives made the decision to close the Dallas factory because its location didn’t allow much room for growth.
I have strong memories of the old Mrs. Baird’s bread factory at Mockingbird and 75.
In early 2001, during a difficult time, I took the kids (then nine and ten years old) with some of their friends down there for a tour of the factory. I didn’t realize that it would be gone in a few months.
From my journal –
Wednesday, March 14, 2001
Bowling and fresh bread
After the bowling, we drove down into Dallas for a prearranged tour of the Mrs. Baird’s bread factory. They make white sandwich bread and powdered sugar donuts. I’m not sure if the kids learned anything, but I thought it was pretty cool. I liked the giant pans of dough.
They gave us samples to try right off the line. The donuts were hot and crunchy and a lot better than when you buy them at a gas station or something. Then we came to the ovens, and the tour guide pulled a fresh loaf right off the line, sliced it, slathered it with some butter, and let each of us eat a chunk. I’m not a huge fan of regular sliced white bread, but this – hot, fresh, and fragrant – was delicious. I wonder what they do after they wrap the bread to make it so bland.
The tour was over pretty quickly, only about a half hour. The kids were given presents – paper hats, brochures, and bags of sugared mini donuts. I loaded six into the MiniVan and proceeded to make a wrong route decision and drove right into a big traffic jam.
Stuck in city traffic with a van full of kids eating donuts is not a fun thing. Luckily, I was able to bail off the freeway and wind my way home by the back roads without much trouble. Still, the seats had a thick coating of powdered sugar before we made it home.
I still remember the taste of those donuts and the fresh bread. It was so, so much better than the plastic wrapped product peddled over the next few days in the stores. I always think they had a room full of giant evil flavor-removing machines hidden away somewhere.
There was another time, a couple of years earlier, that I learned something about that bread factory. I was at a meeting on the air pollution – specifically the high ozone levels of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Ground level ozone is a complex phenomena which is mostly generated by the mixture of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds – mostly solvents, like gasoline), Nitrogen Oxides, and sunlight which causes the normal O2 to convert into the toxic and unstable O3. – EPA page on Ground-level Ozone
I was at the conference talking to the guy next to me.
“I work for Mrs. Baird’s,” he said.
“The bread company? Surely you don’t have any air pollution.”
“No, you’re wrong. Every day we make hundreds of tons of bread dough. The yeast gives out a tremendous amount of ethanol, which evaporates in the ovens. It’s all VOC and we are have a terrible problem complying with the air pollution regulations.”
The newspaper article talks about running out of space – but I know a big reason the plant closed (and production moved to a more rural – and ozone compliant area) is the air pollution caused by the rising bread. You always think of pollution being caused by giant, ugly factories – but it can come from something as simple and necessary as baking bread.
“He takes a kitchen chair and sits in the yard and all the ducks come around. He holds up the cheese curls in one hand and caramel popcorn in the other and his audience looks up and he tells them a joke. He says: So one day a duck come into this bar and ordered a whiskey and a bump and the bartender was pretty surprised, he says, “You know we don’t get many of you ducks in here.” The duck says, “At these prices I’m not surprised.* And he tosses out the popcorn and they laugh. ‘Wak wak wak wak wak. I was shot in the leg in the war.’ Have a scar? ‘No thanks, I don’t smoke.”
― Garrison Keillor, Truckstop and Other Lake Wobegon Stories
There’s a park at the end of my block with a couple of flood-control ponds (the drainage from the ponds runs in a creek/ditch behind my house). Despite their utility in times of rain and excessive urban runoff they are quite attractive.
My neighborhood is called Duck Creek, because of the eponymous body of water that runs diagonally through the place, but there are also plenty of ducks. This is the time of year that the baby ducks are hatched and groups of them are herded around by their parents.
The problem is that there is a little, low dam at the end of the ponds. The water flows over it – during the summer it’s not much more than a trickle. Unfortunately, often a baby duck gets swept over this dam and separated from their loving duck family. They can’t get back over the dam, even though it isn’t more than a couple feet high.
The rest of the ducks then have to go over the dam to rescue their sibling. Then they have to waddle up the bank and cross a fairly busy street to get back into the pond.
People in my neighborhood have been complaining to the city about this and today, I discovered that there is a new construction project going. The city is making a concrete duckling ramp so that they can get up and over that low dam.
Excuse all the trash in the photo – it tends to collect there – a crew comes by periodically to pick it up.
I’ll go back in a few days, once the wooden forms are removed and see if the little ducks are actually using their ramp – I’m sure they will. Maybe the turtles will too. I’m sure the snakes will.
“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”
― A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice
Here in North Texas the temperature is above freezing now and everything is slowly returning to normal. The biggest thing now are all the busted pipes – I know more than a few folks that have tremendous water damage. We were without water for a few days – a frozen pipe somewhere – but when the thaw came the pipes held. We were without power for a few stretches – rolling blackouts – but those weren’t a big problem for us. It was sort of nice to be without electricity for a bit – the temperature dropped but it was an excuse to bundle under the blankets.
The saddest thing at our house was we discovered two frozen young rabbits in the yard as the snow melted. I’m sure there was a lot of that.
There is a wire photo going around of the water fountain behind the library here in Richardson – in articles like this one.
When I saw it, I remembered I had discovered it frozen five years ago and wrote a blog entry about it.
It looks like its a little more frozen this time, but it’s the same place. I do know the city leaves the water running to protect the pipes and it gets like this fairly often.
Here’s the fountain on a warm day along with my cargo/commuting bike:
“Perforation! Shout it out! The deliberate punctuated weakening of paper and cardboard so that it will tear along an intended path, leaving a row of fine-haired pills or tuftlets on each new edge! It is a staggering conception, showing an age-transforming feel for the unique properties of pulped wood fiber.”
― Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine
Perforations in the roof of the Pavilion in Pacific Plaza Park, downtown Dallas, Texas
The centerpiece of the new Pacific Plaza park in downtown Dallas is the Pavilion. Designed by HKS it is an elliptical metal ring suspended in the air – giving much needed shade. I wondered what the story behind all the holes was.
“Remain in the world, act in the world, do whatsoever is needful, and yet remain transcendental, aloof, detached, a lotus flower in the pond.”
― Osho, The Secret of Secrets
There are these ponds in the park at the end of my block. I think they are mostly there for flood control, but they look great. I’ve taken photos of them over the years.
Pond at the end of my block, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas
The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas
The ponds at the end of my street, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas
Men Between the Ponds
The ponds are surrounded by hiking/biking trails – it’s on my work bicycling commute. I always enjoy riding past or around the ponds – except on the days/times that the trail is too crowded.
Not too long ago, I noticed a guy sitting by the pond watching his black lab out in the water. The dog wasn’t far from shore – but still the water barely came up to his dog knees. That’s when I realized the ponds are a lot shallower than they look. They must be silted full.
Sure enough, a couple weeks ago, as I rode to work, I noticed an orange temporary fence around the pond and machines installing huge sheets of plywood, making a road to the water’s edge on the other side of the pond. Then, some workers started visiting the pond all day and night, using big portable pumps to empty the water out.
Then came in the giant shovel machines to scoop out the black muck. It was so vile and watery they had to lime it and then stir the mix with the long arms of the shovel buckets to stabilize it enough to scoop it into waiting trucks. The smell was awful – that mud had a lot of grass clippings, trash, and who knows what mixed with it and it had been sitting down there underwater for years.
One day there was an elderly woman sitting on a bench with her tiny dog held in her lap. They both were watching the machines work – unbothered by the smell of the muck and the diesel fumes from the straining engines. Everybody else seemed to be ignoring the scene.
Finally, they seem to have finished. I wondered what the bottom of the ponds would be like – they were too big to be concrete lined. I forgot that there is caliche limestone only a few feet below the surface (that’s why nobody in Dallas has a basement) and it looks like they scooped some of the rock out (it isn’t very strong) when they made the ponds – making big oval saucer-shaped indentations in the earth.
The equipment is being loaded up – I guess they will start letting the ponds fill in now. The calendar says fall – but it’s still summer here in Texas – not sure how long until we get enough rain… we’ll see. When they are filled I guess they will look exactly the same as they did before. Deep water looks just like shallow.
The drained and scooped pond at Huffhines Park.
The caliche limestone at the bottom of the pond. Huffhines park, Richardson, Texas.
“By early evening all the sky to the north had darkened and the spare terrain they trod had turned a neuter gray as far as the eye could see. They grouped in the road at the top of a rise and looked back. The storm front towered above them and the wind was cool on their sweating faces. They slumped bleary-eyed in their saddles and looked at one another. Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world.”
― Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
There was a bit of a breeze today. This scene was repeated all over some parts of the city.
Here’s the same house, before the storm, from Google Street View. Look how tall that tree is.
My son Nick was at our house today and asked me to drive him home as quickly as possible so he could make it to an afternoon baseball game. The sun was shining when we left my house but when I dropped him off some big, fat raindrops were falling. As I drove north through East Dallas the rain began to thicken and then the wind started to blow. I watched the thermometer in my car drop twenty degrees in a couple minutes. This is not a good sign, especially when driving in the big city, especially in my tiny car. I began to look for shelter and pulled into a parking lot. The wind was from the North so I parked on the South side of a sturdy building. Then all hell broke loose.
I was watching the trees across the street tossing in the wind and then the rain (and a little hail) thickened until I couldn’t see past my hood. The wind had to be blowing seventy miles per hour and my car was rocked even though I was in a sheltered position. It took almost an hour before I felt I could drive home. Looking at the traffic maps on my phone, every road was red.
It took me an hour and a half to go the ten miles home. Trees were down across the road as were power lines. None of the traffic lights were functional and every intersection was a long wait and then a game of automotive chicken as everyone jockeyed to be the next one to cross. I had to get home, change, and then go out to work – we had a good bit of storm damage there.
If you don’t live in the central part of the country you can’t imagine the sudden onslaught and terrifying power of a spring thunderstorm. What’s crazy is an hour later the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky… the air cool and clean, scrubbed by the violent passage of water and wind.
This tragedy struck not too far from where I waited out the storm.
“Somewhere along the line, the pearl would be handed to me.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
DART, Mockingbird Station, Dallas, Texas
Mockingbird station is where the DART Red and Blue (and sometimes Orange) lines converge and plunge – first into a deep canyon – and then into a subterranean tunnel on their voyage to downtown. It is weird that Dallas – the most automobile of cities – actually has a subway.
The reason for the subway is not so weird, though. North of Mockingbird the Red line follows the old abandoned Katy Railroad (full name – Missouri Kansas Texas) line. But south of Mockingbird the train tracks ran too close to Highland Park, where all the rich people live. They did not want the great unwashed riding the iron rails so close to their mansions so they exerted pressure to force everybody underground.
In the end, it was OK, though. The rest of the rail line was paved over to form the Katy Trail – which now is one of the gems of the city. Its presence raised property values along its length – making those rich folks richer.