Bay Bridge's Fantastical Light Display

About 25,000 LED lights will be strung along the western span of the Bay Bridge over the next several months as part of a two-year art installation inspired by the bridge's 75th anniversary.

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012  |  Updated 12:52 PM PDT
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About 25,000 LED lights will be strung along the western span of  the Bay Bridge over the next several months as part of a two-year art  installation inspired by the bridge's 75th anniversary.

About 25,000 LED lights will be strung along the western span of the Bay Bridge over the next several months as part of a two-year art installation inspired by the bridge's 75th anniversary.

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Pretty much anyone can hatch a spectacular, one-of-a-kind idea, the likes of which no one has ever witnessed before. But as proven through the ages, real art is in the execution.
  
So when people first heard Ben Davis’ describe his idea to turn the Western span of the Bay Bridge into a spectacular light installation, they could’ve easily nodded their heads, chuckled and went on about their way.

   But they didn’t.
  
Now, exactly two years to the day that Davis hatched his bold vision, his group, The Bay Lights, announced it had secured all the permits, and most of the $8 million needed to turn vision into reality.
   
 “In October, the lights will begin to be hung,” pronounced Davis, standing on a restaurant patio Tuesday overlooking the sprawling Bay Bridge. “By March of next year there’ll be a grand lighting ceremony.”
  
 Next month, crews will begin installing artist Leo Villareal’s project – 25,000 programmable LED lights attached to suspension cables along 1.8 miles of the bridge’s northern face.

The lighting patterns will be programmed by Villareal, who’s known for intricate light installations.  
  
“I’m interested in sequences and algorithms that will display patterns based on all the motion I’ve found around the bridge,” said Villareal.

The Bay Lights project raised $5.5 million of the $8 million in private funding needed to fund the project. Perhaps more impressive, it secured permits from everyone from the California Highway Patrol to the Coast Guard to Caltrans. 
   
“There’s been a lot of stakeholders, a lot of permitting that was required,” said Bijan Sartipi, regional director of Caltrans. “This group has been committed, innovative and they’ve been able to go through the maze of agencies they have to interact with.”
  
Crews will work from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. five nights a week to install the lights, which will require a lane closure. The late-night timing of the installation will reduce the impact on traffic, Sartipi said. 
   
Once the lights are functioning, they won’t be visible to drivers. Everyone else, will see plenty.
   
“If you’re the convention and visitor’s bureau, my gosh, seriously, you couldn’t invest enough money and marketing and promotion for the amount of images that are going to be shown around the world,” said California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, an early supporter of the project.
   
A study commissioned by the organizers estimated San Francisco will reap nearly a $100 million in revenue from visitors showing up to see the installation.
    
“It really is an incredible gift to the city in its economic impact which we’ve estimated will bring way more money than it’s costing,” said Villareal. “In that way I think it really is a gift.”
  
The installation is expected to be finished by March, when a grand lighting ceremony will take place. Davis said the project was inspired by the 75th anniversary of the Bay Bridge. The two-year life of the project will coincide with the opening of the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the America’s Cup Yacht Race, and the opening of the new Exploratorium on San Francisco’s waterfront.
   
Davis believes the project will be the largest LED light installation in the world – a bold, and seemingly unreal vision, that’s now, somehow coming to light. 
   
The group is still seeking $2.5 million in donations which can be made here: www.causes.com/thebaylights.

Below is a video that shows what it will look like.
 

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