Let's Make the Coronado Bridge at Night a Distinctive Icon for San Diego
Photo by Christian Schartner
Lighting the Bridge at Night Could Transform the Skyline

The Coronado Bridge, officially known as the San Diego – Coronado Bay Bridge, could be transformed at night with artistic lighting and create world-wide interest in the Bridge as a symbol of San Diego. During the day, the Coronado Bridge is a beautiful bridge with its long, curving span of 2.1 miles over San Diego Bay and is certainly a San Diego icon. It is a dominant architectural feature of the San Diego skyline.

If you had to pick only four or five photos of San Diego to showcase the beauty of San Diego, one of those photos would likely be of the Coronado Bridge. The view, from the Bridge as you drive over it, is awe inspiring as you look towards the Cities of San Diego, Coronado, Tijuana, and the Coronado Islands, as well as the waters and beaches of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The roadway over the Bridge has 34 inch concrete side railings providing an unobstructed view.

The Coronado Bridge is beautiful during the day but at night it virtually disappears into the dark harbor. It lacks the huge superstructure of, say, the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco which even if minimally lighted provides a beautiful structure to view.

In contrast, any proposed lighting of the Coronado Bridge needs to emphasize the soaring pillars and long, curving line of the deck as it connects San Diego with Coronado. The current lighting of the Bridge consists of some lights along the roadway which are as unexciting or aesthetically unappealing as street lights on any street in San Diego. The form of the Bridge is lost and not revealed by the roadway lights.

Photo by the Peter Fink Teeam
Winning entry from design team for proposed lighting of the Coronado Bridge.
A Look at Other Bridges
Other cities have transformed their bridges with special nighttime lighting. Lighting as a medium has become a major component of architectural design. A beautiful bridge, the Rion-Antirio Bridge in Patras, Greece was built in time for the opening of the 2004 Olympics. During the day the Bridge is spectacular as it spans the Gulf of Corinth. As night falls a non-stop light show begins.

Each of the four vertical structures of the bridge are lit with an intense blued light visible from afar while the pillars’ legs are lit with a different intensity of blued light. The exterior faces of the metal cage, painted gold, are lit by a non-stop sequence of 560 projectors. The lighting creates a mysterious and dreamlike vision which is reflected in the sea below. The result is a Bridge that is stunning in the daytime as well as in the nighttime.

Pedestrian–only Bridge Over the River Tees in England
A pedestrian-only bridge in England is a spectacular example of the effect of lighting. The bridge, known as the Infinity bridge, has a very distinctive silhouette as it spans the river. Nighttime lighting was designed by Speirs + Major, a UK-based company. The lighting was designed in such a way that the twin arches reflect in the water at night to form the mathematical symbol for infinity. The lighting responds to the movement of pedestrians. All this is done with low-energy, blue and white LED units.

Port of San Diego Hosts an International Competition
Over the years, the idea of lighting the Coronado Bridge has been suggested. To its credit the Port Authority of San Diego has taken the lead in exploring the idea of nighttime illumination of the Bridge.

The Port’s public art fund provided seed money of $50,000 to start the project by hosting an international competition to propose lighting alternatives. In April 2008, the Port released an international call for artists to develop environmentally-friendly lighting concept proposals for the bridge.

Over 80 proposals were received. Then a panel of artists, architects, and environmental specialists reviewed the proposals and finally recommended the proposal submitted by a combined European and North American design team lead by London-based Peter Fink of FoRM Associates in collaboration with Speirs + Major Associates and Buro Happold, with an office in Los Angeles. In September 2010 the Board of Port commissioners accepted the recommendation.

Photo by Christian Schartner
Daytime and nighttime views of bridge in Patras Greece. At night, architectural lighting creates a mysterious and dreamlike vision.
Winning Proposal is artistic and green
The winning design proposes illuminating both the deck and the pillars below it. The lighting on the deck will vary according to the amount of traffic on it while the lighting on the pillars will vary by season, holiday, events, virtually an unlimited palette. One pundit suggested that Charger colors could be used to generate enthusiasm for the fans during game times. Environmental concerns were paramount in the selection.

Photo by Brian Swales
The Lights on England's Infinity Bridge cause the arches to cast a symbole of Infinity across the water. Lights on the walkway change with the movement of pedestrians.

The Port as well as winning design team were intent on creating a green proposal to save maintenance costs and to demonstrate the use of green technology. The lighting would be based on LED lights and energy would be generated by wind turbines, making the project energy neutral. The wind turbines would take advantage of the prevailing wind around the bridge. This proposal would drastically reduce the cost of maintaining the lights.

The Port of San Diego has declared that no taxpayer money would be used for the project. It is expected that the project will cost between $4 million and $5 million. The project will rely on grants and private donations with the hope that the project will be completed by 2019 to coincide with the bridge’s 50th anniversary.

Photo courtesy of the Port of San Diego
Next Steps to Install the Lights
The Coronado Bridge is managed by Caltrans, California Department of Transportation, while the Port of San Diego manages the harbor and the tidelands of San Diego Bay. Any future lighting project would be a partnership between these two entities. The Port has now provided a proposed design of the project.

The Port and Caltrans will outline the next steps including a feasibility study. Peter Fink, the leader of the winning design team, has developed substantial experience in community engagement, putting people and stakeholders at the very heart of his creative approach. Community engagement will be a critical factor so that the Port will be able to raise the $5 million from grants as well as public fundraising.

San Diego strives to be “America’s Finest City.” A part of making the city “the finest” is creating and maintaining beauty and quality of life. The Port of San Diego’s Public Art mission is “to create a distinctive signature project that will enliven the public environment.” Creating an artistic and beautiful Coronado Bridge visible at night will surely add to the enjoyment of the region for both residents and visitors alike.
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Photo by Timm Williams
The Coronado Bridge at night as it looks today.
Facts on the Coronado Bridge
  • The official name of the bridge is the San Diego–Coronado Bay Bridge, but is known locally as the Coronado Bridge
  • Opened on August 3, 1969
  • Length: 2.12 miles.
  • The height of the bridge is 200 feet to allow Navy ships to pass underneath
  • Principal architect: Robert Mosher
  • Five-lane bridge
  • A reversible lane was installed in 1993 and made possible by a concrete zipper running down the center lane. Two transfer vehicles move 1,400-pound concrete barriers 12 feet, several times a day.
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