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A tale of two bridge stories

October 24, 2010

As many of our readers may know, last weekend was the Istanbul Intercontinental Marathon, bringing runners from around the world to start in Asia, run across the Bosporus Bridge, and pass Dolmabahce Palace, cross the Galata Bridge, head down to Eyup and pass the Aya Sofya before finally ending at the Hippodrome.

Along with the marathon was a 15k and 8k run, and an 8k “people’s walk.” I didn’t feel this during my portion of the 15k, but apparently people in the 8k reported feeling the bridge sway from all the foot traffic, and a light post broke. Hurriyet rounded up a few experts and the transportation minister to say, respectively, that the bridge is in danger and the bridge is fine. I’m no bridge expert, but I did see the Mythbusters episode on bridges collapsing due to harmonic oscillation caused by people walking in step, and it seems to me that where the media here brought up the Tacoma Narrows Bridge the more accurate comparison would be the Broughton Suspension Bridge – Tacoma Narrows happened because of aeroelastic fluttering, which in turn was caused by torsional vibration from wind, while the Broughton bridge’s collapse was directly attributed to mechanical resonance from a troop of soldiers crossing in step.

The variable in last Sunday’s bridge-sway was significant pedestrian foot traffic (the bridge is normally closed to pedestrians to prevent suicides, although when it opened it was meant to handle vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and does have sidewalks and access elevators), and the bridge has been holding up fine with the Bosporus winds since it opened in 1973.

I’ll let you read the experts, so-called experts and Wikipedia on bridge collapse issues, but the bridge was in the news for another reason later in the week: plans are afoot to privatize both the Bosporus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge as early as next year. Under the terms settled on by the Supreme Privatization Board (ÖYK), the bridges would be offered together as a package deal with a 2,000-kilometer road network, and the winning bidder would receive operating rights for 25 years, in return for toll revenues and responsibility for basic maintenance.

I can tell I’ve been in Turkey for too long and soaked up some of the conspiracy-loving spirit of this country, because one of my first thoughts was: “They’re privatizing the bridges so that if and when one collapses, they can hold the private company and its maintenance responsible/financially culpable. Genius!”

Yup. Been here too long.

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