Start of summer 2018 in Chicago


The sweet sweet alert


The sound of summer starting.


Summer is here!

When the weather gets warm, sailboats in Chicago sail down the Chicago River to the harbors of Lake Michigan. Along the way, every bridge opens one-by-one to let the sailboats pass by.

Bells ring  DING DING DING DING  when a single bridge prepares to open. Railroad-style gates lower down onto the street, halting traffic. Cars, buses, pedestrians, and baby strollers are all blocked from crossing the bridge, waiting for the sailboats to slowly cruise on by.

One of the biggest bridges with the most traffic is the Michigan Avenue double-decker bridge. This structure of metal and two levels of road are lifted for dainty boats to float by.

The sounds of  DING DING DING DING  dancing along to their own rhythm.

The immensity of this bridge is so massive, and yet you can stand right next to it. When this bridge opens, you will probably never see anything this large open. The closest thing might be a retractable baseball field roof. But domed roof is many stories away. Nor can you walk over a baseball roof. This bridge you can see right up close. And walk over the bridge—when it’s closed. But while it’s open, you hear  DING DING DING DING.

For 16 years, I worked in the Tribune Tower facing this bridge. In fact for 14 of those years, my desk had a window with a direct view of the Michigan Avenue bridge.

My window and awards

I would be happily working at my desk, and then hear  DING DING DING DING. That was my signal to jump up on my desk and take photos of the bridge opening.

Such a wonderful joy to have this little break from work. A truly Chicago occurrence that happens every year with the boats entering Lake Michigan. As the boats enter Lake Michigan, they signal Chicago entering summer.

The start of summer is here! I would snap photos and share them online. People love the change in seasons, especially the arrival of summer.

Once a week Chicago would repeat this surprise over the course of 10-12 weeks. (Not all the boats do this all at the same time. That would be crazy. They space the boats out over different days, so they don’t get all jammed up on the river.)

It was my beloved tradition to take a photo every year of this annual event. Some years I would try to do something different with the photo. Tri-color, motion blur, panos, different angles, and various other techniques. (See the full album of Michigan Bridge openings on Flickr).

(The story continues after these photos.)


The official start of summer! The Chicago bridges are being raised for sailboats


Summer has started! The Chicago River bridges are opening for boats


Multiple exposure of Michigan Avenue bridge closing


Start of Summer 2013 Chicago


Start of Summer 2014


Start of Summer 2015: Michigan Ave Bridge raising for boats, as shot through a crystal


No photo from my window, but here’s one from the river:
Start of Summer 2016


No photo from my window.

In the past two years, this amazing event was taken away from me. Tribune Publishing moved everyone onto two floors in the building. I moved from the 14th floor down to the third floor facing away from the river. I missed the unexpected surprise of hearing the  DING DING DING DING.


Today, I am outside taking my lunch break. when the  DING DING DING DING  fills the air. The gates lower. The traffic stops.


My mind races to how I can photograph the bridge raising.

The brand new Apple Store sits immediately right by the bridge (yes, THAT Apple store). Outside the store is a wonderful public plaza. This newly constructed plaza provides an angle I used to capture the bridge raising.

I race down the flowing threads of stairs to the plaza. People lounge in the sun wondering what’s going on with all the  DING DING DING DING  sounds.

Certainly enough, the bridges raise up. Three sailboats go by, and the bridge goes back down.

Start of Summer 2018 in Chicago

As the bridges go back down, I cross Michigan Avenue to head to Walgreens. The  DING DING DING DING  alerts were still ringing from the bridge’s gates. Hearing the sound so crisply and clearly brought tears to my eyes.

Just that visceral sound.  DING DING DING DING. That is one of my sounds of joy.

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5 years ago

I was going to ask if you had any idea how much the bridge weighed (and was also curious about how much force it took to lower it)… a quick google found this page that says:
“A trunnion bascule is a balanced horizontal seesaw with unequal arms – the longer arm is the bridge leaf over the river, and the shorter arm supports the much larger counter weight on the shore. The leaf weight of the Michigan Avenue Bridge is approximately 4,100 tons, while the counter weight is around 12,000 tons. Because it is balanced, only a small amount of external energy is required to raise and lower the bridge. Two 108-horse-power electric motors and a simple gearing system generate the power necessary to raise each half of the bridge in about one minute.”

I was surprised by the weight of the counterweight, and was expecting much more powerful motors.

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