I was going to title this “The Bridges of the Mighty Petaluma” but decided that tipped from humor to snark and changed it because i do love my little river. Besides, it’s being so small gives me the opportunity for an exhaustive photo essay of all the bridges over it. This estuary was originally called “Petaluma Creek” in English, but in 1959 it was officially upgraded to “Petaluma River” although IMHO it’s barely more than a tidal slough fed by a handful of creeks.
BLACK POINT BRIDGE
So let’s start at the mouth, just three-quarters of a mile in from San Pablo Bay where there is an old Northwestern Pacific railroad bridge. Oh, and not just any old bridge but rather a swing-span drawbridge! from 1911. Because the tracks leading to it are heavily rusted, many people, including me, surmised that it had been frozen in the open position for some years, but just a few days ago while i was on a Segway expedition in southern Petaluma photographing the new NWP and US-101 bridges, i passed a fellow old fart sitting beside the tracks with a camera on a tripod.
So i stopped, got into conversation, and discovered that he’s a railroad buff. Asked him about the NWP bridge at the mouth of the river and learned that while there are only a couple of trains a week on that line nowadays, the drawbridge is still fully functional and that he has ridden over it. I hope to cultivate contacts with the railroad buffs in their nest here so that one day i can get a shot of it in operation. Meanwhile, here it is in the open position from the west.
A shot of the tender tower.
From the west foot of the CA-37 bridge below.
And from the marsh at the east foot of the CA-37 bridge below.
And finally, i didn’t pick up on it when i took this shot, but here’s a clue that the bridge is still in operation, the boat that the tender uses to row over to the bridge to operate it since he returns the bridge to the open position after the train has crossed.
Fab news: On 3 March 2016 i took my friend Christian to visit this bridge and it closed while we were there. Here’s a shot he took while it was closing.
And here is the excellent video he shot.
Oh, but there’s more. I knew that SMART had bought the old NWP railroad tracks so it could upgrade them and run its trains intermingled with the NWP freight trains, but i only recently learned that the deal included the spur from Novato to Schellville over this bridge, not that running passenger trains to Schellville is planned for the forseeable future.
Still, SMART trains can run to Schellville, and an entity named CaptureMarin managed to get this delightful clip with a drone-mounted video camera. The title is a little bit misleading in that the initial footage is of an approach to the bridge from the west before the main footage of a SMART train crossing the bridge from the east. But that’s a minor qibble, as it’s well worth watching.
Then just three hundred yards north, there’s the longest bridge over the Petaluma, the bridge from 1958 on CA-37 connecting Novato and Vallejo and more importantly serving as the best route from San Francisco to Napa. Here it is from the marsh at the east end.
The west end.
And looking east.
One more, looking up, as i find the undersides of bridges underappreciated and undershot.
HAYSTACK LANDING BRIDGE
The next bridge is a full ten miles north, as the crow flies, and it’s a doozy, a new railroad drawbridge that will be serving SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit). It was smuggled in from Galveston, TX, where it looked like this:
Note that it’s a Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge, elegant in its simple efficiency.
We rebuilt it to perfection and painted it a luscious French park bench green. The former bridge at that site was called the Haystack Landing Bridge, and we are transferring that name to the new bridge.
My railroad buff explained that the policy will be to change its position on demand, leaving it open or closed depending on whether a boat or a train went through last. SMART won’t be operating until late 2016, but the bridge is already being used by NWP trains, so i’ve caught it in both positions. Here it is closed from the east.
And a shot of the counterweight and mechanism.
And now, in the open position from the west.
One more, a vertical closeup.
And finally, closed from the west.
In September 2016 i managed to get a shot of it open from the Haystack Landing Harbor.
And finally, here’s a spectacular shot i took from SMART’s facebook page. Alas, i could find no credit there to the photographer who caught a SMART train sticking its nose out of the bridge.
For additional information about this bridge, see this excellent article about a bridge tender from the Petaluma Argus Courier.
Just a couple hundred yards north is the US-101 bridge, currently being completely rebuilt to add shoulders and a third lane each direction.
And moving in.
Here it is from the east with the construction complete.
From the end off Petaluma Boulevard South during construction.
And since i could, from underneath.
A shot from the west.
And with the zoom, from the D Street Bridge.
D STREET BRIDGE
About a mile northwest is the D Street Bridge, built in 1933 by Leon Hagop Nishkian, who also built the 3rd Street drawbridge over Islais Creek in San Francisco. I cornered a tender and learned that this bridge opens about a thousand times a year, so i have high hopes of getting a shot of it open. To improve my odds, i’ve started using D Street as a frequent route downtown. Meanwhile, here’s the bridge closed.
And a roadbed shot showing the steel grid of death.
And some detail.
Finally, on the 27th of August i was headed to the Saturday farmers’ market at Walnut Park and for some reason took South Petaluma Boulevard from the gym to the park. As i was trying to cross D Street, i noticed that it was jammed. Then looked to the left and saw that the bridge was open. By the time i got down there, it was mostly closed and there was no time to get a shot from the side, but anyhow, at least i got a shot.
I was so encouraged by catching that bridge open that i started going a bit out of my way and making it my standard route downtown, and whaddya know, on 3 Sep 16 as i rolled up to the tender tower i spotted a tender inside. Pulled up to his window to shout an inquiry as to whether the bridge was about to be opened and didn’t have a chance because the warning bell started sounding. Whirled around to get to a side vantage just as the crossing barrier dropped, trapping me between the bridge and Waller Street. So i parked the Segway, slithered under the barrier, and got some shots from the corner of Waller Street.
Just beginning to open.
A few seconds later.
And then, when it started to close, i moved out into the roadway for a parting shot.
In late September i managed to get shots from the foot of C Street as a catamaran passed through.
Two hundred yards west, just beyond the turning basin in the river, is the Balshaw Bridge from 1989, a wooden trestle Segway bridge (also used by pedestrians, bikes, and strollers) running across the river from the foot of Western Ave. I’ve written more about this bridge here.
And into the mouth.
And from the other end.
WASHINGTON STREET BRIDGE
Another hundred yards north stands the Washington Street Bridge, which was originally one of Strauss’ double leaf bascule bridges. Alas, in 1968 it was deemed unnecessary, shipped off to South America, and replaced with a modern fixed span. The new bridge is frankly a bit disappointing aesthetically but saved by one splendid touch, the pedestrian walkways that are not only luxuriously wide but also have excellent deco-ish railings.
Here it is as seen from the Balshaw bridge.
And from the east bank pathway.
And, with the zoom, from Copeland Crossing.
Just a hundred more yards north is the Copeland Crossing connecting the Petaluma River Trail with the Lynch Creek Trail. From 2013, it’s a near duplicate of the Balshaw Bridge except that it’s steel and concrete rather than wood.
And into the mouth.
LAKEVILLE STREET BRIDGE
The Lakeville Street Bridge is another hundred yards north along the Petaluma River Trail. It’s so, ummm, unassuming that nobody seems to know or care when it was built. Here it is from the Copeland Crossing. That boom is to discourage boaters, there being a gravel bar just beneath the surface.
NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD BRIDGE
The next bridge is another NWP Railroad Bridge, the east end of which is practically touching the Lakeville Bridge, making getting a pic of it from the south difficult.
The difficulty is compounded by some major construction immediately north of it, so the Lynch Creek Trail is temporarily blocked at Lakeville Street. And the bastards have also blocked the Lynch Creek Trail at Edith Street, so i can’t run down it from the north to get a photo of the bridge from that side. There is a flat space along the base of the floodwall on the west side of the river, and i can access it from my apartment complex. Alas, that’s the only place i’ve found access, and it’s so highly irregular that riding the Segway on it is such a slow and tedious process that i haven’t pushed south past the Payran Street Bridge. For those who’d thought of just getting on top of the flood wall at the Payran Street Bridge and using that, the City has taken countermeasures.
I found that “or wheeled devices” astonishing prescience. How could they have known i’d be moving here? Besides, i’d pass anyhow since the Segway wheels are so far apart that keeping both atop the flood wall would leave a frighteningly small margin for error.
So here, through the construction, is the only possible photo of the north side of that bridge.
OK, once the construction was complete in January 2016, this part of the Lynch Creek Trail was reopened, permitting a shot of the bridge from the north with the Hunt and Behrens mill behind it.
PAYRAN STREET BRIDGE
The Payran Street Bridge is also nondescript, but at least there’s a placard on it telling that it was built in 1996. Here it is looking north from the Lynch Creek Trail. This is just a couple of blocks from my apartment, and the tide at this point is about six feet.
NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD BRIDGE
The next bridge is about a half-mile north, another NWP railroad bridge, and like so many railroad bridges, not blessed with vantages from which it might be photographed. I managed to get within a hundred yards of the west side of it across a field although it wasn’t visible through the trees, but i was deterred from hiking over to it by my general lameness, my injured ankle, the No Trespassing signs, and the locked gate.
But then, in April 2016 i happened to notice a little pathway leading off the west side of the Lynch Creek Trail toward the east side of the river and decided to see how far i could take the Segway along it. Turns out it led all the way to the bridge and i wrote a blog post about finding access to this bridge that some folks enjoyed. Here’s a Smart train crossing the bridge.
Here’s my best shot of the bridge.
And finally, a shot of the water. Incidentally, as best i can tell, this bridge is very close to the point at which the Petaluma River is no longer a tidal slough and is just a creek.
OAK DRIVE BRIDGE
Next up, another half mile north, is the Oak Drive bridge, a new little thing allowing access to the factory outlet mall. Not much to see here.
CORONA ROAD BRIDGE
After another half mile or so we reach the Corona Road Bridge, with not much more to see.
PETALUMA BOULEVARD NORTH BRIDGE
Still another half mile north is the Petaluma Boulevard North bridge from 1925 and the oldest public bridge over the river. At this point, the river is a bare trickle.
RAINSVILLE ROAD BRIDGE
And finally, a quarter mile north is the Rainsville Road Bridge, where the river has for all practical purposes ceased to exist, at least in the autumn after a couple years of drought.
See what i mean.
According to most sources, the Petaluma River extends about three more miles north into the southern edge of Cotati, and this is what the Mapquest map shows. In real life, especially outside the rainy season, it ends at the point a hundred yards or so above Rainsville Road where Lichau Creek flows into it, providing the vast bulk of the water in it. Well, when there’s water.
There are several roads crossing the river above this point, but a simple culvert under the road is sufficient, so there are no more bridges.
And that’s it. I hope to get more photos of some of these bridges during the anticipated floods this winter, so stay tuned.
To end the essay, a pic of a Segway-unfriendly river crossing.