When I first moved to Boston, I would spend most evenings taking a walk. It was winter during the pandemic, and I was craving some sort of light. I found it in the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge. Some nights the cables would shine a bright blue, another night a grassy green. I always wondered: What do the colors represent?
The colors that glow on any given night from some of Massachusetts’ most famous bridges — the Zakim in Charlestown, the Longfellow in Cambridge, the Fore River in Quincy, and the Burns in Worcester — are often chosen by residents who submit a special request to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Fewer than 200 bridges across the country change color in response to lighting requests — the Mid-Hudson Bridge in New York and the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota are two that do. But Massachusetts permits any individual or organization to request a change to the lights’ colors for any reason that isn’t personal or political.
While the weather beacon atop Boston’s Hancock building glows with different colors depending on the forecast — or in the event of a Red Sox championship — the bridge colors are intended to shine a light of recognition on different causes.
Lindsey Daman, who lives in Boston and is an operations manager for Bluebike, wanted to light the bridges for ALS Awareness Month, which is represented by the color red. “I know it can be very hopeless and helpless with ALS in your life,” says Daman, whose father was recently diagnosed with the disease. “The idea that these iconic features could be lit up to raise awareness, even for that one night, felt like a little beacon of hope.” Daman described the feeling of driving over the red-lit Zakim on her way home from work on May 3 and taking photos of the red-lit Longfellow: “It was really important for me to be able to send those photos to my dad,” she says. “I just wanted him to be proud of me.”
Caitlin McDonough founded The Adeno Project to advocate for patients with adenomyosis, a condition that causes endometrial tissue to grow into the uterine wall. McDonough submitted a request to light the bridges purple, the color of the adenomyosis awareness ribbon, on the last day of April, which is Adenomyosis Awareness Month. “Adenomyosis can cause debilitating pain, yet it is rarely spoken about,” McDonough says, citing the stigma around discussing pelvic discomfort. “It really made me emotional thinking that maybe someone would Google why the bridges were purple tonight and come across my social media page, and that content would reach someone who may have adenomyosis and not yet heard that word.”
Heidi Edwards lost her sisters, Heather and Holly, to ALSP, a rare and debilitating neurological disease caused by a genetic mutation. “It’s a very tragic story,” Edwards says, “but they would want me to keep moving forward, pushing to find a cure to save their kids and our other family members.” In her sisters’ honor, Edwards founded the Sisters’ Hope Foundation and hosted the first ALSP Awareness Month with the theme “bridging the gap.” When it came time to pick a venue for the kickoff, she thought that lighting the bridges near Cambridge, where her foundation works with the biotech firm Vigil Neuroscience in search of a treatment, would be perfect.
Edwards recalls sitting in the foundation’s office with a colleague when they got the email reporting that the Department of Transportation had approved their request. “She had tears in her eyes,” Edwards says. “It was the feeling of knowing that someone is acknowledging ALSP is an important cause to raise awareness for.” On the evening of March 1, Edwards, surrounded by her family and others whose lives have been affected by ALSP, watched as the sun set and the Zakim’s lights glowed pink and purple, the colors Edwards chose to represent awareness of the disease. “Seeing the bridge lit up, I immediately thought of my sisters,” Edwards says. “I know that they were looking down on me and they are so proud of what I’ve done.”
Marin Langlieb is a freelance writer and chief of staff at the health care startup Guided Clinical Solutions. Follow her on Twitter @mlanglieb.