If you’re familiar with the website and app Yelp, you probably associate it with food. A reviewing site that allows ordinary consumers to attest to their experience—and potential customers to browse for wisdom from the crowd—it calls itself “the best way to find great local businesses,” and is primarily known as a quick way to pick a restaurant.
But tools can be adapted in ways that their creators never imagined. And tucked among the Boston-area brunch spots and locksmiths profiled on the site is something curious: reviews of local bridges.
Why would you even review a bridge? Not to comment on its function: We take for granted that the thing should get us across the river. Instead, Yelp’s self-appointed bridge critics express how passionately we feel about the very infrastructure of the places we live. “Hate” and “love” come up a lot, and so does much more. The bridges inspire reminiscences, brief dissertations on local history, screeds from engineers, tips about directions (vital in an old metropolitan area confusingly divided by water), and romantic and furious outpourings from commuters.
Above all, the bridges emerge as a special part of the city: one we’re constantly forced to contend with to get from here to there, but also one that can provide sudden and glorious glimpses of sunsets, water, the skyline, and the city’s past.
The reviews sampled here add up to a picture of Boston’s most beloved bridges, whether daringly new (the Zakim; 4.5 stars!) or quaintly antique (the Weeks Footbridge; also 4.5), and its most reviled—like the dreaded Tobin (2 stars, with heapings of disdain). More subtly, they paint a picture of a city of people embracing even the most functional parts of our surroundings with heart. In the words of one Longfellow Bridge fan: “It may sound totally dumb to admit a genuine affection for an inanimate, non-breathing structure that can’t carry on a conversation, feed you, entertain you or take you out dancing. But I really feel the love. Yes, I love this bridge.”
10 reviews; 2 stars
★ ★ “Personally, I feel it is only worth taking in the Northbound (no toll) direction. Because it is operated by a wasteful, separate government agency , Massport, the tolls are exorbitant.”
★ “This is more of an adventure ride than a bridge....The only good thing about this bridge is easy access for jumping to your death or totalling your car in an insurance claim.”
★ “Today not paying attention leaving Bunker Hill I took the first right and headed straight toward my arch nemesis. An anxiety attack later and back on 16 I headed straight to a bar and had a liquid lunch today. I hate you Tobin Bridge I really hate you!!!!”
7 reviews; 4.5 stars
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “This has got to be my absolute favorite bridge connecting Cambridge to Boston. Not only is it pedestrian only but walking over it for those 3 minutes makes you forget that there’s raging traffic on both ends.”
★ ★ ★ ★ “How do you write a review about a pedestrian bridge? It’s a bridge. It gets you from one side of the Charles to the other. Does a good job of it too. And it’s pretty; really pretty, in fact. Actually, I guess you can write a review of a bridge.”
18 reviews; 2.5 stars
★ ★ ★ ★ “The BU Bridge means a lot to me. The rusty old dude has been my gateway between work and home, Boston and Cambridge for 2 years.... Get stuck behind a truck and...turn to the side... it’s Boston— an amazing view. Good morning Boston! Good evening Boston!”
★ ★ “I hate driving on this stupid bridge. Why is there always construction going on yet nothing changes?! The bridge is so narrow that pedestrians often have to get off the sidewalk and walk in the street....I’m just about ready to hit them!”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Say what you will, but this little bulldog of a bridge is the shortest distance across that river, and it’ll always be my favorite.”
19 reviews; 3.5 stars
★ ★ ★ ★ “Its rustic, historic vibe and well-loved, some what slipshod appearance is endearing. Its salt-and-pepper-shaker struts are unique and quirky. I feel like I can relate to this bridge.”
★ “From an engineering perspective, the Longfellow Bridge was structurally deficient the day it opened. That’s what usually happens with public works designed by ar chitects rather than engineers....The Longfellow’s pretentious ten granite piers and eleven steel-arch spans, extending for 1,800 feet, were designed around 1897 to carry trains as well as horse-drawn vehicles and the emerging motor vehicles. The four cigar-stub towers were never anything but decorations.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “A comfortable, walkable bridge....I have found that the walk between Fenway Park after a ballgame to Central Square (where I live) utilizing the Longfellow Bridge is the most perfect post- game chill out.”
32 reviews; 4.5 stars
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “This is my favorite bridge in the entire world. The blue neon lights make for an amazing glow, and it adds a touch of wonderful to the Boston Skyline....I wish I could be on it every day.”
★ ★ “I don’t know understand why it took so many years to build a bridge that is 100 yards long. Also, it’s a bit of an eye-sore. What a guy though, that Lenny Zakim.”
★ “It’s a bridge that looks nice on TV and seems impressive at a distance, but once you truly understand how it works and what it does, the Zakim bridge loses all of its charm.”