On October 23, 2012 · 5 Comments

Gephyrophobia is a fear of bridges. People who experience this anxiety are gephyrophobiacs. I’ve known people with this fear to varying degrees although I didn’t realize it had an actual name until recently. I noticed a search engine query on the Twelve Mile Circle from someone who appeared to be a gephyrophobiac. The person was searching for an automobile route from Mississippi to Michigan that avoided bridges.

Unfortunately that’s an impossible task in a motor vehicle. Potentially, if one had access to a ship, one could cruise down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, swing around Florida, head up the Atlantic coastline, enter the St. Lawrence Seaway and proceed through the Great Lakes. That would avoid bridges although I wonder if transiting through canal locks might produce similar anxieties. Perhaps airline travel might be a possibility. However they didn’t ask about that. Maybe it’s too expensive. Let’s assume that neither of those are an option for whatever reason and the person truly wishes to travel by automobile.

The best I can do, once again assuming a motorized vehicle is the only possibility, is to search for a path that at least minimizes bridge crossings. Arbitrarily, I decided on bridge lengths of 1,000 feet (305 metres) or less primarily because it was a nice, round number. I also figured it was short enough for an anxious person to grab the steering wheel with both hands, grin-and-bear-it, and power through for ten or fifteen seconds until reaching the other side.

I also had to determine starting and ending points for the route. The query mentioned Mississippi and Michigan so I selected their respective state capitals, Jackson and Lansing.

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The trick was to find a route that swung around the Mississippi River drainage basin. Specifically it needed to hug the southern edge of the Tennessee River basin and the eastern edge of the Ohio River basin. It’s impossible to plot a driving route exactly along the watershed divide because it follows mountain ridges for much of its length. I kept as close as practical without worrying about it too much. I figured the route would cross rivers near their sources where they would still be small and manageable.

My gephyrophobia-reducing (not eliminating) solution would cover 1,721 miles (2,770 kilometers) over 31 hours, versus a more direct route of 932 miles (1,500 km) over 15 hours (map). The penalty one pays for major bridge avoidance is basically a doubling of time and distance.

I’m certain I could produce a better route with even fewer and smaller river crossings. It would be gloriously inefficient.

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I do sympathize with people who experience Gephyrophobia. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to cross the Mackinac Bridge on Interstate 75 between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, as an example. I’ve driven that bridge and others like it before and I can see why it would create anxiety for lots of drivers.

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The New York times featured this situation a few years ago in, "To Gephyrophobiacs, Bridges Are a Terror.". One anecdote in particular stuck out in my mind.

Mrs. Steers’s phobia was so severe that she was virtually trapped on Staten Island for 13 years. She missed her brother’s wedding in Brooklyn. She sent her husband and two children off on family vacations without her. She had never seen her sister’s house at the Jersey Shore.

Staten Island covers only 58 square miles (152 km2). Certainly, it’s both larger and better appointed than a prison island like Alcatraz. Nonetheless Gephyrophobia turned it into a prison of another sort. This seemed to be a rather extreme instance since the Staten Island Ferry apparently wasn’t a possibility either. It demonstrates how disabling Gephyrophobia can become in its extreme forms.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Google Maps included a Gephyrophobia button to generated driving directions that avoided bridges?

On October 23, 2012 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Gephyrophobia”

  1. Randy Clark says:

    I would love such a button. I drove my son across the Bay Bridge (eastbound from Annapolis) without incident. However on the return trip I suffered a full-fledged panic attack. Apparently one factor may have been that the two spans are not identical. Nor did it help that my semi-sleeping son perked up at the bridge high-point to comment on how high we were.

  2. Peter says:

    Living on Long Island and working at various sites mostly in Connecticut and Westchester County, it’s a good thing I have no fear of bridges because I have to drive over the Throgs Neck Bridge (or sometimes the nearby Whitestone Bridge depending on traffic) twice each day …. actually, while I don’t fear the bridges I absolutely loathe their obscene tolls, $4.88 each way with an EZ-Pass discount, $6.50 cash.* My employer reimburses me for tolls, but I figure that if they were paying less in reimbursements maybe they could pay more in salary 🙂
    In theory it’s possible to get from Long Island to Connecticut without paying any bridge tolls, but it would be absurdly long and time-consuming.

    * = tolls which are far in excess of bridge operating and maintenance costs; excess revenues are used to subsidize the transit system’s comically inefficient operations.

  3. MIinTX says:

    I sympathize with those type of people. Having crossed the Mighty Mac dozens of times, each time I still get a sense of excitement/thrill. It is exciting when you consider how high you are over that stretch of water and if anything, heaven forbid, were to happen, you know in the back of your mind you would not survive the plunge nor water. It is unnerving somewhat looking over both side of the bridge and not seeing land anywhere around you. But that is what makes it exciting… but to some terrifying. I knew a girl once who said she’d NEVER go across the Mackinac because of her fear.

    I personally find the narrow, one-lane “bridges” deep in the forests more terrifying. No cell phone signal, bridges are rotted and unkempt, and they “give” and creak when you cross them. At least the maintenance on the Big Mac never stops, so you have a sense of relief knowing the bridge is well maintained and safe.

  4. Dominique M says:

    Don’t like bridges or ferries?

    40 minutes turns into 59 hours.

    • January First-of-May says:

      Copenhagen is an island though so this doesn’t quite work 🙂
      I suppose one could get a similar map for a route between Frederikshavn and Goteborg (there’s a ferry right between, and a ferryless route through Copenhagen shouldn’t be too long either; edit: Google Maps says 4h16m for straight ferry and 7h46m for Copenhagen, but so far I wasn’t able to look for a proper bridge-minimizing route – though my guess is around 58 hours, ignoring a few obvious rivers).

      There could be better examples yet… anyone up for finding a bridge-minimizing route around the Black Sea between the two halves of Istanbul? 😉 (Of course, such a route cannot have any intermediate bridges longer than the ~700m one in Istanbul, so it’s probably quite a challenge indeed.)

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