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If You Tried to See the Bay Lights from Treasure Island, You Are Probably Angry Right Now

People who traveled east of San Francisco to view the Bay Lights could see nothing but cold rain and horrible traffic.


"That sucks ass."

This pronouncement, spoken by a rain-drenched man whose freezing companion clutched onto his coat like a stressed barnacle, summed up the mood last night on Treasure Island during the Bay Lights' historic inauguration. Hundreds of people had gathered on this artificial landmass for its supposedly excellent, and relatively uncrowded, views of Leo Villareal's 25,000-LED light sculpture. It wasn't to be.

The lights are all pointed the other way. You can't see jack from Treasure Island or anywhere east of San Francisco, unless you're looking for a regular old bridge or the delightful antics of sea lions. Look again:

It was at about 9:10 p.m. that people started to get agitated about the invisibility of this $8 million artwork. "At least it isn't the Midwest," said one onlooker. "It'd be snow there, not cold rain." HOOOOONK went a car horn. A barely crawling procession of angry red brake lights marked the exodus back to San Francisco. Some of these people had gotten to the island early in the day to add their autos to what amounted to a disorganized, impromptu parking heap. This being San Francisco, there were traffic cops giving out parking tickets. "People are mad, man," noted one dude.

There seemed to be a grand miscommunication about where you can see the Bay Lights. A Treasure Island Twitter account invited people to come visit but "keep off the rocks" and "don't litter." I bet this car-rental company is getting Internet hate after this tweet: "Excited for Bay Lights tonight? It's not too late to rent an instant car and head to Treasure Island for the best seats in the house!" I myself had been told by a Bay Lights press person that east of the city would be a great place to soak in the view.

People stuck on the wet rock Tuesday night murmured apologies to loved ones. "I'm sorry babe," soothed one man. "It's all right. We got two years."

A group of wretched bystanders huddled under a bus stop for a bus that had also become invisible. When an SUV of youngsters pulled up – and a passenger shouted out the window, "Hey, do three of you want to ride in our trunk?” – it seemed preferable to the alternative of waiting indefinitely in a Bay-Lightsless world. So I hitched back to the city inside the car's cargo seat with a well-dressed churchgoer named Lala and some East Coast college grads. "We came at 8," said one. "We prepared – we brought hotdogs."

We caught a fine view of the Bay Lights from the Embarcadero.

Here's what others who trekked to Treasure Island to witness this major art event had to say last night:

Luisandyona Vaca: What is going on???!! Why aren't there any lights showing?! Was it cancelled? Re-scheduled??

@mimigee: Treasure island was crawling with people who missed the memo that the lights are pointed at SF.

@cheekybrittt: Never go to Treasure Island during a big event.

Christopher Gartner: Not happy. You should make it clear that the visibility from treasure island will be bad

@joshratiani: Went to Treasure Island to see the lighting of the BayLights light sculpture. You can't see it from there, but you can get rained on.

@pedroz: the sea is just a wetter version of the sky @ Treasure Island

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.