The Bridge Designed for Glass Holes

The Taihang Mountains are a mountain range in the Chinese provinces of Henan and Hebei. (Here’s a map.) And as seen above (photo via Atlas Obscura), some of those mountains have cliffs with rather dramatic dropoffs.

For most of us, going anywhere near that cliff face is a non-starter, but if you’re at all daring and not terrified of heights, you could have walked along that edge there. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see some doing just that. Just outside the trees is a bridge with a big (and very important!) red railing, and there are a lot of people walking on that bridge. Here’s a closer view, via Archinect.

The bridge is 1,180 meters (3,900 feet, or just under three-quarters of a mile) above the ground. And the walkway, called the East Taihang Glasswalk, is made of glass (hence the name), so you can see just how high up you are.

Scary, right?

Oh, it gets worse. So, so much worse.

Here’s a video of people walking across the bridge (and here’s the link to the video in case I messed up when I tried to embed it).

If you can’t tell what’s happening there, the glass appears to crack as you walk across it. And if you’re not expecting that to happen, well, yikes! As seen in the video above, one blissfully unaware tour guide fell to his knees in panic when the glass seemed to break beneath his feet, portending certain doom. And he’s not alone; there are dozens of similar clips of people freaking out, thinking they are moments away from certain doom.

The glass, to be clear, is not breaking. It’s a prank. As Atlas Obscura explains in the above-linked story, “The effect is accomplished with infrared sensors which track the movement of people walking across the bridge, triggering a dual visual and audio effect to give the impression that the glass walkway is fracturing into pieces.” A few seconds later, the crack disappears, leaving it ready for another unsuspecting victim.

That’s a really bad idea — sure, the fake cracks won’t kill you, but the heart attack may! — and when the video above went viral, the authorities realized their mistake. Per Mashable, the video racked up enough views, and enough complaints, that “the East Taihang district administration sent out an official apology on its WeChat channel, to explain that the splintering glass was merely an ‘effect’ it worked into a portion of its bridge, in order to be ‘provocative.’” The effect went away shortly thereafter.

The bridge itself, though, lasted about two more years. The East Taihang Glasswalk wasn’t the only glass-bottomed footbridge in China — there are more than 2,000 across the nation. But not all of them were as safe as originally advertised. In October 2019, the provincial government of Hebei shut down the East Taihang one and 31 others, because, as Lonely Planet reported, “after a series of accidents, including at least two deaths and a number of injuries,” the government mandated a shutdown until local authorities could “carry out comprehensive safety checks on all glass structures.”

The one above has not yet been reopened — I guess it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. (Sorry.)

Bonus fact: In 2009, the Chinese city of Guangzhou had a problem on its hands: multiple people were taking their own lives by jumping off a large steel bridge. Authorities placed signs hoping to convince people to think otherwise, and also added security to either end of the 1,000-foot bridge, but to no avail. But they did end up solving the problem. How? Butter. As Digital Spy reported, officials explained that “we have put butter over the bridge and it has worked very well. Nobody can get up there and nobody who tries ever falls” and that “the butter makes the bars and frames slippery and hard to climb on to, and we can easily catch them.”

From the Archives: The Bridge That’ll Flip You: China borders Macau (even though Macau is officially part of China). In China, they drive on the left; in Macau, they drive on the right. How do you address that? A bridge!