What should we expect a bridge to be?
Safe. Useful. Worthy of its location. (Think “Eads Bridge” as an example of a bridge whose engineering and design have stood the test of time. Think "Chouteau Bridge" as an example of a safe, but artless, bridge.)
I thought of these answers while I was talking to a reporter today about the new Grand Avenue Bridge.
The existing Grand Avenue Bridge is a hundred years old and it is not structurally sound. It needs to be replaced. That will cost $25 million, for which (as I first mentioned here back in 2005) the City has federal funds and a local match.
Besides its structural condition, the current bridge is unsafe for pedestrians, for people with disabilities, for bus and light rail commuters, and for bicyclists. The sidewalks are very narrow and broken, and there is no separation between the narrow sidewalk and speeding cars, making the walks particularly dangerous for wheelchair users; the MetroLink elevators are too far from the walk light; the potholes can’t be fixed because the bridge vibrates and opens them right up again.
Our primary goal was to make a crossing that was safer and more useful. But, we also knew that the bridge we build in 2009 will likely have to last another hundred years.
This viaduct is one of the most important in the City. Grand Avenue connects the north and south campuses of Saint Louis University, and the Grand Avenue bridge is where the MetroLink station that serves both the University and Grand Center is located. The Grand Avenue bus line is the busiest in the entire Metro system, and the MetroLink/bus transfer station is the busiest in the system. The bridge will have to do a lot of things — and what it looks likes is going to matter to people of the City and the region.
Designing this bridge — what it looks like and all the things it can do — was a collaborative process with the community that took more than three years and involved more than 30 stakeholders who had to agree on the features the new bridge should have.
They agreed on the following:
The new bridge should reflect the history of the bridge. While we can’t replicate the bridge as it was when it was built, we can give it features that remind people of its importance and its prominence. The original historic bridge had prominent decorative towers because it was a suspension bridge. Obviously, the original suspension bridge can’t be recreated, but the stakeholders wanted the new bridge to reflect the bridge’s history and prominence. The towers reflect that history and, by making the bridge a new landmark that is visible from a long distance, respond to one of the stakeholders’ important goals. The towers will also provide additional lighting and shelter for pedestrians and cyclists on what is a very long bridge span.
The new bridge should be a link, not a barrier, between the north and south SLU campuses. The way to make it a link is to make it inviting and attractive for pedestrians, wheelchairs, bicycles, and cars.
The bridge should make it easy for people to walk, use wheelchairs, and cycle. Right now, the bridge looks, feels, and is dangerous. Many more people would use Metrolink and walk on the bridge if these problems are addressed.
The new Grand Avenue bridge is going to be safer. It is certainly going to be more useful. And it is going to reflect part of the history of the bridge it replaces.