The party at Owensboro
Sunday, October 02, 2011
And yet people do like and admire bridges. Take Owensboro, Kentucky, where an estimated 10,000 people enjoyed the opportunity to walk or bike across the "Blue Bridge" over the Ohio River on Friday. Repair work on the bridge, which had closed it to all traffic during the summer, was a few days ahead of schedule, allowing the Kentucky highway department the opportunity to throw open the bridge to pedestrians and bicyclists for a one-day only "Bridge Day."
Despite the impromptu nature of the event -- it was only announced on the Monday before -- massive crowds descended on the bridge. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk across the bridge without dodging cars, making it possible to study this huge cantilever bridge built in 1940.
Actually, it may not be a one-time event after all. The turnout was so overwhelming that the mayor of Owensboro is already discussing turning "Bridge Day" into an annual festival. "I think we've really stumbled onto something here," the mayor said in a newspaper article.
And why not? Owensboro should be able to celebrate the city's success at saving its bridge. So many other cantilever bridges have been demolished to make room for replacement cable-stayed or steel beam bridges. Owensboro does have a modern cable-stayed bridge, but it was built at a location far enough upstream that the Blue Bridge could be retained for local traffic heading to downtown. That was a smart move: the city gets a modern bypass, while the historic bridge can still provide useful service.
I doubt that the turnout would have been so awesome for a UCEB. I hope that other cities and states are paying attention to the pattern established at Owensboro: build a bypass if you must, but keep the historic bridge around to serve as a true "signature" span for the community, one that everybody can enjoy. If you preserve it, they will come.