A Bridge to the Future?
A city built at the confluence of three rivers can’t thrive without bridges. Any amount of travel at all requires the crossing of those rivers. The pace of modern society would quickly overwhelm the reliance on ferries that shuttled Romans about in the earliest days of the town. Bridges went up shortly after Rome was founded and continue to be a mainstay of the local geography.
Among my earliest memories I find the replacement of the bridge that spans the Oostanaula at the historic Floyd County courthouse. The old bridge, built in 1918, featured a metal truss design. Originally, large towers were part of the structure. But those were sacrificed for scrap metal to help the effort to win World War II. The replacement bridge is a basic concrete bridge.
Just two blocks from Broad Street in the city’s central business district, the bridge carries Fifth Avenue traffic across the Oostanaula River to the newly-dubbed River District. This area is known to the old timers as Beaverslide. It used to be a low lying floodplain, best suited to beavers. When it wasn’t underwater it was under suspicion of all sorts of nefarious activities. Today the levee keeps the river out. There’s a substantial plan already in the works to redevelop the district. I’ll present that in the next article.
For now I want to focus on the bridge. This concrete platform is getting a lot of attention right now. City leaders are interested in adapting the bridge to be a pedestrian-friendly portal between Broad Street and the River District. With sidewalks on both sides, foot traffic is already a reality. As the district develops and offers more of an attraction, that traffic is likely to increase.
Among the proposals are eliminating two of the four vehicle traffic lanes in favor of parallel parking. Parking is an issue downtown and city leaders are always looking for ideas. There are other ideas such as park space, such as benches, tables, topiaries, etc.
There are pros and cons to such ideas.
Losing the traffic lanes has drawn criticism. There is traffic on Fifth Avenue but Second Avenue and Turner McCall are the major thoroughfares. With no bridge on the Etowah, Fifth Avenue is limited to through traffic. The four lane section is limited to only a few blocks anyway. Adding aesthetics to the bridge sounds like a great idea which wouldn’t impact normal traffic all that much.
I was immediately reminded of the old bridges of Europe which were more like buildings that span rivers rather than mere platforms of travel. Bridges such as the Welsh Bridge at Shrewsbury, as depicted by English Romanticist painter, William Turner, offer beautiful examples of what a bridge could be. Combining a transportation portal with residential and commercial units would draw people and be a more efficient use of space. But the engineering studies on the bridge reveal that the bridge isn’t designed to hold more than your typical traffic. In this case, Turner’s painting is an example of what a new bridge could be.
This bridge needs a smaller plan. And that’s ok.
Wisdom forces us to consider the cons. As the River District develops, car traffic is likely to increase. The bridge is also used by emergency services. The city and county police departments share a facility adjacent to the bridge. The fire department is also just a few blocks away and their movement requires more space than a police car. Tactics are as much a consideration as convenience when it comes to fire department traffic. Removing bridge access to the fire department is not only ill-advised, it’s a potential disaster.
We should also think about how few parking spaces would be added on the bridge. Would wo rows of parked cars on the bridge create a better aesthetic than the current configuration? It’s doubtful. And the point has been made that the high curbs could block the passenger side doors on many cars from opening when. The parking option seems like it offers a lot of drawbacks with minimal benefits.
There is a lot of potential here but there is also a lot to consider. What sort of plan makes the bridge itself a draw? What makes people want to go there?
The immediate answer is to create value on each end of the bridge. Broad Street already offers shopping, dining, and entertainment. The seat of county government brings people out of necessity. That has one side of the bridge covered. Now to unleash the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of people to make the River District what it can be.
Once people find value on both banks of the Oostanaula, the bridge will draw people by doing what it was designed to do: carry people from one side to the other, by foot or wheel. At that point the solution could be as simple as some tasteful facade additions to improve the look of the bridge. Perhaps mimicking the iron truss look of the old bridge and some stylish lighting could be sufficient.
It was just revealed in the Rome News-Tribune that Floyd County actually owns the bridge. If that is indeed true they would have to be on board with any plans going forward. Sometimes the City of Rome and Floyd County collaborate really well. Other times, not so much. If the city can present a worthwhile plan, the county would likely go along. Historically, the county seems to be more practical and pragmatic while the city seems to be more willing to experiment with new ideas. Finding middle ground could result in some changes that improve the bridge but keep traffic flowing. That could be a winning option for everyone.
Whatever is eventually done, the River District has the potential to expand on the successes of Broad Street, expanding the cultural and economic influence of downtown. It is a promising opportunity. But like I said, that’s another story...
3/28/2021 11:09:48 am
Part of the vision for the bridge project, which is desperately shared by us tenants and landowners in the District, is to slow traffic down in what has become a cut-through corridor. The ( unenforced) speed limit is 25 mph. There is only one crosswalk running between the Foundry and the Glass shop. Installing raised crosswalks that could also be artfully painted( see downtown Decatur fir example) would not only slow traffic but also allow for safe pedestrian traffic. I am told this cannot happen without w flashing safety signals also being added.
3/28/2021 02:17:56 pm
Thank you for such a thoughtful and informative response. There’s a lot going right with the bridge and the district and a lot of it is getting lost in the knee jerk reactions of people, particularly those who haven’t really done any homework on the matter.
3/28/2021 03:06:28 pm
Sam, I always enjoy your commentaries. I see absolutely nothing wrong with trying to improve the River District. From my many years of working with the fire department and the court system I have seen first hand the condition and disrepair that most of that area, a lot of it just needs to be razed and start over. If they wanted to make this a truly great area of town how come someone did not have the foresight to try and save the old bridge. It had more artistic and historical value than most of the rest of the area. But as usual the city is looking for ways to serve the few and not the caucus. You hit on a great point about emergency service and having unrestricted access to that area, because we both know minutes, even seconds make a difference in an emergency. Besides, regardless of how many parking spaces they create you will be limited on how long you can park or have to pay way to much. You can already see the impact the parking situation and rules has affected the Broad street area. Not a whole lot of retail left, mostly bars and restaurants. Well Sam I could sit here hours and talk about the pros and cons but it will not change the fact that the city will do what they want. I am not against a progressive future I would just like to see the proper planning go into it and serve the majority, especially with the potential cost of a project of this nature.
3/29/2021 06:26:16 am
Ray Plymel is entirely correct in his assessment of planning and execution. The creation of several "white elephants " is glaring proof of I want not do I need that will for ever impact everyone. A playhouse is exactly that and doesn't need to affect all of us.
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire