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Friday, November 14, 2014

Designers and County Leaders Pretty Much Decide on Pedestrian Bridge Details Prior to Public Meeting Last Night

Posted By on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge The cable-stayed design - ROSALES + PARTNERS, PARSONS BRINCKERHOFF
  • Rosales + Partners, Parsons Brinckerhoff
  • The cable-stayed design
Touted as a chance for the public to weigh in on the publicly funded pedestrian bridge ("share your thoughts"!), last night's meeting held a certain out-of-our-hands feeling as county leaders and the bridge's designers pretty much explained what is and isn't going to happen in this project. 

Boston architect Miguel Rosales was on hand to extol the virtues of the cable-stayed design — the only design of the three released to the public last week that was discussed in-depth. The rationale: It's cheaper and easier to build, which is great, and anyway county leaders and the architects said that the majority of "the public" ( poll respondents, I guess?) preferred this design.

The tone of the meeting, however, was very much in the done-deal camp, despite funding woes frustrating county leaders and casting the project in limbo at the moment. 

"Once you get the bridge the whole harbor is going to change," Rosales said. "It’s not only the bridge but what it’s going to bring to you in the future." And there's the rub. This bridge, a (very nice-looking) $25-million boondoggle in some ways, is the public pièce de résistance as we really hunker down for the Republican National Convention in 2016. It's the figurative bridge to something bigger than what we presently are. Public leaders have expressly cited the RNC as the causal link to why this project is even being discussed right now.

A deadline that stretches out some 19 months might seem pretty comfy, but massive civic and economic development projects take time. At public meetings across town, one can pick up on a bit of hand-wringing taking place as leaders consider how much stuff is being packed into such a relatively small window of time. 

Rosales uncomfortably mentioned some of the development that will be taking place on the north end of the bridge — developer Richard Pace's proposed 1,000 residential apartments, likely a hotel, maybe a school, a huge concessions stand with, like, a Blue Point Grille-esque restaurant on top of it. But like a train hurtling toward disconnected track, there's apparently nothing anyone can do. The proposed hotel was also brought up in matter-of-fact terms, and Rosales winced when he had to point out that it will pretty much kill views of the water from the bridge and disrupt the visual cohesion of the bridge's cable features and the Rock Hall's pyramid design. (This project, specifics of which are still in flux, won't be done in time for the RNC, mind you. Three phases will stretch out over the next several years.)

Still, last night offered a landing pad for public comment — at least in theory. About a dozen people (of the probably 100 in the room) got up to speak their mind. Most celebrated the visually striking designs, and many offered solid critical input. The most sound suggestion had to do with connecting the bridge to the Amtrak station directly below. It's unclear if that will be taken into consideration (mostly because a) this city's track record with public transit accommodation is weak and b) no one from the county or the design firm actually responded to any of the public comments.) Others inquired about inclement weather, and whether the bridge will be usable year-round or whether there's a plan in place to deal with ice forming on the cables and potentially falling onto the railroad and West Shoreway.

Satinder Puri, a retired structural engineer, was the first person in the audience to speak. He asked for the justification for the new bridge and whether a traffic study had been done to examine foot traffic in the area. The bridge will originate in the northeast corner of the Mall, which Puri called "desolate." (He's not wrong; have you been to the Mall ever?) He pressed the agencies for numbers, data — anything to bear out how often this expensive project will be used on a regular basis. "What rationale was used?" Puri asked. No one answered.

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