A South Broadway bridge has gained a reputation with pedestrians for all the wrong reasons: piles of bird feces and decaying pigeon carcasses.
Hundreds of pigeons have made their home in the railroad overpass between the Newtown Crossing apartments and Tolly-Ho restaurant. They roost in the support beams, they defecate on the sidewalk, and many lie dead in their own filth, left to decay or be torn apart by strong-stomached scavengers.
Pedestrians often must skip, hop and jump to make it to the other side without stepping on something undesirable.
"I hate that bridge," said Bryon Speach, who walks under it two or three times a week. "People don't really walk under it unless they have to."
Urban County Government officials hope that will change by the end of summer, when the city's Division of Environmental Services plans to erect a metal barrier to keep pigeons away.
"Thank God," said Clarence Johnson, who works at St. Joseph Hospital up the street. "They need to do something."
Johnson normally drives to work, but when his car broke down, he was forced to walk down South Broadway under the bridge to the hospital. Johnson said he noticed the pigeons when he drove, but he didn't know how much bird poop and how many dead birds were on the sidewalk.
"I didn't know it was this bad," he said. "My wife won't go under it at all."
Five years ago, after a string of complaints, the city's Division of Parks and Recreation tried to deter pigeons from roosting on the beams by putting metal sheets on the bridge's underbelly. That kept pigeons from defecating on the sidewalks, but the sheet metal began to buckle and bend under the weight of dead pigeons and feces; some of the metal sheets eventually fell onto the sidewalk.
"Recently, (the metal sheets) have just not been working at all. They were just kind of overwhelmed by pigeon debris, honestly," said Jennifer Myatt, an environmental outreach specialist with the city's Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works. "At some point there was just too much, and it was coming onto the sidewalk."
Since then, the Division of Environmental Services sent workers wearing hazardous-material suits to remove the metal sheets and clean the beams.
"It's much cleaner now probably than it's been in a long, long time," said Susan Plueger, director of the Division of Environmental Services.
Workers now clean the sidewalks every two weeks.
Plueger said the city will probably put up large metal sheets between the bridge's support beams. Those sheets, unlike the previous ones, would be completely blocked on the sides, leaving no room for pigeons to perch.
"We want our solution to be permanent," Plueger said.
City officials initially had said they would use pigeon spikes — small, pointed poles that are meant to keep pigeons from perching — but they changed their minds after learning that pigeons can find ways to land around them.
Gary Potts, a member of the Lexington Racing Pigeon Club, suggested using chicken wire to block the pigeons from perching, but he emphasized that pigeons are persistent.
"If there's a place to land, they'll land," Potts said. "Unless they cover the whole thing, the birds are going to get up in there."
The large amounts of feces and dead pigeons are unpleasant, Potts said, but the area probably isn't dangerous for pedestrians.
"People don't have to worry about it," he said. "They're just as healthy as any other birds."