Op-Ed

Don’t tear down bridge, make it a pedestrian destination instead

City officials wants the state to give it the Jefferson Street bridge so it can tear it down for a proposed expansion of the Lexington convention center and the Town Branch park. This is from the Lexington Center parking lot looking toward the bridge.
City officials wants the state to give it the Jefferson Street bridge so it can tear it down for a proposed expansion of the Lexington convention center and the Town Branch park. This is from the Lexington Center parking lot looking toward the bridge. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Plans for the development of Town Branch Park call for the demolition of the Jefferson Street bridge (or viaduct, as we used to call it).

When I recently asked why, I was told that it is ugly and will block the scenic view from one end of the park to the other. That’s one perspective.

Here’s another: Imagine that Point A in your downtown is the coolest, organically grown hub of activity for eating, drinking and just hanging out.

Point B is another such area in the making, not as far along as Point A but potentially even more of a magnet for younger generations. And Point C is the largest publicly owned space in the downtown and your local government envisions it being developed in a mix of housing, shopping, offices, restaurants and bars.

What I just described is Jefferson Street north of Main Street (Point A), Manchester Street (Point B), and the Lexington Center parking lot across High Street from Rupp Arena (Point C).

The three areas are close together but, as of now, are separated topographically by the ravine originally created by the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek. They are connected in anything approaching a direct route only by the Jefferson Street Bridge.

The plan for Town Branch Park will definitely improve the appearance of the ravine and its use, but will remove the bridge connection.

That’s a mistake. Instead of tearing the bridge down, why not:

▪ Turn it into a pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge to connect points A, B and C, and to provide a great perch from which to view the new park and the downtown.

▪ Clad it with different materials, put lighting and artistic touches on it, perhaps resembling the new Oliver Lewis Way bridge.

▪ Put something on it so it is both a pathway and a destination. That something could be shops, kiosks, food carts or trucks, even outdoor dining.

Believe me, with its current four lanes for traffic and two sidewalks, it is plenty wide enough and strong enough to accommodate such things.

The most remarkable bridge I’ve ever been on or seen in person is not the Golden Gate, as breathtaking as it is, or even the Brooklyn Bridge, but rather the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

And that’s not because it’s beautiful, though it is visually interesting. It’s because it’s only for pedestrians and is covered end-to-end with jewelry shops, outdoor stands, and the like.

The Jefferson Street bridge will never bear any semblance to the Ponte Vecchio and I’m not suggesting that it will. However, it can be a useful and interesting element of a better pedestrian network that connects parts of our downtown that ought to be connected, and enhances the new park that will spread out beneath it.

Bill Lear is a Lexington attorney and developer.

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