Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Big Dam Bridge, Late Opening and Closure Extended-Questions Raised

Extended Closure On Wednesday Announced
From Lynn Bell of Metroplan:
I just found out that Pulaski County and the Corps are still working on the inspection of the Big Dam Bridge and it will be closed today and possibly even through Friday. The press release that I had seen just mentioned Mon.-Wed., but it should have said through Friday March 18. Can you spread the word to your bicycling friends? It might be closed as late as 7:00 tonight. I will be posting updates on Arkansas River Trail and people can get also get updates from Pulaski County. 

Is It Is or Is it Ain't Transportation?

On Monday, the announced closure of the BDB for inspection went as announced. The bridge was open at 5:00 PM as throngs of commuters, rec riders, and others swarmed across the span on a glorious spring afternoon, the first evening of Daylight Savings Time.
On Tuesday, the throngs of people were there, but the gates on both ends of the bridge remained locked well after 6 o'clock.
5:18PM on Tuesday

 Commuters with daypacks and a load of frustration loitered as groups of walkers and recreational riders left disappointed or, in my case, called up the people we were to meet across the river to change plans. The NLR gate was opened around 6:15. Unfortunately, the gates were still locked on the Little Rock side as a crowd of reportedly about 40 people gathered on each side of the closed gates. A worker finally showed up to unlock the gates and was said to have taken his time while seeming to get a bit of a kick out of his position of power. Some riders had already had enough and were handing bikes over the closed gates and climbing after them.
I made a call to someone with better connections and found out that a lift used by workers to inspect the underside of the span had broken down, causing the delay.

I'm told that Pulaski County is ultimately responsible for the scheduling and execution of the closures. We all recognize that the inspections and maintenance are required, but the county has a responsibility to provide accurate information and, if that information proves to be incorrect, they should have someone on site to update users of the situation. I'm sure that Judge Barry Hyde, who is a rider, would be glad to hear from you if you have an opinion on the handling of the bridge closure.

Alternative Transportation
The River Trail and the BDB are transportation links built largely with transportation dollars and serving a growing number of people who seek a means of travel beyond jumping in a car. Like all transportation infrastructure, the ART and especially the BDB must be open and available to be used by folks who are going to their job, meetings, or to any activity for which there is a schedule. One of the calls I got yesterday was from a healthcare professional who works at the Arkansas Surgical Hospital and who commutes by bike from her Heights home. Last night, she was tired after a day in surgery and simply needed to get home. The implications of her failing to arrive at work in time for a procedure are far worse.
Unfortunately, city, county, and Corps of Engineers officials treat these transportation resources as if they are closing off a playground. Bike advocacy groups have long pushed for recognition of cycling, walking, and public transportation as alternatives to the car, but many decision makers still don't get it. The recent extended closure of the BDB for post-flood clean up is another example of this attitude. Even as cleanup progressed on the trail along the river, the bridge could easily have been re-opened with access though Cook's Landing. Had this been even the smallest county road used by drivers, there may have been some orange barrels directing traffic around obstacles, but the road would have been open in short order.

Build For The City You Want
During the course of the long discussion on the Broadway Bridge design and its bike-ped facility, I often heard the argument that few people walked or biked across the current bridge. The downtown areas on both sides of the river are growing in population density, and it is becoming obvious that the ability to dine, shop, drink and eat in one's own neighborhood is a huge draw.  So, if we want this kind of quality development to continue we have to expand those opportunities. That means, among other things, recognizing that alternative transportation resources are as important to those who use it as an open road is to drivers.

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