Footbridges link the Triangle

May 5, 2013 

A bridge is a hopeful thing. It connects and overcomes.

A pedestrian bridge may be the most hopeful of all. It knits together places, but also links people back to a mode of transportation that since the dawn of the automobile they’ve tried to avoid, walking.

But walking is coming back. People are putting down the keys and picking up their knees. It’s a reversion to something we were made to do; something good for the body and the mind.

Walkers know the curative and meditative powers of a sojourn by foot. Hippocrates said, “ Walking is man’s best medicine.”

So it was a symbol of both progress and return when police halted traffic on Interstate 40 last Sunday and workers lifted into place a 270-foot span that will carry walkers, runners and bikers across the thundering, asphalt river. The bridge is part of a newly constructed 4-mile section of the American Tobacco Trail. It crosses I-40 just west of the Streets of South Point mall in Durham. When it opens in July, it will connect trails and open the region wider for people who want to get around on leg power.

The bridge will serve not only as a pathway, but also a symbol to millions of motorists who pass beneath it that the Triangle values a good walk enough to spend $9 million getting people over the highway. Those who planned and supported the bridge’s construction should take pride in their accomplishment and satisfaction in what is says and makes possible.

The I-40 pedestrian bridge adds to a growing collection of overpasses for people. There’s the soaring $3.8 million greenway bridge over I-440 that opened in 2005 making it possible to walk from Meredith College to the North Carolina Museum of Art. In 2007, Cary opened a $1.4 million pedestrian bridge over U.S. 1/64 to connect two parks. In Durham, the old and long-shuttered pedestrian bridge over N.C. Highway 147 just south of downtown was replaced by a $2.2 million bridge in 2010. Raleigh just opened more than 20 miles of Neuse River greenway trail that includes a pedestrian suspension bridge over the river.

These bridges offset one of the mistakes of 20th century transportation planning in which highways recklessly cut through cities and cut off neighborhoods and neighbors. It was a car-centric century of the drive-in, drive up and drive thru.

Now that obsession with speed and convenience is being tempered by an appreciation for the healthy effects of going on our own and at own pace, of seeing the world rather than passing it. And when such journeys are halted by obstacles of nature or man, we’re bridging them.

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