Monday, June 6, 2011

National Geographic Piques Interest

When it was the only highway bridge across Sturgeon Bay, the Michigan Street
Bridge was struck by the freighter Carlsholm in October of 1960.  Now, with
two other bridges across the bay built in recent decades, this bridge
is a commercial navigational obstacle with debatable highway value.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

A few readers may have mistakingly assumed that the title of this entry containing the words "National Geographic" is a follow-up to my previous entry about turtle peeping, but it is not.

Recently, I perused the April issue of National Geographic on my iPad, and the photography as always was terrific, and, I would even say the photos were superior to the printed magazine format.

Miracle Above Manhattan was the story that caught my attention.  It's about how an abandoned railroad spur, the mile and a half High Line in the Chelsea neighborhood, once overgrown with trees and weeds, an unused strip of railroad trestle and right-of-way that runs smack through the heart of Manhattan's residential and business neighborhoods.  This section of track 25 feet above ground now offers a safe and sought-after elevation with spectacular panorama of river, sky and surrounding city lights.

Mayor Giuliani had wanted to tear it down, but a group of passionate New Yorkers persisted.  They were responsible for transforming this section of abandoned commercial track into useful, artful public space.  They weren't different in their passion from the local, Sturgeon Bay group who went by the moniker "Save Our Bridge," who organized to help popularize, memorialize through registry, and save Sturgeon Bay's aging but surplus downtown bridge.  But that New York group envisioned transforming the unused structure into a linear combination of parks, gardens, rest spots and social venues.  This feature has become a regular destination for thousands of New Yorkers and city visitors.  The Geographic photos showing people enjoying this strip of elevated green are stunning and convincing.  A quote from the article: "From the day the first section of the High Line opened in June 2009, it has been one of the city's major tourist attractions..."

Why couldn't a similar plan have worked for the Michigan Street bridge in Sturgeon Bay by utilizing the outdated, and for a time condemned, bridge structure not as an actual bridge, but as a focal point for recreational activities?   This transformation would have been unique - I've never heard of this being done elsewhere - and it would have saved state taxpayers millions in rehabilitation dollars,  dollar already spent to beef up the structural supports, to reconstruct the draw equipment, and to paint the bridge from one end to the other.   There will undoubtedly be future expenditures to maintain an 80-year old bridge structure as a certifiably safe highway bridge.

An essay in my book "Bridges Are Still News," (Island Bayou Press, December 2010 - $16.50) suggested an option similar to the Manhattan railroad project by keeping only the "stubs" or piers, one on  each side of the bay.  To my knowledge, such an idea was never considered.   Had the bridge been abandoned, the center spans could have been removed to improve shipping navigation.   The piers or bridge stubs would have provided significant public space for music, food courts, sidewalk art, sightseeing, fishing, attractive plantings and benches...a waterfront vantage point that would have made them a noteworthy destination.

The uniqueness of the rusted, riveted rail trestles shown in the Miracle Above Manhattan article is not unlike that of the riveted girders of the Michigan Street Bridge.   Both were built during times when  steel design and construction were vital to industry and commerce.

When the current restoration work is completed on the Michigan Street bridge, the structure may be serviceable for several decades with minimal work, so for readers this blog might seem like whistling in the wind.  But there ought to be consideration by a future generation when the subject of maintaining a National Historic monument vs. cost to maintain comes around once again.

In the meantime, the old bridge is still closed to traffic (going on for what seems like several years, now) and until it is reopened to vehicular traffic, nearby businesses will continue to suffer the side effects of sandblasting and painting, the Christo-like canvas curtains, the rows of orange construction barrels, and the resulting lack of consumer traffic to their businesses.

For all of the dollars spent on this bridge to date during reconstruction, the City of Sturgeon Bay could have entered a period of bustling economic activity.  The "bridge-stubs" could have become a grand provider of foot traffic for those same business that have folded or are suffering for lack of access to their doors.

  -  Dick Purinton


Martha said...

Interesting to note: many "old" bridges in Florida- old only because they were opening spans replaced with fixed bridges significantly higher (which BTW prohibit any sailing vessels with masts much over 62 feet to transit the ICW anymore)- left the stubs on either side, with your thoughts in mind. For whatever reasons, the ones I passed by were only used for fishing and left dirty.

When the Michigan bridge was open over the winter I much preferred using it, as it is a direct route along main streets in town, without having to twist and turn through residential. They should have replaced this one in the same locale

Susan Quinn said...

The High Line is wonderful! What a great idea for the Sturgeon Bay bridge.

Christie Weber said...

How do you like it now, Dick? The money saved has been in the millions by adding restoration and if you would like the facts just call.920-495-3779, Id love to get them to you. Shes Beautiful and saved a community business center.

Think7generations said...

The Steel Bridge in Sturgeon Bay is an amazing center piece of live architecture. You can drive across this 85 year old icon. It makes Sturgeon Bay authentic and unique in the Mid-West. So glad the City and State have saved it.