I wanted to capture a thought-provoking email exchange between Ryan Gravel and Jay Sandhaus, two members of the Band of Seven that’s been pushing this Freedom Bridge idea.
Pedestrian bridges are a tricky topic for urban advocates — for good reason. For one thing, they’re more expensive than crosswalks. For another, advocates worry that bridges that remove people from street effectively surrender streets to cars. Finally, the lay of the land requires some bridges to rely on stairs, switchbacks and even elevators.
Ryan (who you probably know as the original thinker behind the Beltline) was responding to feedback from someone who’d raised concerns like those listed above. Here’s what he wrote in an email thread:
1) Switchbacks will not be required. The topography supports a graceful alignment.
2) This bridge is not your average life-destroying pedestrian bridge like the tubes downtown or brutal highway crossing with ramps and stairs. This is a parkway condition, and parkways are fundamentally different landscape types in a city, serving a more robust set of functions than your average highway.
3) The only way the bridge makes it harder to get to L5P or anywhere is if it is a truly terrible design.
4) I get that the cost of the bridge could alternatively fund many, many smaller efforts, but that simply means we need more funding generally. We should be doing all of the things she suggests. But if you’re trying to raise a lot of money, you need a bigger, more compelling project and story, and this is a viable, valuable, and worthwhile investment.
That’s when Jay piped in the following:
There is one point in particular I think we should talk more about: ‘If you’re trying to raise a lot of money, you need a bigger, more compelling project and story.’
This is potentially a huge opportunity for the city of Atlanta. There just aren’t a lot of places where you could build a landmark bridge that would be seen by lots and lots of people. We should be talking about this. World-class cities have world-class bridges. We can too.
That “landmark” idea that really captivates me (full disclosure: I’m part of the Band of Seven, too). Much like the Beltline and the High Line in NYC, the Freedom Park PATH inhabits its own sphere of activity, off the street but still connected to the urban texture. But also just like the Beltline and the High Line, the bridge will integrate with that urban texture best if designed carefully, with all these concerns in mind.