By Jackie Green

The region has two bridges that offer spectacular cross-river access to human-powered transportation — the Big Four and the K&I bridges.

K&I Bridge

K&I Bridge

The K&I is downstream from the Falls of the Ohio, and is owned by Norfolk Southern railroad; it has two roadways (still used by NS trucks) flanking the active railroad line, was originally the Ohio River crossing of U.S. Hwy. 31, and has been closed to public transportation for decades. Norfolk Southern has refused all overtures to re-open the bridge to human-powered transportation. The past two years has seen an increase in public demand to re-open the K&I.

A K&I bridge committee comprised of representation from mayors on both sides of the river, two U.S. congressional offices, Louisville Waterfront Development, Indiana Greenways Commission, Jefferson County Attorney’s office, planning and design offices, local citizen groups, etc. has met several times in recent months. The needed local parties seem to be at the table.

The committee’s plan has been to produce a document addressing every possible concern that Norfolk Southern might have regarding opening the K&I bridge to human-powered transportation. The planned document is also to address the Kentuckiana River Trail, K&I bridge history, endorsements of opening the bridge, examples of other rail/trail bridges running parallel and harmoniously, the Big Four Bridge success, etc.

Despite months of meetings, the committee has produced nothing more than a one-sheet outline of the document. The committee met on Nov. 1 and established a self-imposed (but long-overdue) deadline of Dec. 2 for unveiling the presentation to the group. It also established a goal of Dec. 16 to present the document to the CEO of Norfolk Southern. The Dec. 2 meeting was cancelled.  The 16th is past. Nothing seems to be happening.

The question “What is going on?” has twice been put to the committee. There has been no official answer to the repeated question.

Let’s hope great things are happening behind the scenes. If not, the mayor needs to make the K&I bridge a higher priority. A phone call from the mayor to the city offices responsible for creating the document should assure the work would be done well and quickly. Is the mayor committed to sustainable transportation enough to make that phone call? Or, does the mayor not have sufficient influence over city offices? Or, are great things happening behind the scenes (if so, what happened to transparency)?

Big Four Bridge

Big Four Bridge

Though “things are happening behind the scenes” may be a best-case scenario, it is not good enough. When “things happen behind the scenes,” mistakes are made. Consider the Big Four Bridge. That elegantly simple structure is graced with a spiral ramp whose axis is a focal point, if not a sacred space.

But rather than appropriately celebrating that space, the spiral’s center now hosts an impermeable surface parking lot and a toilet (there was/is a second parking lot and toilet already immediately to the east of the spiral). The decking of the bridge now hosts some industrial scrap-iron boxes containing historical info. Some people object to the addition of music midway across the bridge. The ramp lighting is an architectural aberration complimenting nothing else in the bridge’s design. And now funds are being raised for a permanent light show on the bridge (this is why the night sky is no longer visible). What will be the next element added to the bridge? Aroma therapy?

There is elegance in simplicity — quit cluttering the Big Four bridge. There is strength in leadership — commit to sustainable transportation (K&I bridge). There is accountability in transparency — be open.

Jackie Green: earthling, husband, father, bike shop owner, advocate of walkable/transit-rich cities linked by passenger rail, 2010 independent mayoral candidate, car free since 1999, flight free since 1993.