Saturday Single No. 289

 Traffic was backed up over a good portion of the East Side yesterday, complicating things considerably as my mother and I went to lunch and as I ran several errands. The cause of the back-up was easy to find: Authorities had closed a two-block section of Minnesota Highway 23 – the main east-west artery through the city – to replace the Fifth Avenue walking bridge across the highway.

The walking bridge has been there for about fifty years, since shortly after Highway 23 was expanded to four lanes and sliced portions of the city in two. One of those portions thus sliced was the neighborhood right near Lincoln Elementary School. The reconfigured landscape had the Lincoln playground area overlooking the new highway, with its traffic buzzing past about twenty-five feet below. On the north side of the canyon created by the new highway were St. Augustine Elementary school – one of several thriving Catholic schools in the city – and the empty lot where the city recreation department installed a skating rink during the winter.

Now, it’s not like it was the Berlin Wall. Anyone who wanted to get from the south side of the highway to the north side could walk a block west to Wilson Avenue; there were stoplights where Wilson met the highway, and one could cross there. But many of the students from St. Aug’s (as we all called it) lived south of the highway, and a good portion of the students who went to Lincoln lived north of the highway. Add in the attraction of the skating rink during the winter months, and there was a lot of kid traffic that needed to get from one side of the new highway to the other, and the intersection of Wilson and Highway 23 was a busy place that could be risky to those with short legs.

I don’t recall any incident that might have propelled the decision to install the bridge. I was, after all, only about five when the new highway opened and there are limits to even my memory. But it wasn’t long before the walking bridge went up, allowing easier access to both schools and to the skating rink for those on the wrong side of the concrete canyon.

The bridge was not an aesthetic marvel. It was, frankly, ugly. Painted battleship gray, it arched gracelessly over the traffic on four ungainly legs. But it served its purpose, seeing thousands of kids – and many adults, too, of course – safely across the river of traffic flowing about twenty-five feet below. And, as it was right next to Lincoln School, I saw it every school day for years. I rarely used it, but it was part of the background of my life.

I’m not sure how busy the bridge has been in recent years. The two schools are still there, although St. Aug’s was merged with a couple other parochial schools some time back, with the resulting school now called St. Katharine Drexel School. The city quit flooding the nearby vacant lot years ago and tore down the little shack that served as a warming house. But there are still plenty of folks, I imagine, who need to get from one side of the highway to the other and prefer to do so without dealing with the busy intersection a block west.

The new pedestrian bridge that will go up will be more pleasing to the eye, according to accounts in the local paper. Its design will include what the paper called “bridge aesthetics” that will match the nearby bridge across the Mississippi River that opened a few years ago with the ludicrous name of the Granite City Crossing.

Now, I’m not entirely a grump, at least not yet. But there are a few things that make me more curmudgeonly year by year. One of them is the unnecessary dressing up of simple public facilities, whether in name or design. In this case, they’re just bridges. They do not need aesthetic consideration. But in these days, it seems, form follows marketing rather than function. And I suppose that, having gussied up the Granite City Crossing with the aforementioned “bridge aesthetics,” it does make some sort of sense to have the new walking bridge match its appearance. If, however, the authorities name the new walking bridge anything fancier than the Fifth Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, I imagine my grumbles will be heard in Australia.

Even if I never use the new pedestrian bridge, it will be good to have it there, safely channeling school children and the occasional adult over the increasingly busy Highway 23. And that calls for a song about walking. I seriously doubt whether any of those crossing the bridge will be walking in rhythm, but that’s okay. I’m still choosing the Blackbyrds’ “Walking In Rhythm” – this version from the twelve-inch 45 from 1975 – as today’s Saturday Single.


One Response to “Saturday Single No. 289”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    “Granite City Crossing”? Surely that would be a ferry service or shopping mall, right?

    As many times as I’d driven under that old pedestrian bridge, I don’t ever recall consciously studying the structure. That honor would go to the more pedestrian-looking railroad bridge between it and Lincoln Avenue. Where’s the next unused Frank Lloyd Wright bridge design when you need it?

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