Let’s imagine we had the opportunity to erect a new bridge or rail line now, how would we design elevated infrastructure today to create not only a memorable experience above, but also beneath?
Late last year, I had the honor of serving on a global competition jury, led by architect Judith Wasserman, organized by Margie O’Driscoll and the AIA California Council for the City of Palo Alto Adobe Creek/Highway 101 bicycling and pedestrian bridge.
The winning concept by HNTB, 64North, Bionic Landscape Architecture and artist Ned Kahn presented an iconic arch with dynamic artwork and exceptional amenities, both on the bridge and spaces beneath. This new structure will replace the Lefkowitz Underpass that floods over half the year, and will span over ten lanes of traffic connecting from the city center to the Baylands Nature Preserve and regional Bay Trail system.
Key issues for the new bridge were its expression, constructability, budget, economy of material and light presence on the land, especially within the preserve. Other existing bridges crossing Highway 101 meet regulatory standards and are functional overcrossings, but do not enhance the built environment in anyway.
The selected concept’s arcing path up onto the bridge from the neighborhood separates pedestrians from cyclists, sweeping over Highway 101 below, providing areas to pause and enjoy the views, and descending through the landscape. The design concept integrates a grey water system, bird friendly artwork, seating on the bridge and at the plaza level, bike racks, bike fix-it station, a pollinator green wall, restrooms, water bottle filling station and interpretive signage.
Similarly, when we began our Under the Elevated project, we captured the imaginations of young and old by contemplating potential uses for majestic and sweeping spaces under bridges and highways, or reclaiming noisy, dark, and trash strewn spaces under subway or rail lines.
There’s nearly 700 miles of elevated infrastructure across NYC, and 7,000 miles across the country. Much of this valuable transit network is at least 60 years old or older.
Facing the challenges of aging infrastructure and declining federal and state transportation funding, policy makers and civic leaders have strongly debated how to maintain these systems or find radical alternatives, such as tearing down sections, for example the Central Artery in Boston.
At the same time, these leaders confront how to better serve underserved neighborhoods and to increase the capacity and flow of mass transit. Prohibitive costs and community opposition to Locally Unwanted Land Uses inhibit most efforts to erect new or extend elevated systems.
Furthermore, there’s been even less thought given to the quality and value of the space beneath or alongside this massive network. At Design Trust, we've been exploring how to activate and make these spaces more attractive, healthy and multi-functional, as alternative travel routes for cyclists, artists’ studios, manufacturing space, greenmarkets, areas for recreation, capturing storm water and more.
These connecting spaces greatly affect peoples’ lives and influence the value of the adjacent buildings and commercial corridors.
On the eve of The City of Palo Alto City Council’s vote on this $10 million project, the leadership of its public officials to solve multiple challenges with the new bridge demonstrates exemplary forward thinking.
It will provide an outstanding symbol of the city and a unique destination connecting people to nature’s beauty. The City officials’ – elected, Architectural Review Board, Planning and Transportation Commission, Public Art Commission, and Parks and Recreation Commission – along with the general public’s thoughtful consideration on making a significant investment in this invaluable local and regional resource speaks volumes about their appreciation for their built environment, resilience and healthy lifestyle.
More importantly, their leadership’s deep understanding of how design can elevate not only the quality of this 21st century infrastructure, but also elevate the spirit of its people.
Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilmember Karen Holman enthusiastically expressed the City of Palo Alto's vision for an iconic and innovative bridge that balances engineering, art and beauty.