The new walkways on the Bridge Square bridge have people talking. A lot of people are asking “why?” and “why now?”
The answer to “why now?” is, like so many things, COVID-19. We have become newly aware of places where we can’t walk and gather safely with 6 feet of distance. The sidewalks on the Fourth Street bridge are, unfortunately, only 5 feet wide. People want to get out, and we need to make sure they can do so safely and comfortably.
The bridge’s sidewalks are really quite dangerous. They don’t have ramps on both ends for wheelchairs, and a fall from the very high curb could do a lot more damage than embarrassment. Many people with even small mobility issues struggle with the high curbs. I have recently seen a woman in an electric wheelchair risk her safety navigating the narrow sidewalk, and a man ask passersby for help getting down off the curb, simply so he could cross the street and get to his truck.
This man’s challenge had nothing to do with people standing on the bridge. He was both a person walking, and then a person driving; or simply, just a guy trying to safely get around Northfield.
Others have experienced similar problems, and shared them with the City Council; the council then came together to address a real problem in the center of Northfield. People like to stop and look at the falls, take wedding or prom pictures, and fish. All these normal activities can make traversing the narrow bridge sidewalks hard or impossible. If the walkways allow more space for people to enjoy our river while letting other people get across the bridge, that’s a benefit, but not the main reason.
Yup, the barriers are ugly. It’s great that so many people care about how our downtown looks. The barriers are temporary while the council develops a better option. I’m glad they are giving the walkways plan a test run. That increases our ability to get the final plan right.
In the meantime, as a family with three small kids told me, the walkways “certainly made moving around that area with a stroller much easier and safer — whether there were other people on the bridge or not.”
I’m looking forward to the more attractive version. Like with so many things this year, the new challenges and rules are making — and allowing — us to reevaluate some things which have long been ignored.
Schroeer is a Northfield citizen.