There are many important subjects to consider after Wednesday's meeting on the reconstruction of the Western Ave and River St bridges. (The presentation from the meeting can be downloaded here). Safe bridges that are accessible and accommodating for transportation and recreation are a must. For this post, I'd like to consider how the bridges look, what people can see from them, and how to make pedestrians safer.
According to the Charles River Master Plan, these bridges were the subject of a 1923 design competition to create bridges that would be "worthy expressions of the best that a cultured community can create." While I appreciate the graceful arches of the bridges when they are viewed from a distance, it is hard to find anything beautiful about the bridges when one is on the bridge.
With this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild and reconsider these bridges, it seems appropriate to rethink both how the bridges look and function. The bridges won't be rebuilt entirely as part of this project, but there will be extensive reconstruction and some portions of the bridges will be completely rebuilt.
One possibility is to add a barrier between the roadway and the sidewalk. This would protect pedestrians by preventing cars in an accident from ending up on the sidewalk. It would also make it possible to use a railing instead of a wall between the sidewalk and the water, as is done on the Mass Ave Bridge a couple miles away. Children who are not tall enough to see over the existing wall would particularly enjoy the view through the railing, especially when watching rowers and other boats below.
In any case, after 87 years I think it is again time to consider what might be "the best that a cultured community can create."