It was a year ago that number of parties came together for a charette, to discuss what would be best for the Scajaquada Expressway. The result of that coming together is an absolutely fantastic design component that we would be crazy not to implement. I met up today with Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, to discuss this bold vision for the parkscape, where the expressway traverses the S-curves.
Did you know, that for 80 years, the top surface of The Stone Arch Bridge was dedicated to horse and foot traffic. I know that this is hard to imagine, but if our goal is to restore our Olmsted Parks, then this should be a consideration. Someone (the Governor?) could be a real hero here, by enacting this plan, instead of whatever it is that the DOT has in store for us.
The way that this would work is this… Only pedestrians and cyclists would have access to the top of the bridge, which would be a superb connection between the Delaware Park tennis courts and the McMillan Monument at Forest Lawn. This bridge was originally built as an Olmstedian-Vaux bridge similar to one that one might find in Central Park. Cars were never intended to traverse it. It was made for a much more humanized scale. Today the bridge acts as a divider from one side of the park to the other. That was never the intention. Now, we have an opportunity to reconnect the park once again, with this forward thinking plan.
As for Scajaquada auto traffic, it would get diverted down to the S-curves (at grade), where motorists would have the option of continuing on the boulevard, or they could get off at the S-curves. A second land bridge would connect people from the meadow to the lake, while seamlessly connecting The Martin House to the Richardson Olmsted Campus. This is not only doable, it’s essential to this city’s future as a walkable community. People would never encounter traffic, and the ped-bike bridge would become a destination, with park benches, historically accurate lamp standards, etc.
As I mentioned, this proposal, crafted by Olmsted, Riverkeeper and others, has been handed to the DOT. Unfortunately, as we are all aware, with the DOT, it’s their way or the highway. Currently public comments are due by September 22. The plan will be reviewed for 30 days, before being submitted (along with comments) to the Federal Highway Authority. It will then be reviewed, with a decision being made sometime in December. At this point, it does not look like the DOT is in favor of this inspired proposal. Instead it sounds as if they are sticking with the two traffic intersections, because they feel that there are too many cars to handle a plan of this nature. Well, as anyone who understands traffic flow knows, when road diet plans are enacted, cars tend to find other ways around – it’s the basic nature of good, forward thinking planning.
“Ultimately it would be ideal if we could bring the DOT and stakeholders back together to formulate design solutions from an urban planning standpoint for this community, for tourism, and for improved quality of life,” said Crockatt. “[We] will be urging the DOT to consider this opportunity as a win-win for this important corridor.”
This park is on the National Register. It’s an essential part of our urban fabric. It’s been hacked to pieces over the years, and now we’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something great. This is about quality of life. Already there are much fewer accidents on the expressway, with the lower speed limit. Life has continued much in the same way that it has for decades. There’s less noise too. We are seeing the benefits that this one significant change has made. Now, can you imagine if we amplify this urbanist initiative? Let’s hope that the Federal Highway Authority sees the opportunity at hand, and does not simply run with what’s handed to them to expedite the process. The process is already being rammed forward enough – it went from a two year review period to a matter of a few months.
According to Crockatt, this humanizing plan could be enacted via a public-private partnership. “This should be viewed as an opportunity, not a problem,” she said. “It would be embarrassing and tragic for the first urban park system in America, to have this road ripped up, and then to move forward with current plan, which would keep the park divided. What a missed opportunity that would be.”