To read related SAND links regarding the Old Northern Avenue Bridge, click here.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 4/3/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

A bridge abridged

THE OLD Northern Avenue Bridge is scheduled to be closed to pedestrians for at least three years. Advocates for public access to the waterfront need to lobby the Menino administration to keep it open as an essential walking link from downtown to the South Boston seaport district. To save money, the city has decided to lock the drawbridge in a permanently opened position so boats can pass freely into Fort Point Channel. This would save $500,000 a year -- the amount needed to pay city workers to open the bridge for boats and close it for pedestrian passage.

Its fate has been in doubt ever since the Evelyn Moakley Bridge opened in 1996 a short distance away. The new bridge took up the role of the old bridge as a conveyer of cars and trucks, and it includes sidewalks.

But the Moakley Bridge is a plain, windswept, vehicle-dominated span. The old bridge, with its intricate interlace of steel beams, is a visually pleasing reminder of the industrial past of the waterfront. And with no vehicles allowed, it is the more enjoyable passage by far between downtown and the Moakley Federal Courthouse on the Fan Pier.

Despite the appeal of the bridge, the city decided to tear it down in 1998. Pressure from judges, developers of the land next to the courthouse, preservationists, artists, and and advocates for the waterfront and for pedestrians forced a change of plans.

City officials are now thinking about retaining the steel skeleton but rebuilding the bridge so boats can pass below a permanent walkway. This is hardly a finished plan, and officials merely say the work would cost a substantial amount and would not begin for three to five years. The bridge is operated by the city's Department of Public Works, which has its hands full fixing highways and bridges elsewhere in the city where the voting population is concentrated. The Northern Avenue Bridge is not one of its priorities.

The South Boston Waterfront, despite current economic difficulties, remains the next great development venue in the city. Public officials often take credit for investing billions of public dollars into the area to enhance its appeal. Much of this new construction is either underground or ugly. Unlike the old bridge, little of the new construction exudes historic character or walkability, two of the great strengths of downtown Boston.

All the people who helped saved the bridge five years ago need to rally to the cause one more time. The bridge won't be locked into a permanent position for a couple of weeks. There is still time for an early spring walk across and a quick stroll up to City Hall to remind the mayor of the importance of maintaining this connection from the old downtown to the next development frontier of Boston.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 4/3/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Your comments as a visitor to the SAND website would be appreciated and forwarded for discussion.