- Denver vsions of walker paradise. (Photo: Courtesy of David Garber)
When Capitol Riverfront ANC commissioner David Garber visited Colorado earlier this month, he was impressed by many transportation sights, from a robust bikeshare program to the manifest reality of one of his greatest passions in the District: a well-designed, impressive pedestrian bridge in Denver. Garber has long been a fan of planning and city design and has advocated for more pedestrian bridges in Washington D.C. Denver has debuted three major pedestrian bridges in recent years, including the $9 million Millennium bridge opened in 2002 (connecting Colorado's Riverside Park and the downtown area of the 18th Street pedestrian mall) as well as the $5 million Highland Bridge in 2006. He tweeted a photo of one of these Denver pedestrian bridges, featured above, on July 7th with the enthusiastic message: absolutely obsessed / must bring to DC. Garber's been trying for years.
"We just don't have that many examples of pedestrian bridges in D.C." Garber told me. "I believe in the power of literally connecting neighborhoods to each other."
Specifically, Garber hopes for a great pedestrian bridge across the Anacostia River and was quick to describe what he felt the benefits might be. He spoke of how there are "such huge psychological boundaries in D.C.," especially concerning the way the historic neighborhood of Anacostia relates to the rest of the District across the river. To add a pedestrian bridge would slow an area's pace, according to Garber, and make it less chaotic. On his blog "And Now, Anacostia," he publicly declared the virtues of pedestrian bridges as long ago as 2008 — and in saying that D.C. needed one, compared it to other global cities like London, Toronto, Redding, and Bilbao that had successfully built great pedestrian bridges, with photos to illustrate each.
What resistance would emerge against this idea, I wondered. Would there be a security concern about linking the different neighborhoods of D.C. with a pedestrian bridge?
Garber answered by emphasizing how much such an imagined pedestrian bridge would mean to the residents of Anacostia and to the economic transformation it could help trigger there. According to him, there's "always resistance to any sort of idea — it's the negative voices that rise to the top." He described the Anacostia Riverfront as one of the District's greatest assets and said a pedestrian bridge would be "a very welcome addition to the neighborhood." These blocks are ones that normally feel very divided from the rest of the city, according to Garber, "not that easy to access unless you're in a car."
A good pedestrian bridge would show these different neighborhood residents that they're really not so far, after all. It could better unify the culture and communication and open up a new world in which there wasn't such a severe sense of psychological disconnect. In Denver, Garber saw the possibility of linking such initially disparate communities. "What got me the most was that the bridges were connecting neighborhoods divided by highways and natural boundaries," he told me.
Washington D.C. has shown "a little bit of receptiveness," Garber said, such as in the Poplar Point redevelopment discussions, but there's still a long way to go and nothing specifically in the works now that he's aware of. Garber praised the other dimensions of the pedestrian bridge — how cool they are, the whimsical flair such an addition would offer. I would emphasize the health benefits as well and the growing culture of people in D.C. who are realizing they no longer need cars to get where they're going, whether that's by biking or walking.
Would you support a pedestrian bridge across the Anacostia River?