Lauren R. Stevens: Bridges made for walking
WILLIAMSTOWN - "The Bridges of Berkshire County"-- given an enterprising Eagle photographer and a local resident of European extraction, there ought to be a movie or at least a novel there. "Pedestrian Bridges of Northern Berkshire County," maybe not so much? Still, worth exploring.
Thom Smith's recent inquiry about foot bridges in north county -- meaning, I think, on trails -- set me thinking about what a relatively rare thing in our times are bridges not for automobiles and how we need more, not all on trails.
Let's start in North Adams. The Holden Street bridge is one of three within three blocks. Holden Street simply stops at River Street. Why not reserve it for non-motorized traffic, suitably gussied up with plantings of the sort at the Bridge of Flowers (itself a pedestrian overpass resurrected from a trolley span in Shelburne Falls), at least on occasions, to see if it couldn't become a social meeting place, literally bridging two sides of the city?
A foot bridge, at bit rickety, crosses over railroad tracks from what was Western Gateway Heritage State Park and is now Greylock Market to the stub, western end of Main Street before it hits Route 2. If widened and otherwise improved, the structure could take the extension of the Ashuwillticook bike path, as well as foot traffic, from the market into the back entrance of MASS MoCA, which runs from the stub under Route 2. Even better if the bike bridge could be de-elevated a bit and pass under the stub directly into MoCA.
Bridges over railroads can be problems, however. A decade or so ago, when PanAm, now PanAm Southern, decided it wanted to raise bridges in order to accommodate double-decker container cars, it closed the Appalachian Trail crossing in Blackinton through hiker season, without warning, and dislodged the angle of repose of the banks of the Cole Avenue bridge in Williamstown.
Good news for those who like to stroll along the side of lovely Dunbar Brook, in Monroe. Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is replacing the bridge made of utility poles Tropical Storm Irene washed out with a new, fiberglass bridge, similar to the one at Polly's Crossing, over South River in Conway. This type of bridge comes in sections light enough (90 pounds maximum) to be carried by human beings, so they are excellent for remote sites difficult to access with machinery.
The bike path heading to Williamstown will need to bridge the Green River near its junction with the Hoosic, more of a span than it might seem due to the low-lying land on either side. While this site, unlike the one on Dunbar Brook, could be accessed by machinery, it seems another opportunity for a fiberglass bridge, lightweight and relatively easy to install.
Such a bridge would not only benefit cyclists; it would also provide pedestrian access between two sides of a linear park honeycombed with trails, and to the town's tennis court and the recreational facilities to be created at the former Spruces Mobile Home Park. It could, as well, provide a route for shoppers from Cole Avenue who want to reach stores on Route 2, and for Colonial Village residents headed to the skateboard park and Little League field. Not to mention it would be a boon to residents of whatever housing the town's Affordable Housing Committee creates at the former PhoTech.
Bridges are a way across obstacles that divide us, perhaps pedestrian bridges even more than ones for automobiles. At least, that's the way it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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