Bridging the Gap

Construction began recently on the Symphony Park Pedestrian Bridge. The project will take eight months to complete, and as a crucial step toward the city’s vision of linking “old” downtown with the development’s 61 acres of former Union Pacific land, it figures to be worth the wait.

The 177-foot-long bridge will run from the 500 S. Main St. parking garage, which serves City Hall, to a Smith Center parking lot. While the garage-to-lot connection seems to scream, “It’s all about the cars,” the real value is that pedestrians will finally have a safely walkable connection between two adjacent sectors of downtown that have been kept at an artificial distance by the Union Pacific tracks.

The bridge—budgeted at $4.5 million, most of it from federal grants—will rise 30 feet above the tracks. It will eliminate the absurd need to drive to get to a place that’s less than a football field away. It will also reduce congestion for the events at the performing arts center. Right now, the Symphony Park bridge is the only one planned, but the city would be wise to consider one to its south, linking the Bonneville Transit Center to different parts of downtown.

This first bridge could fuel demand for more connectivity downtown. The project is not only a good example of the area’s maturation; it’s also good business: A more walkable downtown is likely to draw more locals and tourists who are still downtown-averse after the area’s decades of (often well-deserved) bad press.

In the end, the economic and social benefits of the bridge come back to that centerpiece of urban success: safety. Walkability adds to both the perception and reality of safety by adding more “eyes on the street.” It’s the starting point of a virtuous cycle that ends with a more enjoyable, more prosperous downtown.