Friday, August 3, 2007

August 1, 2007, Minneapolis

As July melts into August, despite the incredible heat, most Minnesotans are keen to the fact that this is the beginning of the end of summer, and winter is just around the corner. Locally we have been preoccupied a number of things that range from important to totally inane: a statewide drought threatens most of Minnesota's crops, the biggest star the Minnesota Timberwolves has seen and ever will be seen has been traded to Boston, the Twins are winning only just enough to keep possible playoff hopes alive, and the front page story in the Star Tribune about feral cats in St Paul. All this changed on Wednesday night, when one of the most freakish occurrences took place in our back yard: the 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi.

It is a hard thing to wrap your head around. It's not a natural occurrence or so called act of God. It is not a purposeful act or a so called act of terrorism. And, although it is hard not to have someone to blame, it is not in most probability an error in gross negligence. No doubt, mistakes were made somewhere at some time and maybe those mistakes just piled up and the bridge simply had one too many heavy loads. In the end, it is just one of those things that happens when we live in a world with man made structures. That being said, not only was it a bridge, but it was a freeway bridge. And not only a freeway bridge, but a bridge that spanned a river. I can't help but be amazed at the photos and how it just seems like the middle section dropped down into the Mississippi. Freakish.

It goes without saying that my thoughts are with those who experienced this unbelievable accident, or were injured, or knew someone who was injured, or knew someone who died. There is nothing fare about who was on that bridge and who wasn't at 6:05pm. Everyone who has a car and lives in the Twin Cities area has driven over this bridge. Even if you don't have a car, you have probably ridden across it with someone. In spite of the fact that I live relatively close to the bridge, a rarely used it. I spend most of my commuting on a bike and I rarely have to go far enough south that would enlist using the freeway. Nonetheless, my commute path to work on my bike takes me on a pedestrian footbridge that connects 5th St over 35W, just 100 yards north of the bridge span. As I rode to work on Thursday morning, the dead silence on the footbridge with no rush hour traffic going to and fro was eerie and literally gave me goosebumps. The view from the 10th Avenue bridge has long been my favorite view of downtown Minneapolis, mostly due to the proximity of the 35W bridge. In the foreground you have the freeway with cars streaming back and forth, you have the river below and the dam structure just up river, then there is the old Gold Medal Flour building and now the new Guthrie and the beautiful cityscape behind. It was really beautiful and I always enjoyed riding over the 10th Avenue bridge just to see it.

It is pretty abstract having the top news story in almost every national venue and some international venues being something two miles from your home. Laura Bush was here the other day and Dubya is here this morning. Hopefully some of the insane road blocks will ease after the president has mad his way through. I understand 10th Avenue bridge being closed for very practical reasons, but why block off the Stone Arch Bridge? If the city wants to promote other forms of transportation, they need to open the Stone Arch (which is a pedestrian/bike bridge into downtown.) The clean up and rebuild will no doubt be years in the making. The clean up will have to be thorough and methodical and the rebuild will just be just as thorough and very expensive. I hope they do something nice for the bridge.

I attempted to get a first hand look at the bridge, but everything even remotely near the bridge is blocked off. Photos of the bridge can be found on the NYT here and here. Also as part of the 35W bridge disaster flickr pool here.

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