The Stillwater Bridge. 80 years old, two lanes, fed by standard city streets. From May through October, it functions as a lift bridge, meaning it stops traffic entirely every 30 minutes to an hour (depending on day of week and time of day) to elevate the center span and allow boats to pass underneath. Even with these circumstances, 18,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. The result is TRAFFIC. Lots of it. Gridlock at many intersections near the bridge. On secondary streets throughout the city, congestion that adversely affects the quality of life, as any resident or business owner will attest. These are the facts and they are not in dispute.
That is, unless you talk to former Star Tribune editorial writer Steve Berg. He now does an urban design column at MinnPost. His latest effort addresses the plan for a new, high capacity Stillwater bridge. His conclusion, we don't need one.
Among the reasons, there is no traffic problem in Stillwater. How does he come to that conclusion? Perhaps by reviewing comprehensive traffic analysis studies that have been done by various government agencies for years? No. Maybe by interviewing a cross section of long time residents or civic officials? No. At the very least, a systematic series of first hand observations during a random selection of days, times, and locations? No.
Instead, this is how a veteran journalist cracks the case:
A third objection to a mega-bridge is that it's designed to solve a problem (relentless commuter congestion) that doesn't really exist. On Thursday, a normal workday, during the so-called teeth of the morning rush hour, I drove from Somerset, Wis., toward Stillwater. At the top of the bluff, gazing across at one of America's most picturesque towns, I descended to the river, crossed the old Lift Bridge, proceeded through town and on toward St. Paul down Hwy. 36 without delay. Traffic was light to moderate. No more than eight or ten cars stacked up after the bridge to turn left down Main Street in Stillwater, but it wasn't a big deal. I took an alternate street and did just fine, not hitting any serious traffic until Maplewood.
Tune in next week when Steve Berg busts the myth of high crime in Minneapolis by walking around the Nicollet Mall on a Tuesday morning with a $20 bill taped to his forehead and not getting mugged.