A Lowellian’s View on the University Avenue Bridge

Corey Sciuto is a denizen of the downtown – an urban dweller – a smart, young and tuned-in observer of the Lowell scene. His wonderful and powerful photographs of downtown and Lowell’s neighborhoods brought him to my radar screen.  He and I now serve together on the Lowell Historical Society board where he has helped bring a venerable organization that has a mission of preservation into the world of the new technology. Just days ago under Corey’s tutalege , the Society updated its website and launched a blog – check it out here.

Cory has his own blog where he marks his personal views and observations of that Lowell scene that is so much a part of his life and his family history. A recent post on the University Avenue Bridge seem to me to be timely – given the current demolition actvities – as well as interesting and thoughtful. Here’s a link – what do you think?

6 Responses to A Lowellian’s View on the University Avenue Bridge

  1. Joe S says:

    There is a riverwalk along the Northern Canal, which has an entry (maybe closed) at the O’Donnel bridge. However, I don’t know where its eastern terminus is. But if it traverses under the new bridge, it would be a shame if the two were not linked. These riverwalks have to become more significantly used ways, and if they have the right links, attractions and safety, they would be an important part of the network of non-auto travel in the city.

  2. George DeLuca says:

    I did read Corey’s blog last week. I have no horse in this race. So, to be fair to other points of view, there’s a plea from the Kerouac group at http://www.cometolowell.com/pdfs/Save-the-Bridge_statement_9-27-10.pdf . And there are several posts in this blog that are searchable (search Textile Memorial Bridge).

    I suggest that anyone who’s interested one way or another brush up on the issues. I’m form follows function, so pretty views aren’t on my priority list when it comes to bridges. In fact, views fall far below functionality and convenience as a means of transport or transit. But that’s just the “sense of sustainability” in me.

    My understanding of the current status is as follows:
    The bridge has historical significance, and Kerouac cultural relevance, its a veteran’s memorial, etc. etc.

    But all of the above being said, the last known status was that Chancellor Meehan vowed to save the bridge as a pedestrian access to connect the North Campus with the East Campus, Wannalancit Mills, the new dorms that are planned (400 beds), etc.. If you cross the bridge now, the one available walkway is very narrow and often crowded with students, teachers and your average pedestrian.

    Without getting into the logistical advantages of saving the bridge to save “a billion steps” and reduce the chances of pedestrian bottlenecking, the bottom line remains that its fate hinges on the final decision of the Chancellor based on his study of the situation. If I’m a UML student, professor or worker; especially those living or working on the East Campus side; I’d certainly want the bridge to remain.

    One last thing, if and when the Trolley is extended to the bridge, the possibility still exists that it will be able to cross over the middle of the bridge (as it once did), perhaps dropping students and professors off in front of Cumnock Hall; or transporting them to the East Campus then on to Tsongas, Downtown and ICC.

    My preference is to complete the feasibility study, weigh the advantages vs. disadvantages, and make a decision. The issue is in good hands with Chancellor Meehan and I’m sure he’s doing his due diligence.

  3. Corey says:

    Joe – the eastern terminus is just beyond University Ave, right underneath the bridge that carries Pawtucket St over the Northern Canal. The issue with that walkway is that it can only be opened when the flow in the canal is below a certain rate. It’s also largely granite, which makes it very slippery when it’s raining. The other issue, according to a ranger I asked and I see her point, is that the walkway, having only one way on, one way off, and no visibility to the city along most of its length, is a public safety disaster waiting to happen. If we can mitigate these issues, it’s a wonderful walk (I’ve done it quite a few times). It would be neat to see it tied into the new bridge.

    George – good point that the old bridge is closer to East Campus than the new bridge will be. The distance between the two points is 200 someodd feet it looks, and the angle of the new bridge means it will be longer than the current one – bringing the total extra walking close to 300 feet – or an extra football field of walking. I guess the other big question that people brought up on my blog is, the new bridge would have to be planned out to be quite functional to serve all purposes well. Replicating the University Ave bridge with its narrow single sidewalk and no space for other forms of transit and then tearing down the old one would be a big mistake. I’ll be interested in seeing what the feasibility study comes up with.

  4. DickH says:

    When I was on the Lowell Historic Board back in the early 1990s, I believe we reviewed plans for the Northern Canal walkway. The problem as I understood it back then, we the hydroelectric plant that’s just on the other side of the University Ave bridge was designed to immediately shut off the flow of water into the plant if any debris was detected, to protect the turbines I assume.

    The problem is that the gates at the entrance of the Northern Canal at the School Street bridge don’t close as quickly and so water continues to rush into the canal with no where to go but up. That would cause the water to overflow the canal dike and potentially wash anyone unfortunate enough to be there at the time into the river.

    As an aside, at about the same time a portion of the Northern Canal wall (that separates the canal from the river) collapsed. Engineers tried to reconstruct it but the water from the canal kept infiltrating through the dike wall and back into the river. No one could come up with a design to prevent this leakage so the work was stymied. Then, someone at the National Park found the original plans for the canal wall (by James B. Francis, I think). The wall was designed to leak water like that as a kind of pressure-release mechanism.

    Often I think we under appreciate the engineering skill of those from 19th century Lowell

  5. Bob Forrant says:

    Bridge should not be torn down and the University would be nuts to allow that to happen. it can become an open-air wi-fi, food court area for students and city residents for 8 months out of the year with spectacular views of what made Lowell, Lowell – the river. And, it can be a real safe walk and bike way for students coming to campus from all of the housing on the opposite side of the river. In addition, with the old bridge no longer having vehicles a cool walkway like the ones over Storrow Drive in Boston could be built so we don’t have a student tragedy to tisk, tisk about as someone gets killed crossing the Boulevard.

    UML is buying everything else in the bridge neighborhood, why not the bridge too??

    We could name it the ‘Climbing the Stairway to Nano-Heaven Bridge’!

  6. Corey says:

    If something was built on it, that might make me feel a little differently…depending on what it would cost (and who would pay…) to shore up that bridge to handle that sort of weight for another 20 years. Has anybody talked numbers yet? The old, is it, Northern Avenue Bridge in Boston comes to mind. If you did that, that is, made the roadway an open pedestrian area, I’d really hope we’d keep the bikes in bike lanes on the new bridge ;-)

    I’m with you 100% that an overpass or an underpass at the VFW has been sorely needed for a long time.