Highline the Bridge

at 11:35 PM

Last December, my wife and I walked the New York Highline, a 1.5 mile elevated park and public space in lower Manhattan.  The Highline was converted from an abandoned elevated rail line. It was exhilarating to see a dilapidated structure that had been repurposed as a vibrant public park. We were taken by the incredible views of lower Manhattan and the Hudson River and the number of New Yorkers and tourists who were enjoying the art installations, the open air cafes and the gardens.

This inspired transformation is the culmination of a public-private partnership. The right-of-way was donated by the CSX railroad. The improvements were financed by a grant of $150 million from the City of New York. It is now being maintained by Friends of the Highline, a non-profit organization.

We have the same opportunity here in the Bay Area to save an iconic historic structure and transform it to a vibrant elevated park and public space. Taking a cue from the Highline, we could use the abandoned eastern span of the Bay Bridge as a grand elevated walkway, with gardens and displays of sculpture and other arts.

In 2009, an extensive study to save the bridge was submitted to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. A Cal Trans spokesman called this a "pipe dream" and stated that "we won't leave it up for the same reason we are taking it down. That is there is a real chance this bridge segment won't stand up in a quake and the cost to maintain it is prohibitive."

A structural engineer told me that once vehicle traffic is removed from the bridge, seismic safety should no longer be an issue while the ongoing maintenance is a serious unknown that would require extensive study.

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A grassroots effort started the process in New York of preserving the Highline with support from business. In the Bay Area, it would take a similar effort to accomplish a "Save the Bridge" movement. The Bay Area Council, with its reservoir of talented business leaders, could be the catalyst for such an ambitious project.

This is a unique moment in time. Before we sacrifice the old bridge to the wrecking ball, we should seriously consider repurposing this structure into a magnificent venue as a gift to the citizens of the Bay Area.

With a Perspective, I'm Joe Epstein.

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Joe Epstein is a past president of the Commonwealth Club of Californnia and former steel company executive.

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