A Bridge To Somewhere

The other evening, KMS Partners threw a fundraiser for Food Rescue US.

Food trucks and a band filled the site of the former Save the Children building, on Wilton Road. Next to the real estate firm’s new headquarters, it’s the future site of an architecturally intriguing 12-unit condo complex.

As I sat next to the Saugatuck River — the sun setting, and downtown beckoning just across the way — I thought, “It’s so close. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk there?”

Parker Harding Plaza, from the west bank of the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Dan Woog)

I could have used the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, of course. But the Post Road span is not pedestrian friendly. And it deposits you at the dicey, traffic-filled intersection with Parker Harding Plaza.

Once upon a time, there was discussion of fora pedestrian-only bridge. It was part of David Waldman’s plan to develop that Save the Children site.

Working with Roger Ferris + Partners architects, he wanted to move the house — at that point, a former yarn shop — at Wilton Road/Post Road West — to the Save the Children property. That would provide room for a turning lane at one of the state’s worst intersections.

As part of the plan, Waldman offered $100,000 toward the engineering and design of a pedestrian-only pontoon bridge.

The town rejected the idea. The developer reworked certain aspects of his design. The office portion has now been built. The condos are next.

But the landing area on the Wilton Road side is still available. A bridge could still be built, providing relaxing access from another point between the river’s west bank, and downtown. It could connect to Gorham Island, or perhaps the walkway near Rye Ridge Deli.

The walkway near Rye Ridge Deli could be one end of a pedestrian bridge across the Saugatuck River.

It’s not a novel concept. The Westport Arts Center once proposed a bridge from its then-headquarters on Riverside Avenue, to the library and Levitt Pavilion on the other side.

There are great spots to eat and shop on both sides of the river. But Westporters and visitors tend to think of them as 2 separate places.

A pedestrian bridge between Wilton Road and Parker Harding would probably cost $500,000 to $1 million.

Is the idea worth pursuing? If not, what’s another way to tie the energy and attractions of the quickly growing west bank to the close-but-sometimes-seems-so-far “downtown”?

What do you think? Click “Comments” below. We want your thoughts!

31 responses to “A Bridge To Somewhere

  1. A terrific thought and so great to learn the history, Dan. Not to mention what’s going on now at Save the Children. But what about the kayakers and paddle boarders who love going up to the dam? Pontoon bridges are cheaper to build but don’t allow passage underneath them.

  2. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    Would this bridge be a “Bridge Too Far”

  3. I remember this idea being proposed by Drew Friedman, way back when. He was a very astute, forward-looking Westporter.

  4. Michael Calise

    There is a sidewalk on the State Street Bridge. Its safe, has a full view of both sides of the river, usually has a wonderful flag display flying above and I believe hundreds if not thousands of people use it everyday. Thousands of parades have beautifully moved across it. Many firework displays have been observed from it and on a regular basis people fish from it. Now how romantic is that!

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      I’m with you. Not much need for a footbridge. The one that’s there is for introspection, not traffic. The sidewalks are for what their name implies. Besides, in 12 years all bridges will become foot/bike paths or we will die.

  5. Larry Weisman

    Why not move and repurpose the Cribari Bridge at that location and build a better bridge in Saugatuck?

  6. Great idea!!! It’s so true that the two sides seem so separate that I very seldom cross over to the other side. It would also lessen traffic when the condos are built. Any info on the condo development yet?? Pricy??

  7. Westport owns a lot of infrastructure (buildings, playing fields, roads, docks, sidewalks, etc.) that are increasingly expensive to maintain. We will need to choose between maintaining what we have or dramatically increasing taxes. We already have a great bridge with sidewalks in this area. Why add another?

  8. Talk about beating a dead horse, it has been suggested a few times in support of the west bank development. It was found: The approvals, both state and federal like DEEP and EPA, would be difficult and questionable. The liability and upkeep costs, would be another cost upon a million dollar project. This would be taxpayer funded as only the exploratory costs have been offered to be paid privately. Finally parking is limited and traffic is difficult at best on Wilton Road side and laying some more parking on Parker Harding is a crazy proposition.
    All this make this a “nice thought” project.

  9. Arthur Tauck, Jr. suggested this in 2001 when he was honored by Faces of Achievement. Seemed a good idea then and still does.

  10. Jennifer Johnson

    A dedicated pedestrian bridge at that location is a WONDERFUL idea that has been proposed and dreamed about for years. It should definitely be pursued! It makes absolutely no sense to to kill the idea before really trying. Yes, we would need state approvals, which may be a challenge. There are a variety of funding sources that could be explored – grants, donations, public private partnerships. While it’s nice to have a sidewalk on the Post Road bridge, it’s not the most pleasant walk when you must content with 4 lanes of cars/noise/trucks/traffic. The river is beautiful, so is our downtown. We should take advantage of every opportunity to celebrate them and make even better for our town’s future.

  11. If this ever can be realized, I hope the very ugly gold building in the middle of the River would be demolished and an aesthetically pleasing old fashioned wooden bridge (like the small piece of one that is already there) – not a contemporary monster– would continue across from there. I’ve always missed the white, Victorian house that was a welcome to Westport , it could have been preserved and become a center for something in the Arts .

  12. Robert Mitchell

    While we are at it, how about a pedestrian walkway along the west side of the river from the National Hall historic district to Saugatuck, connecting the fine, but small, parks scattered along Riverside Avenue?

  13. YES!!! will add more access to life to downtown which badly needs it

  14. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    I’m not sure how the town could add more access than what it already has. Since moving away I am constantly reminded that I didn’t know what a parking meter was until after I’d left town and saw how the rest of the world lives. Putting another bridge across the river would only be an invitation to eliminate the sidewalk on the RSC Memorial Bridge. Oh and BTW – it was implied that STC was the original tenant of the building across the river from Harder Parking Plaza. The building was built by and for the Famous Artist Schools of which my late uncle, the illustrator Al Parker was a founding partner. Not too many celebrities in my family so I thought WTF gopher it.

  15. John McCarthy

    Let’s figure out our dying Main Street before we worry about connecting it to the other side of the river.

  16. While my comment is late, I add that I am surprised with pretty much any objections to a lovely wooden pedestrian bridge connecting the existing wooden walkway on the west side of the river to Parker Harding, whether by way of Gorham Island or otherwise. While not as early to the cause as Drew Friedman, I and most with whom I interact believe the concept to be wonderful. Yes, there are issues, the biggest, possibly the only true one, being cost. Most of the objections above have credibility, but are really only part of the process. The words of Chip Stephens, however, disappoint me. I am generally troubled when any elected official dismisses a perfectly good idea that has support within Westport. By the way, Chip and I get along just fine. I like the words of Jennifer Johnson.

    Don Bergmann

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      I fail to see how the quality of life in Westport would be compromised by the status quo or would be enhanced to a worthwhile degree by the imposition of a footbridge which would probably require a pile driver somehow to be positioned in the river which would be an engineering feat in itself. How about a compromise: A zip line and/or a cable car from the hillside on the West Bank to the entrance of the tunnel through to Main St.

      I thought I’d seen it all with the urbanization of Camp Mahackeno and then the $800K latrine complex on south beach.

    • I don’t see how a pedestrian bridge would change the dynamics of things. And every time it has been studied, the conclusion is the same.

      The biggest problem is PH Parking Plaza is not at all conducive to the idea of “wandering” across a bridge or even getting to it. The current wooden observation deck isn’t used much at all, just like the rest of that side of the riverbank, and it is too far north. There just isn’t a lot of reason to cross the river (west to east) at that point. And it would cost several million dollars because it’s not a short span.

      The ultimate would be to turn the PH Parking Plaza into a walking mall, along with Main Street (which is probably too small and narrow to be a successful pedestrian mall by itself), building a parking garage someplace further up Main Street, or on the Imperial Ave. lot. The town would explode with action if that happened, as has every project like it in every city. Daily visits to downtown would triple. People would walk two blocks from parking their car because they’d expect to be there for a longer time. But that change takes a lot of vision and leadership.

      The standard “main street” shopping experience and strip mall store shopping are going the way of the small family farm. Online and (some) big-box shopping is the norm now. But people still want to hang out. – Chris Woods

  17. Jen Meerow Berniker

    YES YES YES a footbridge would be a dream. Our town lacks connective tissue – we have so many great features but it is so hard to safely walk or bike between them. The two sections of downtown are not connected, the RSK bridge is not for pedestrians its for cars. Walking across that bridge with a small child or a stroller or as an adult is not a pleasant or safe experience.

    Our town has a beautiful river but we hardly use the riverfront. Cars rule.
    The other day a friend and I went for a walk down Canal St and when we got to Wilton Rd the side-walk just ended. This happens all the time here, you can’t complete a loop. This is crazy as we were a quarter mile from town. Adding side-walks and bridges doesn’t detract from the character of the town it makes it more livable and revitalizes our downtown.

    I hope this plan will be reconsidered, I think it is worth our tax dollars as it could help increase revenue from businesses and our property values as well, and above all it would enhance our lifestyle.

    I also agree with the commenter who suggested a grand plan to reimagine Parker Harding plaza as a pedestrian mall. There is really nowhere to have a coffee and ‘hangout’ downtown outdoors and watch people go by aside from the limited seating at Aux Delices. That aside, a pedestrian bridge would at least help you get across the river on foot to the side that has some restaurants with outdoor seating.

  18. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    The Saugatuck River is one of our most amazing and beautiful assets. There are different ways in which it is seen and utilized. Around Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island, there is an abundance of interesting bird life which can be observed – and should be preserved. I have enjoyed going out on the walkway (which, by the way, will soon need repairs or replacements) to enjoy the view and bird life. There are fish. Many people enjoy walking on the sidewalks with dogs, children, or a cup of coffee. It contrasts with the busy movement of cars. I feel that it would be important to have consensus or shared objectives if anything new like a walking or biking bridge were to be built. I am all for it, as long as it would not disturb or disrupt the present rhythms of life in this river.

  19. When the much larger RSC Post Road bridge was built, everyone was quite satisfied that it provided safe pedestrian access in both directions. One could land a small, private plane on those generous sidewalks and no one in the bridge’s driving lanes would notice. The bridge is clumsy and grossly out of scale with its surroundings, but that’s mostly because of the flanking pedestrian walkways that are now being characterized as dangerous and inadequate. And what happened to the call to conserve the scenic river viewshed, which is home to a considerable amount of wildlife (including at least one endangered species), by not cluttering it with more man made glop? What happened to the call for Low Impact Development (LID)? The sad truth is that much of downtown Westport has become an ugly, impervious surface heat island (e.g.Elm Street) – almost all of which is in a FEMA rated flood zone. Is this what sustainability means to us?

  20. Jen Meerow Berniker

    Look around at what other cities are doing – a pedestrian bridge does not have to detract from the environment. We are living in a golden age of architecture and design. You can incorporate nature and natural materials into designs to create practical and beautiful new landmarks that don’t disrupt the ecosystem.

    We live in the Tamarac neighborhood and once a year we all venture on a ‘walk to school’ as Saugatuck Elementary. Navigating the broken sidewalk along our route then walking the Post Road and across that bridge with kids is absolutely unpleasant and unsafe. If it were easier to walk or bike to school more kids could enjoy this experience, get exercise and enjoy nature, something which many suburban kids get to do every day, just not in Westport. We are too car dependent and our town is a traffic nightmare every morning and evening at the Post Road intersections, with no relief in sight. Let’s try to think a bit out of the box instead of shooting down potential solutions to update and enhance our environment.

    The areas of Westport that show the most signs of life and seem to always be pleasantly populated are areas where people can directly interact with nature – the beach, the Levitt, people sitting outside at Bar Taco and Saugatuck Sweets/Whelk area, this is where you see life and feel like you are living in a real destination vacation town. And when you want quite and isolation, we have miles of rural roads, hiking trails and secluded neighborhoods to retreat to. But the town part of town should be focused on the gathering and flow of people, which can easily be done while protecting our natural resources and wildlife..

    • Broken sidewalks? It’s a brand new bridge. And people stroll across it all day, every day, without consequence. Before we lost our way and decided we needed to resemble someplace else, we used to think that how things looked mattered to residents and visitors alike. Cutting down street trees, tearing up historic viewsheds, cluttering the environment with ever more climate-destroying infrastructure and muscling aside wildlife simply to indulge our own, selfish whims is the sort of urbanist world view which has helped make downtown Westport a hollow place that looks like any other.

  21. Bargain Under 1 million….Sounds idyllic walkover a bridge for a snack,coffee,movie theatre or throw a fishing line with your kids and do some shopping? Love It.

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