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Orlando Sentinel: Maitland pedestrian bridge over I-4 – Icon or bridge to nowhere?

px00049-9-jpg-20150628MAITLAND — The planned pedestrian bridge that will span Interstate 4 is supposed to be one of the iconic features of the $2.3 billion rebuild of the highway.

But how will bikers and walkers get to it and will it, in the words of Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald, end up being a bridge to nowhere?

At nearly 700 feet long and 12 feet wide, the bridge will link Wymore Road and Lake Destiny Drive — both of which can be so busy with cars and trucks that people on foot or pedaling typically avoid using them.

And heavily traveled Maitland Boulevard will run just to the east of the curved bridge with an 80-foot-tall arch that is set to be made of steel and concrete and held in place by steel cables 1 1/4 inches thick.

“A fabulous thing,” is how McDonald described the bridge.

But, he added, “They’ve giving us a Lamborghini here; please give us some gas.”

In short, he said, he is worried people will be discouraged from using the bridge because they would be surrounded by cars and trucks often moving at high speeds.

“The pedestrian/bike overpass could/should be an incredible asset for our city,” he said, “but if we don’t have functional/safe/efficient access both onto and off of the overpass, then it, effectively, becomes a ‘bridge to nowhere.'”

McDonald and others think wide, paved paths reserved only for bikers and walkers should be installed along Wymore and Lake Destiny, but there are no plans in place for such improvements right now.

State officials said the private team — SGL Constructors — working on the $2.6 million bridge and I-4 intend to devise a way to encourage people to use the bridge.
“The designers are working on the design and will be meeting with the city in the next few months,” Jessica Keane of the Florida Department of Transportation wrote in an email.

That’s good news to McDonald. “I’m sure that the connectivity required is something that FDOT will be sensitive to,” he said. “But the time for that planning is right now.”

Keane said no date has been set for construction to start on the bridge, although an SGL official previously speculated it could begin in 2017 and take a year to complete. It is so complex it will be built in nine phases.

Also as part of the construction work, Maitland Boulevard will be elevated all the way to Lake Destiny Road and act as a bridge to near Keller Road. Traffic lights now in place will disappear, making the road even more inhospitable to cyclists and walkers.

Amanda Day, project director of Bike/Walk Central Florida, called the new bridge “a promising start,” but agrees with McDonald that sidewalks or bike paths need to be included in the project.

“The question remains are the streets leading up to this bridge safe enough for an 8- or 80-year-old?” she asked.

Mighk Wilson, a smart growth planner with MetroPlan Orlando, is not so concerned.

Lake Destiny Drive, he said, already has bike lanes on either side of the road and a smattering of sidewalks. Wymore Road, he said, could go without improvements because people would only be on it for a few hundred yards.

The bridge, he said, probably would be used largely by bikers because the length of the trip — likely 1.5 miles or more to get over the highway and to a neighborhood or office complex — would be too long for most walkers.

He supports the bridge because it takes a huge obstacle — I-4 — out of play for bikers and walkers.

“It makes connectivity happen. That’s so important,” said Wilson, who advocates for pedestrians and cyclists at MetroPlan, which sets transportation policy in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

Dan Tracy

dltracy@tribune.com or 407-420-5444.

Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, June 28, 2015

Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel

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