Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Without The Sixth Street Bridge, There'd Be No Harley-Davidson Museum, And More

New Urbanism and Old Urbanism 101, today's lesson:

Harley-Davidson's 105th anniversary motorcycle ride rolls into Milwaukee at the end of the month, and the new company museum at 6th and Canal Streets in the Menomonee Valley in the shadow of the iconic Sixth Street Bridge will be a major attraction.

It'll be easy for bikers and other visitors to get there, but the museum site could have ended up someplace much less cool.

For most of the 20th century, there was a flat concrete span across the Valley connecting downtown with the near south side.

In the 1990's, the state Department of Transportation wanted to rebuild the span with a similar structure that would move motorists over the Valley, period.

Former Mayor John Norquist fought the state over the design. He wanted a completely different bridge that would let traffic dip into the Valley.

He knew that new intersection would trigger development and that an old-fashioned, one-dimensional span would continue to block and devalue the Valley below.

And he wanted a structure that also accommodated people on foot and bicycles.

It's a long story, but Norquist prevailed, and the new bridge has won awards for its striking appearance.

It also set off development in the newly, more-accessible Valley, and gave Harley-Davidson the option to locate its museum there.

The struggle with the state and the eventual happy outcome proved that cities are more than land to be spanned.

Get yourself onto the streets where there is commerce and culture. State road-planning shouldn't obstruct that essential definition of what a city is all about.

And public structures can be functional and beautiful. There needn't be a contradiction there.

The key to the new bridge design was its multi-purpose connection to the city's street grid.

Now you can get into the Valley, not merely over it. You can arrive at the museum from the bridge at street level, or go the other way to the west on a widened Canal St. to the businesses in the Valley, including the Potawatomi Casino and Miller Park, or to the Henry Aaron State Trail.

(Canal Street is still the quickest and most pleasant route to Miller Park from several directions: Don't tell Cubs fans, who still inch along I-94 to Miller Park's lots.)

When the old regional postal service complex next to the glitzy post-Amtrak, Intermodal transit station is demolished (yet another facility that Ald. Bob Bauman, and Mayors Norquist and Tom Barrett all forced the state to accept instead of an uninspired box), the value of whatever is built there - - probably a mixed housing-and-retail complex - - will be greatly enhanced by the museum and the rest 0f the energized, greened-up Menomonee Valley.

But it all began with the bridge, and Norquist's insistence that it connect to the Valley.

1 comment:

James Rowen said...

A friend sends this comment to me:

It would be nice if/when they finally tear down the post office that they add a pedestrian bridge that connects to the Harley-Davidson Museum, as it's kind of hard to walk to from downtown... Not bad on a bike on 6th, but a pedestrian bridge would really be nice.