Take a look at the original layout of Austin — what we now call Downtown Austin, the grand cultural and economic gemstone in the greater Violet Crown — and you will see a street grid that is so thoroughly connected that it makes Frank Sinatra look like a friendless schlub from District 6.
But the intervening century-and-a-half has not been so kind to our great municipal waffle iron. Look at it now and witness so many strange ruptures that break apart once-fully connected streets.
Some fissures can be blamed on nature. Take the strange case of San Antonio Street at W. 7th, for example, an odd diversion necessitated by a fairly steep cliff.
Other fissures are entirely man’s fault — although you’re entirely excused for believing that the hulking Austin Convention Center and its permanent (and possibly growing!) dominion over Neches, W. 2nd, and W. 3rd streets is actually an act of divine terror.
Finally, there are fissures whose blame is shared by both nature and man. While nothing short of a zip-line* could patch San Antonio Street back together and, indeed, only divine terror could address the Convention Center, there are extremely exciting developments happening to stitch back together one of the most unfortunate examples of this third category, and on Thursday we saw one of the more satisfying fruits of those efforts.
Behold! A newly-set pedestrian bridge spanning Shoal Creek at the convergence of W. 4th and Rio Grande streets. After it arrived by truck from Alabama on Wednesday afternoon, Austin Public Works crews spent all day Thursday setting into place the $675,000 glorified gangplank (which shouldn’t be confused with the nearby Butterfly Bridge that will soon reconnect W. 2nd Street across the creek).
The bridge is a key part of the Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail Improvements Project, an ongoing $4.5 million effort to rehab a truly rad pedestrian and bike trail that runs *almost* the full of length of Downtown. Once the project is completed in October 2016, the missing parts of the trail south of W. 5th Street will be in place and you’ll be able to walk, jog, or cycle from Pease Park all the way to the Hike and Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake without having to tangle with car traffic.
On the street level, though, the new pedestrian bridge gives pedestrians and cyclists a new option to cross the creek in area that has seen and is continuing to see some of the most exciting development in town. Opposite of W. 4th and Rio Grande, will rise Austin’s tallest skyscraper, The Independent. Adjacent to that residential tower is the 360 Condominiums, the Green Water redevelopment site, the new Downtown Central Library, and Seaholm — a dense blend of residential, commercial, and cultural destinations.
Naturally, the new pedestrian bridge won’t be shouldering the load all by itself. Helping out is the existing pedestrian bridge over Shoal Creek on W. 3rd Street as well as that aforementioned Butterfly Bridge that will carry cars, pedestrians and cyclists).
Along with the newly created Walter Seaholm Drive and the eventual reconnection of West Avenue to W. Cesar Chavez, one key section of the Downtown grid is slowly reemerging from a badly needed cosmetic update that, as this section of town always does, badly puts the rest of Austin to shame.