The Big 4 Bridge will be completed in a year or two, if we can find $12m for the Indiana ramp. Bicyclists and walkers will then be able to cross the Ohio River on a breathtaking and car-free bridge. I am happy to support the completion of this bridge via the the award of a Tiger 2 grant for four reasons:
Economic Competitiveness hinges as much on weathering adversity as on seizing opportunities. The Big 4 Bridge gives a social safety net to citizens who may be priced out of driving. With a quality human-powered transportation link over the Ohio, the market will be able to place more workers with more jobs more efficiently, and the workers will have more take-home wages because they're not spending all their money on maintaining a car - a household expense that the AAA estimates at $8000 a year. The social safety net that this bridge builds will mitigate this community's dependence on oil, particularly during oil price spikes. In this way, the Big 4 increases the economic competitiveness of the region and the nation.
Consider Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's definition of livability: "If you don't want an automobile, you don't have to have one." Nothing helps you achieve this goal as a resident of Jeffersonville like having Louisville's 100-square-block urban core suddenly appear in your local walkable area.
On the flip side, by ensuring that active Louisvillians can reach Jeffersonville, we'll see a boost to classic, walking-friendly development patterns - the essence of livability.
Lastly, our one existing link between the states, the unsafe, unpleasant, and uncivilized Clark Memorial Bridge, is often closed for repairs or festivals. For example, wheelchair access has been blocked on both sides for months on account of construction. As my household operates without access to motor vehicles, and public transit is only available a few hours of each day, we have felt first-hand the impact of these closings. When they happen, 30% of our metropolitan area is off the map. Getting a second bridge online will provide the redundancy that can make LaHood's definition of livability possible in practice.
The Big 4 is a creative re-use of a worn out old railroad bridge that has sat unused for a generation. By making good use of abandoned infrastructure, Big 4 embodies sustainable principles. Furthermore bicycling and walking are the two most sustainable and flexible forms of personal transportation we have.
The Big Four Bridge will siphon off significant bicycling traffic from the Clark Memorial Bridge, currently the only bridge which allows bicycles. The long vista on the Clark encourages motorist speeding and inattention. In 2007, this proved deadly for George "Chips" Cronin, father and bicycle commuter, who was killed from behind by a zoned-out motorist. "Share the Road" signs, a hi-vis green safety vest, strict adherence to traffic laws, and broad daylight together could not save Chips from the inherently dangerous design of the Clark Memorial Bridge.
The Big 4 Bridge is an infrastructure project with a strong public health component, and public health is the reason why we care about safety in the first place. We're desperately trying to get our under-active population to engage in healthy activities such as bicycling and walking, but these activities are perceived as risky. Louisville was recently ranked the 7th most dangerous city in the country per walking mile travelled (1). The perception of safety arguably saves more lives than actual safety. The perception of unsafety leads to inactivity, which in turn leads to obesity and its related ailments. The health benefits of bicycling far outweigh the safety risks (2, 3), but this is hardly common knowledge. Completing the Big 4 will greatly increase the perception of safety of bicycling in the region, and thus also increase actual bicycling in the region. Thus people will live longer lives - the whole objective of safety.
All of these are compelling reasons why we support the construction of the Big 4 Bridge. This project has been grinding along for two decades, as people have scraped to find funding for the project. Finally, between a Tiger 2 grant and the Kentucky legislature chipping in, we're literally a stone's throw from the ribbon cutting. We applaud the Kentucky Legislature's decision, and wish the Tiger 2 application good luck in closing the $12m gap for the Indiana side of the bridge.
1. Dangerous By Design, Transportation for America, http://t4america.org/resources/dangerousbydesign/, circa 2010