I travel the Mayo Bridge at least twice per day as I leave and enter downtown Richmond on my daily commute. My wife and I also bike and walk the Mayo Bridge on weekends as it provides one of our favorite experiences with the James River given how close to the water it is. After studying it for nearly 15 years, I can confidently say we need to completely reconsider The Mayo Bridge and the purpose it serves.
Currently the bridge is a narrow 4 lane high speed, heavy traffic thoroughfare for getting in and out of downtown. The uncomfortably small sidewalks on either side of the bridge are much too close to the high speed bus, truck, and automobile traffic that rambles by on the pothole littered and undulating road. In short, crossing the bridge is nothing short of terrifying for pedestrians.
Bicyclists don’t have it any better. Cyclists traversing the bridge in one of the traffic lanes, or who use the sidewalk instead for fear of being run down, are risking their lives. Crossing the bridge on a bike is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette.
It is important to understand that when the current version of The Mayo Bridge was constructed in 1911 it was modeled off the Pont Neuf bridge over the River Seine in Paris, France. It was designed to accommodate a streetcar, pedestrians, horse carriages, and Henry Ford’s Model Ts. The bridge was never intended to accommodate tractor trailers, huge quantities of heavy buses, dump trucks, heavy equipment, and an enormous volume of cars and pickup trucks crossing it each day. In other words, The Mayo Bridge is more of a dainty 6 ounce tea cup than a gigantic 64 ounce plastic big gulp container found at your local 7-11. However, we are forcing that dainty tea cup to do the work of a Big Gulp. And it just isn’t working out so well for any of us.
Ironically, the Manchester Bridge just to the West at 9th Street is six lanes in total, two bike lanes, and a center walkway, but receives only a fraction of the traffic of that of The Mayo Bridge. It seems like this is an opportunity to divert some of the traffic away from The Mayo Bridge and onto the Manchester Bridge given it is so underutilized. In other words, put the volume in the Big Gulp container-the Manchester Bridge.
It would seem that if the Mayo Bridge was reduced to 2 lanes of traffic, one in and one out of the city, a dedicated bike lane was created on the Eastern edge, and a bi-directional streetcar lane was put back on the Western Edge, the bridge would function much better. The Streetcar could travel both north and south using the dedicated lane and creating hip, attractive public transportation for the mushrooming Manchester population as well as downtown. The streetcar could be used by commuters, residents, and tourists alike. The bike lane would create safe passage for cyclists who wouldn’t need to compete with the cars, trucks, and tractor trailers. And the sidewalks would be right next to the bike lane on the Eastern side and the dedicated streetcar lane on the Western side creating a buffer between the high speed automobile traffic and pedestrians.
Money, Money, Money
Yeah, I know what you are thinking-that’s all well and good, but how are you going to pay for it? Well, the City was required to build the bridge as part of Manchester’s consolidation with Richmond in 1910. Since then the Mayo Bridge has been bastardized into its current form and use, and in no way is it working for all involved. And frankly, Manchester residents and businesses have been paying taxes for 100+ years since consolidation and have seen no return of those tax dollars toward infrastructure in Manchester. Rather, all the tax dollars have been leached off and spent in other sections of the City. Yes, we all want schools, safety, and all those other basics, but we also want safe, functioning infrastructure.
City Hall, Manchester is calling. We want our money back, and we won’t take no for an answer. Fix The Mayo Bridge!