For years, while driving by that lopped-off end of the Big Four Bridge, 53 feet off the ground, it was hard to imagine how that rusting “bridge to nowhere” could become a recreational treasure.
Yet “good things come to those who wait, and wait, and wait,” David Karem, president of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., said when the completed pedestrian walkway across the Ohio River finally opened in May 2014.
The $41 million project was part of the 13-acre Phase III of Louisville’s waterfront redevelopment plan. Though the half-mile circular ramp to the bridge on the Louisville side opened in February 2014, there was no way down on the Indiana side until more than a year later.
Since then, more than 1 million people have hoofed it from one state to another across the bridge.
Now, like Cincinnati’s “Purple People Bridge,” which allows people to park in the northern Kentucky side and walk to games at its riverfront stadiums, Louisville’s Big Four offers a similar function.
To many people though, walking the bridge is the destination itself. On warm summer evenings, it can be packed with gawkers at the boats along the river and the changing colors as the sun dips from the sky.
“It’s very egalitarian,” says Joan Ross, who lives at the RiverPark Place apartments. “You see old people, you see teenagers, you kind of see everybody. You can walk there and watch the sun set.”
Going to dinner across the bridge – the half-mile span has a quarter-mile ramp on each end, making crossing the bridge a two-mile walk by itself – involves about 8,000 steps on her Fitbit step counter. And it’s right in their back yard.
They like to take their bikes across and connect up with the Ohio River Greenway on the Indiana side.
“That’s one of the great things about it,” says Joan’s husband, Ralph. “You don’t have to put your bikes on the car to go there, then afterward put the bikes back on the car.”
The bridge has been a boon to existing businesses on the Jeffersonville side, such as Ann’s by the River and Schimpff’s Confectionery, but also bring in new ones such as Red Yeti Brewing Co. and Flat 12 Bierwerks. Jeff’s $3 million marina project, expected to be completed by next October, could bring in more day-trippers.
Though the bridge has been a boon to local businesses, Jeffersonville has been dealing with issues of its own since the bridge opened, including concerns about pedestrian safety, accessibility for residents and businesses and a perceived lack of parking.
With Tumbleweed closed on the Lousiville side and the restaurant planned at RiverPark Place yet to be built, there are fewer dining options for foot traffic coming from Indiana.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that [positive effect] on this side of the river because of the Bridges Project effectively cutting Nulu off from Waterfront Park and the walking traffic that the bridge has generated,” says Rick Murphy, vice president of the Nulu Business Association, the East Market Street business district.
The association hopes that will change with completion of the Bridges Project, which should coincide with the completion of the Nulu streetscape improvement project.
“In anticipation of that, we have discussed ways to encourage people to include Nulu in visits to Waterfront Park and the Big Four Bridge,” he said.
There have been discussions about possible shuttles operating on weekends and the new bike-share program planned for next year that will place racks at the bridge, in Nulu and downtown.