Big Dam Bridge

Big Dam Bridge signThe name says it all. This bridge was built as the longest pedestrian- and bicycle-built bridge in the country spanning 4,226 feet across the Arkansas River, connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock. It is part of the Arkansas River Trail.

Big Dam Bridge

On a trip to Arkansas this winter, I discovered this bridge and naturally had to add it to my list of bridges I’ve walked across. The intention of my trip to Arkansas was to visit friends but also to get a break from the cold northern winter by heading south. When I bought my tickets in January, the Little Rock region was having 60 degree weather. A month later when I arrived, the high was 26.

View of Pinnacle Mountain from the Big Dam Bridge

View of Pinnacle Mountain from the Big Dam Bridge

View toward downtown Little Rock showing Rebsaman Park

View toward downtown Little Rock showing Rebsaman Park

By the time we reached the half-way point of the bridge, we were frozen stiff. The farther we got on the bridge the stronger the wind got, probably creating a wind chill factor closer to 20 degrees or less. After admiring the views from the midpoint for a minute, the cold and wind forced us to turn back toward the car.On the Big Dam Bridge

Top 10 Bridge Travel SitesWhile I didn’t make it all the way across, I can still say I’ve been on one of the Top 10 Bridge Travel Sites in the US. Now I just have to find the other 9 sites.

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The World’s Tallest Church Building

Chicago Temple

Everything in Chicago is stretched–even churches.  My eye was caught by this building as I looked to cross a street in Chicago and saw the steeple on top of this skyscraper a couple blocks down.  I was very confused at first, trying to figure out why an office building had a steeple on top of it.  Then I saw the name of the church, First United Methodist Church, carved into the side of the building.  The only other indication on the exterior visible from a distance that suggested the religious use of the interior was the doorway.

Chicago Temple Doorway

This building is also known as the Chicago Temple.  The congregation was founded in 1831 and has been worshiping at this site since 1838.  The current building was built in 1924 and has 23 floors.

One of my souvenirs from Chicago was the book “City of the Century” by Donald L. Miller, which describes the history of Chicago up to the 1893 World’s Fair.  So it doesn’t talk about the building of this church building, but it does describe the building of the Auditorium–Chicago’s multipurpose Opera House.  The book notes “there was no government support of the arts in the United States, so the Auditorium would have to pay for itself” (361).  As a result the theater was enclosed in a office/hotel complex.

It seemed like there might have been similar thinking in the design of this church building–as real estate was expensive downtown, covering the church with office space could help it afford its location.  However, if that is why the building is mixed-use, it was not inspired by the Auditorium, which was built in the late 1880s.  According the history page of the church’s website, there has been a multipurpose church building on this site since 1858.  The first one was a 4-story structure with stores and businesses on the first two floors and the church above.

First Methodist Church

The new building has a two-story sanctuary on the first floor.  Accounts differ as to how many this can hold (500, 1000, 1200 people).  The second floor has another smaller sanctuary.  Floors three and four hold the accessory rooms–classrooms, meeting rooms, etc.  The parson’s house is also located in the building.  The remaining floors are office space.  The crowning jewel, is a small chapel underneath the steeple.

I regret that I did not take the time to stop and investigate whether I could explore the inside of the building.  As I was focused on a specific task when I came upon the building, I did not even think about trying to see inside.  If you are interested, I found a YouTube video that shows what I take to be the first floor sanctuary and the small chapel under the steeple.

Pedestrian Bridges: Chicago

BP Bridge

There are two pedestrian bridges connecting to Millennium Park in Chicago.  The first I encountered was the BP Bridge.  I admired the undulating silver sculpture above as I walked past and was thrilled to discover it was a pedestrian bridge.  My excited was quickly crushed as the bridge was closed to traffic due to construction at the other end.  I realized that I have become quite addicted to bridge-walking.  I was on my way to see The Bean before renting a bike to ride along the lake, when seeing this bridge completely sidetracked me.  I had a desperate urge to walk a bridge.  Fortunately, there was another pedestrian bridge nearby and while it was not nearly as enticing, it had some interesting parts.

BP Bridge The Nichols Bridgeway

The Nichols Bridgeway connects Millennium Park with the Art Institute of Chicago.  Both ends had space-age-like toughs, which I assumed were supposed to be a fancy drainage system.  If their purpose is a drainage system, the upper end by the Institute has failed and been turned into a wishing well.

Lower Trough Upper Trough/Wishing Well

The part I liked best about this bridge was that while it looked like the surface was level, there were ridges or “speed-bumps” every few feet.  I wondered if these were merely artistic or if they had a functional value like reducing the slipperiness of the bridge during icy conditions.

Bumpy Walkway The Nichols Bridgeway

What is a Bridge? Chicago Edition

Stetson Ave, Chicago, from the Hyatt

In July 2012, a few months into the height of my Pittsburgh Bridge-walking, I pondered the definition of a bridge in What is a Bridge? and What is a Bridge? Part II.  Asking what a bridge is may seem a little odd.  After all, it’s one of those things that you know it when you see it.  Yet, in walking bridges, I’ve discovered it really isn’t that simple (see the previous posts for more).  In everyday life, the actual semantics of what a bridge is, is not important–you either cross it or you don’t and move on with your life.  But if you’re trying to walk as many Pittsburgh bridges as you can (as I am) or count the number of bridges a city has to see which has the most of any city in the world (as others have), spelling out a clear definition of a bridge becomes important.  By the end of my previous posts on the definition of a bridge, it seemed like I had covered almost all the difficulties: is a bridge still a bridge if it no longer bridges anything? what’s the difference between a bridge and a ramp? how many is one bridge?….then I went to Chicago and faced a new facet to this problem.

The issue Chicago brings up is best illustrated by the image above.  Is there a bridge in that picture?….No, right?….Try again.  If you walk past the buildings on the right, you get a new perspective on the seemingly solid ground you stand on.

Discovering Ground Level on Stetson Ave Looking Back Toward Hyatt on Stetson

Walking around on this street and the blocks around it, you may notice metal joints like those normally found only in bridges running across the roads and sidewalks.  You may also feel the ground bounce like a bridge as a large truck drives by.

Metal Joints across road and sidewalk on Michigan Ave Metal joint across road on Columbus Drive

Are these roads, then, really bridges?  If not, what are they and where do the bridges end (such as the Michigan Ave bridge across the Chicago River, visible in the back left of the image above-left) and the other begin?

Manhattan Bridge: A Multimodal Link

The Manhattan Bridge

When I was planning my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge while in New York City last December, I noticed there was a bridge nearby called the Manhattan Bridge.  I decided to cross to Brooklyn by the Manhattan Bridge and return to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge.  The Manhattan Bridge ended up being the more interesting of the two bridges.

Gateway to the Manhattan Bridge

I found my way from the subway stop to the Manhattan Bridge by following the way-finding signs for the bike lanes in the Lower East End.   This brought me to the left side of the bridge, where I was temporarily upset to see that pedestrians were not permitted to use the sidewalk on that side of the bridge–it was dedicated to two-way bicycle traffic.  I was concerned that I was not going to be able to walk across this bridge and instead would have to cross the Brooklyn Bridge twice (I try to avoid walking across a bridge just to walk back across it; doing so gives me a sense of pointlessness).  Luckily, there are sidewalks on both sides of this bridge (from walking Pittsburgh bridges I know not to assume that bridges have sidewalks on two sides) and the sidewalk on the right side is dedicated to pedestrians.

I suggest that NYC puts up a sign on the bicycle side to direct pedestrians to the other side, which might help encourage pedestrians to follow the traffic directions set up on this bridge–I watched a pedestrian ignore the bicycle-only signs to cross the bridge on the bike lanes.

The Pedestrian Side

This bridge is the most multimodal bridge I have walked with the bike lanes on one side, pedestrian way on the other, and the subway and roadway in between.  While I approve of this welcoming of alternative transportation methods, I am not sure about placing the pedestrians next to the subway tracks.  This does give a barrier between the pedestrians and the noise of the cars, but instead, the pedestrians have to deal with the noise of the subway, which while it is less constant than the cars, it is a little more startling/disturbing.

The Manhattan Side The Brooklyn Bridge

The neighborhoods the Manhattan Bridge links had some similar physical elements, but are clearly used by different populations.  The populations on both the Manhattan and Brooklyn sides use their rooftops, but for different purposes.  On the Manhattan side, the rooftops were covered in graffiti, while the Brooklyn rooftops had new additions and places to sit.  There were also parks on both sides of the East River.  However, the Manhattan side only had a baseball diamond while the Brooklyn side had a carousel and a pirate-ship playground.

Manhattan side park

Carosel Pirate Ship Playground

What intrigues me most about the Manhattan Bridge is that I had never seen or heard of it before and yet it is the bridge shown in the background (multiple times) in the Doctor Who episode “The Angels Take Manhattan.”  Based on my walk on the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, it looks like these shots were taken on the Brooklyn side of the river, in which case it seems like it possible to get the Brooklyn Bridge in the background instead as these two are close together on that side.  To me the images of the Brooklyn Bridge say New York, while (at least before I walked it) images of the Manhattan Bridge just say a place with a bridge and hence water.  I wonder if the Manhattan Bridge is better known in the UK than in my circle?

View like that used in Doctor Who

Caerphilly, Castles and Cheese

Caerphilly Castle

When I arrived in the UK last spring, I realized I had one major flaw in my trip: I hadn’t planned to visit any castles.  Cardiff has a castle in the center of town and my hotel was right across the street from it.  However, I visited this castle on my last trip and remembered much of it: the Roman wall in the basement, the ornate room in the clock tower, the nursery painted with scenes from fairy tales, and the view from the keep.  Looking for a new castle to visit, my guidebook recommended Caerphilly.

Caerphilly is a twenty minute train ride north of the center of Cardiff.  It is a small town and features a castle begun in 1268.  In addition, the guidebook noted that the town is noted for Caerphilly Cheese, a mild relative of cheddar cheese.  As I love cheese, especially cheddar, Caerphilly was an appealing destination to satiate my interest in castles and cheese.

So one morning, I went down to the Central Cardiff station, purchased an open, round-trip ticket to Caerphilly for just a few pounds and enjoyed the short train ride through the Welsh country-side.  Cardiff is very flat, but Caerphilly and the surrounding area are quite hilly.  The castle wasn’t visible from the train station, so I started walking in what seemed the most promising direction: downhill on the main commercial street.  After a short walk, the road made a bend and the shops stopped on one side, leaving a wide view over a green park to the castle and the valley and hills beyond.

Views from the Castle's Keep Views from the Castle's Keep

Views from the Castle's Keep

A Welshman once told me that the only real castles are those in ruins.  Ones like Cardiff Castle that have been fixed-up, renovated, or refurbished in any way are not real.  I thought that he would have approved of Caerphilly Castle.

When I finished exploring every corner of the castle, I returned to the town looking for cheese and lunch.  There were no signs of Caerphilly Cheese anywhere.  There were lots of tourist-y areas and signs directing the way to tourist-like attractions, but none mentioned cheese.  Wikipedia claims that there is a cheese sculpture somewhere in town, but I didn’t see it.  I ended up choosing a quaint little diner (of the early 20th century style, not the 1950s/60s style we think of in the US) as the place to eat my lunch in the hopes that perhaps they used Caerphilly Cheese on their sandwiches, but they did not.

Feeling let down in my hunt for cheese, I returned to Cardiff shortly after my lunch.  Caerphilly’s castle was well worth the trip, but I was beginning to believe that Caerphilly Cheese was a myth.

….

Seven months later, my family and I were visiting New York City for Christmas.  On our last day, we made the requisite visit to Zabar’s.  I had been particularly looking forward to this stop on our trip as the last time I was in Zabar’s I was a kid who knew that there was something special about the shop, but didn’t understand why as I thought the height of culinary perfection was Kraft Mac’N’Cheese.

The first thing that caught my eye on entering Zabar’s was the cheese display.  I quickly went over and scanned the names of all the various cheeses, looking for the exotic one that I was going to take home to try.  Most had names that sounded familiar.  On my second look through, my heart stopped.  There on the shelf right in front of me was Caerphilly Cheese!!

I was shocked.  I had gone to Caerphilly to get their cheese and been disappointed.  Now, months later on the other side of the ocean, in a small store in NYC, I’d found it.  Needless to say, I purchased a brick.  It was a nice cheese, almost like a cross between a mozzarella and a mild cheddar: smooth, almost creamy, with a slight hint of the cheddar kick.

Erie Churches

Erie has a variety of attractive church buildings.  As I walked around admiring them, I was surprised to see that they were all still used as churches.  I did not find a single adaptively reused church building.  Given Erie’s location, relatively close to Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, I assumed it had similar significant population loss creating a need to either abandon, demolish or adapt some church buildings.  It turns out, that at least on the county level, this assumption was false.  Since 1900, the population of Erie County has grown every decade, except from 1980 to 1990 when there was a slight (1.5%) population loss, from 98,509 to 280,843 (2000’s population).  Allegheny County (Pittsburgh’s county), on the other hand saw growth from 775,058 in 1900 to 1,628,587 in 1960 after which the population has declined steadily to 1,223,348 in 2010.

I could not find statistics for the population change of the city of Erie; it is possible that there was a different trend within the city.  There were signs of abandonment and decay in other buildings and aspects of the town.  Yet the churches are still intact and appear to be thriving.  In fact, one of the larger churches was undergoing a major renovation while I was there.

Whatever the reason for the churches’ continued use, I enjoyed my treasure hunt chasing down as many steeples as I could in two hours:

Unknown

St. Patrick's Church 1903

Russian Old Believers Church of the Holy Trinity 1984

Russian Orthodox Church of the Nativity of Christ (Old Rite) 1987

Unknown

St. Peter Cathedral 1872

Cathedral School

St. Paul's United Church of Christ

Unknown

Methodist Church

First United Presbyterian Church of the Covenant 1929