If I were to compile a list of my favorite bridges over the Ohio River, the 6th Street bridge here in downtown Huntington would be high on the list. Actually, it already is. I just haven't shared it yet.
Why would the 6th Street bridge (I don't call it by its formal name unless I absolutely have to) rank so high? It doesn't have an unusual design, or a modern one. It's not a cable stay, suspension, suspended arch, network tied arch or a basket handle bridge. It's just a plain steel bridge, using the old principle of allowing a lot of triangles to carry its loads.
What the 6th Street bridge has that a lot of other bridges don't is a good sidewalk. It's wide, it's safe and it's useful.
The 6th Street bridge's sidewalk is a rarity among bridges built in the past 40 to 50 years. The list of bridges without sidewalks is long, especially in this area. Among them are the West 17th Street bridge, the East End bridge, the Silver Memorial Bridge and the new bridges at Portsmouth, Ohio, Maysville, Kentucky, and at Ashland and Ironton.
The Bridge of Honor between Mason, West Virginia, and Pomeroy, Ohio, has a good sidewalk, as does the Hi Carpenter Bridge at Sistersville, West Virginia, and the Taylor Southgate Bridge in Cincinnati. Bridge walkers can enjoy former railroad bridges at Cincinnati and Louisville - the Purple People Bridge and the Big Four Bridge, respectively.
The old bridge at Ashland has a sidewalk, but it's bolted to the side of the bridge, and it takes a little bit of courage to walk across. I've done it a few times to get boat pictures, but I've carefully watched every step. The last time I was up there, I looked over at the new bridge and saw a pedestrian taking his chances with traffic. He was a lot smarter than I was that day.
A good bridge sidewalk is one where people can walk with confidence they are protected from both traffic and from falling over the side. You can get good photos of the city or the countryside if you want, or you can sit down for a few minutes to enjoy the view. You can take a 4-year-old up there with confidence in her safety.
Why some bridges were built without sidewalks, I don't know.
It would seem the East End bridge would have been a prime candidate for a good sidewalk, considering it connects a residential area of Ohio with a commercial area of Huntington. Pedestrians are a common sight on the bridge. I've walked it myself, but I've been careful to time it for times of light traffic.
Some bridges probably don't need sidewalks. The William S. Ritche Bridge at Ravenswood, West Virginia, connects that town with roads in Ohio, but there are no communities on the Ohio side of the river there for several miles. The highway bridge at Cairo, Illinois, would provide a great place for photography, but on the Kentucky side you would have to walk five miles to get to the town of Wickliffe, so there's probably not much demand from nonphotographers for a sidewalk.
Some of the newer bridges do get vehicles across, but they're not so great at helping foot traffic. For decades, traffic engineers have ignored pedestrians and bicyclists when they design roads, streets and bridges. A good bridge needs a good sidewalk.
Jim Ross is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Dispatch and a fan of the Ohio River. His email is jross@HDMediaLLC.com.