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Resident: New Covington Bridges Should Fit Historic Neighborhoods

While a student in grade school, Chris Meyer would walk from his Eleventh Street home across the Eleventh Street Bridge to Bishop Howard School.

When he got to high school, the walk was the same to Covington Latin School on the other side of the span that stretches above the railroad tracks.

Meyer is very familiar with the bridge that was closed to vehicular traffic in late January after the Kentucky State Transportation Cabinet discovered structural deterioration. A meeting is scheduled Wednesday to discuss the future of that bridge and one four blocks south across Fifteenth Street which has been closed to cars since 2006.

Meyer hopes any new bridge construction reflects the historic character of the nearby neighborhoods.

"I think there is a kind of default construction option toward the lowest cost," Meyer said. "Frequently they use something off the shelf and you wind up with what looks like a highway exit ramp used as a pedestrian bridge and that is not compatible with a historic district."

There were no freeway ramps in the late nineteenth century, Meyer said. That's when most of the homes in the Old Seminary Square neighborhood of Covington were constructed. "I'm trying to identify design elements that are contemporary but still compatible with a historic district."

Using his education in architecture and historic preservation, Meyer put up a website that seeks input from neighbors while highlighting the historic preservation regulations that should apply to any new bridge in that area.

"The bridge will be a gateway into Old Seminary Square from the more commercial, more institutional side of the tracks," Meyer said of the buildings closer to Madison Avenue, such as the Fabulous Furs building, the Golden Tower, Covington Latin, and St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. "These are all major institutions that have their own unique architecture and it's a different feel when you cross the bridge. The new bridge should recognize that and be a good partner in working with the neighborhood."

Meyer, who lives in Wallace Woods now, also uses his expertise in design and preservation as a member of the city's urban design review board. 

"I put up this website as a concerned citizen, not as a member of the review board," he said. "Ultimately though, the bridge should be subject to review by the board just as any other type of construction would be in a historic district."

His interest in historic preservation isn't traced back to his time as a kid in Old Seminary Square (where his family includes father Joe Meyer, Kentucky's Secretary of Education, and Katie Meyer, director of Renaissance Covington at City Hall, and his brother David who helped with the website design) but as a graduate student in California. The industrial and historic feel of the Dogpatch area of San Francisco reminded Meyer of his former home and added to his passion for the study of preservation and architecture.

Meyer prefers to make the Eleventh Street bridge strictly pedestrian. That is one of three options for each bridge. They could be torn down and not replaced, reconstructed as vehicular, or reconstructed as strictly pedestrian.

While most of his study on the issue has focused on Eleventh Street, Meyer contends that the same findings apply to Fifteenth Street as well. 

"Any new bridge over there would also fall into a historic district and the State of Kentucky that will be leading the design should know that Old Seminary Square is not the only historic district," he said. Proposals for Fifteenth Street would have a larger impact on the historic footprint of the city with as many as fourteen properties possibly needing to be torn down.

"It is not good for the neighborhood," Meyer said. "In general, this is a huge problem with the predominance of cars over people, cars over pedestrians, cars over city life. They are going to demolish these buildings and run these people off. I'm not at all a fan of that and I think there are solutions where you can have an overpass and keep the neighborhood and the people."

Meyer said that city streets should be more about city life than city traffic. "These bridges get designed by traffic engineers and their primary concern is how to move the largest number of cars in the shortest amount of time."

Recently, Covington opened a newly constructed bridge on Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Twelfth Street) that crosses the same railroad tracks. 

"It was not a very sensitive integration with the city," Meyer said of the bridge on MLK. "I'm hopeful that they will be able to do something a good more compatible with that on the Eleventh Street Bridge.

As for the loss of vehicle traffic, Meyer contends that the new MLK Bridge can handle detoured drivers. "Twelfth has plenty of room to carry cars at speed across the city," he said. "It used to have only two lanes. There were two lanes on Eleventh. Now you have four lanes on MLK so it more than makes up for vehicle capacity."
"It's easier to drive a block than walk an extra block."
Meyer will present his position to the Old Seminary Square Neighborhood Association at its meeting Tuesday night (7:00 p.m. at the Children's Law Office on Russell Street) and may also speak at Wednesday's meeting hosted by the City and the Commonwealth (6:00 p.m. at the Center for Great Neighborhoods on Russell Street).
See Meyer's Website: OSS Bridge
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Eleventh Street Bridge/RCN file
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