Donald Fry: GBC survey shows overwhelming support for pedestrian bridge across Inner Harbor

By Donald C. Fry

Almost 90 percent of respondents to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s seven-day-old online survey said they support the idea of building a pedestrian bridge across Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as part of any plan to convert Rash Field into a world-class waterfront park.

Since the GBC on May 25 unveiled its vision for revitalizing the Inner Harbor, most of the media attention has focused on proposals to build an 18,500-seat arena, an expanded convention center connecting to the arena and a new 500-room hotel.

But the GBC launched an online survey on May 26 to gain feedback on potential concepts for Rash Field it also unveiled on May 25. The concepts, developed by Baltimore architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, present three options for creating a 7-acre park on Rash Field that would incorporate recreation venues, history, trees, outdoor sculpture, and green open space into a park that would rival other similar-sized urban parks in cities such as New York and Seattle.

During the last seven days, more than 600 people responded to the GBC survey, voting for their favorite options and airing their opinions on proposed concepts for a waterfront park.

An overwhelming super-majority of respondents made one thing clear by their responses – they like the idea of a pedestrian bridge from the eastern end of the Rash Field site across the Inner Harbor to Pier 5. Asked if such a bridge would “enhance the Inner Harbor experience,” 89.9 percent of respondents voted yes.

The survey depicts a proposed elevated pedestrian bridge from the area adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant across the harbor to Pier 5 next to the Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse. Inspired by similar bridges in Europe, the pedestrian bridge would open to enable large ships to pass into the Inner Harbor. The bridge would complete a circular 1.5-mile Inner Harbor Walk.

Most survey respondents showed their enthusiasm for the bridge with written comments.

“For 8 years, we’ve joked about taking the bridge to the other side of the harbor. For us, the bridge would literally be a dream come true,” wrote a respondent from Federal Hill.

“It simply makes everything more walkable,” another city resident wrote. “People will head into harbor east and the whole harbor will be more connected.”

“Time to roll out some new postcards of the city, this would be a game-changer,” wrote another.

While most respondents loved the bridge, a few didn’t. “Leave the harbor basin unbridged as it’s been accessible without it,” urged one of 60 respondents who voted “no” on the bridge question.

Another contended that “closing the Inner Harbor visually is a mistake. The connection to the Bay is vital, especially metaphorically.”

Meanwhile, following are results of survey respondents’ votes for their favorite of three proposed design options for the Rash Field park, all of which could incorporate the pedestrian bridge:

• “Harbor Loop” option garnered 60.2 percent of the votes. This option features a large, elongated green with gardens at each corner, a band shell at the eastern end of the green, public art along paths to both the pedestrian bridge across the harbor and across Key Highway to Federal Hill and to the Visionary Arts Museum. Surface parking would be located in front of the Rusty Scupper and adjacent to the Maryland Science Center.

• “Federal Hill Connector” option drew 26.7 percent of votes. This option replaces the garage by the Rusty Scupper with an underground garage covered with an athletic-garden with volleyball, basketball and a children’s garden. A ramp from the raised garden would continue to a pedestrian bridge across Key Highway. An oval green expanse could be used for athletics, informal gatherings and performances.

• “Garden Terrace” option drew 12.3 percent of votes. This option proposes a solar-panel-covered surface parking lot, a large series of sports courts, including volleyball and basketball. It also features a large, rectangular green bordered by two bosques of trees that contain children’s gardens and sculpture courts. A band shell would front the green, which could also accommodate field sports, informal gatherings and performances. The garage in front of the Rusty Scupper is removed and replaced with a landscaped drop off.

Almost all of the survey respondents offered written comments accompanying their votes. Opinions and suggestions touched on a number of topics including the band shell, the mix of sports and places to relax, parking schemes, and many suggestions for other things to consider in developing the park.

For instance, many agreed with the concept of having playground or recreational activities in the park.

The band shell also drew a significant amount of praise. “I like the idea of the performance shell/stage, much like the ‘hatch shell’ in Boston right on the water – very popular for performances,” wrote one survey participant, summing up how many others felt.

A few questioned the need for a band shell, including a respondent who wrote that a band shell at Rash Park would “seem redundant” with the Pier Six pavilion across the harbor and would be “boring” when there are no performances.

While many favored parking as a key element of the park’s design, a number of survey participants made the point that they prefer underground parking to surface parking.

Other respondents made suggestions including putting a people mover on the bridge, having exercise stations, a climbing wall and a skating area at the park, and showing regular outdoor movies on the greens.

These are just a few samples of the deluge of comments and opinions we have receive so far from the survey. The survey remains online and may be accessed on the GBC Web site. Your feedback is highly encouraged. A summary of survey results is also posted on the GBC site.

Developing a Rash Field park is still very much in the conceptual stage, but the GBC remains committed to enabling a project that will substantially enliven the Inner Harbor experience and create a welcoming park that can be enjoyed by city residents as well as visitors.

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