The 2,904 people who took time to comment on the Arkansas River pedestrian bridge designs weren’t convinced that either of the two finalists, The Gateway Bridge or The Crossing Bridge, provided adequate covering or shaded areas, according to an analysis of the comments conducted by the city of Tulsa.
Many of those same commenters described The Crossing Bridge as “iconic” or a “landmark,” superlatives used much less often to describe The Gateway Bridge.
When it came to the third criteria by which the bridge designs were measured, pedestrian and bicycle friendliness, both The Gateway and The Crossing fared well.
The Gateway Bridge design was submitted by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the New York City-based firm that designed A Gathering Place for Tulsa park. The new pedestrian bridge will connect to A Gathering Place at approximately 29th Street and Riverside Drive
The Crossing was submitted by KKT Architects of Tulsa.
Mayor G.T. Bynun announced Monday that MVVA and KKT would be given 30 days to incorporate into their designs the feedback the city received during the public comment period, which ended Friday.
“These final 30 days will allow us to make a more responsible and informed final decision,” Bynum said.
The city received 234 Arkansas River pedestrian bridge designs after the mayor announced March 20 that he was opening the process to the public. Once the Arkansas River Pedestrian Bridge Selection Committee narrowed the field of potential bridge designs to four in mid-April, the public was invited to comment on the designs at cityoftulsa.org/vision.
Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, said the public was asked to answer two questions on each of the final four bridge submissions: What do you like about this bridge? And, What do you not like about it or is missing from this bridge?
The 14,319 responses those questions elicited were then analyzed using a commuter program called Qualtrics.
“You identify keywords and themes and use those keywords and how often they are mentioned to demonstrate what is most important and where were the themes in that raw data,” Doctor said.
The words “boring” or “plain” appear 125 times in the public’s comments on The Gateway Bridge, compared to the 41 times the words “unique,” “icon” or “landmark” were used to describe the bridge, according to the analysis.
The results were worse for The Gateway Bridge when it came to how much shade and cover the bridge would provide. The words “shade,” “cover” or “protect” appear 1,035 times in a negative context and just 16 times in a positive context.
The Crossing Bridge fared much better than The Gateway Bridge when it came to its iconic features and slightly better on shade and covering.
The words “boring” or “plain” appeared just two times in the public’s remarks about the bridge design, and the words “unique,” “icon” or “landmark” appeared 372 times.
The words “shade,” “cover” or “protect” appeared 322 times in a negative context and 292 times in a positive context, according to the city’s analysis.
Each of the finalists received positive feedback on the pedestrian and bicycle friendliness of the designs.
“Walk” or “bike” appeared 115 times in a positive context in the public’s comments on The Gateway Bridge while the word “narrow” — which city officials interpreted to have a negative connotation — appeared just nine times. Commenters on The Crossing Bridge used the word “narrow” just five times and “walk” or “bike” in a positive context 187 times.
A clearer picture of how the bridge designs fared in the public comments emerges when the top 10 keywords used to describe each one are considered.
For example, The Gateway Bridge ranked second for iconic stature behind The Crossing Bridge when all 10 of the top keywords are taken into account. And both of the bridge designs received far more positive keywords in terms of their iconic statures than negative keywords.
The Crossing Bridge received the most comments with 3,671 followed by The Gateway Bridge at 3,620. The Rebirth was next at 3,529 comments and The Metropolis at 3,499.
Both A Gathering Place’s Jeff Stava, who spoke on behalf of MVVA, and Andrew Kinslow, a founding principal at KKT, said they understood the public’s desire to have more shaded areas on the bridge and plan to address that issue in their designs in the next 30 days.
“Because of the restricted budget there is no way we could cover the whole thing,” Kinslow said.
KKT’s final bridge design likely will not include shading over every inch of the bridge’s deck, Kinslow said.
“We like the variation of opened and closed. It just kind of gives you a different sense,” he said. “In the areas where you are moving, it will be opened; in the areas where you stop, you might want to have it covered.”
Stava noted the same budget constraints in explaining why The Gateway Bridge design shows no shading.
“They (MVVA) designed the bridge to fit within the city’s budget,” Stava said.
He defended the design of the bridge, saying Tulsans are used to looking at the pedestrian bridge from eye level. Visitors to the new pedestrian bridge will often be looking up at it from newly designed trails along the west bank of the Arkansas River.
“This (design) has a kind of subtle elegance and iconography to it,” Stava said. “It’s basically a cantilevered bridge — the weight of the deck kind of balances the weight of the bridge. … As you walk along the shoreline the bridge kind of changes shapes and you see shade and different things from the bottom.”
Stava said MVVA has already begun to work on ways to provide shading for the bridge and address other issues raised in the public comments.
“We are going back and looking at some wood deck options, some enhanced seating, some lighting, enhanced handrails — all of those things, including canopies or shaded areas,” Stava said. “We are right now in the midst of trying to figure out what options there are for that design.”
When the city opened the pedestrian bridge design process to the public in March, it set out three criteria by which the designs would be judged: that they relate to A Gathering Place for Tulsa and the natural surroundings of the area; accommodate pedestrians and cyclists; and be no more expensive than the $24.5 million the city has budgeted for the bridge.
Stava and Kinslow expressed confidence that their final designs would come in within budget.
Doctor, meanwhile, said he could not say whether the city would consider spending additional public dollars above and beyond the funds already allocated for the bridge.
“Because we haven’t had any conversations on what that would look like or what dollar amounts would look like there,” he said.
The city actually has $27.5 million budgeted for the pedestrian bridge project, but $3 million of that has been set aside for contingency. The three major funding sources are the Improve Our Tulsa capital improvements program ($7.7 million); a federal TIGER grant ($4.7 million); and Vision Tulsa sales tax ($15 million).
The city has spent at least $675,000 on the project so far, including $240,000 for construction plans for the pedestrian bridge that will cross Riverside Drive.
City officials say they expect it to take 12-14 months to design the pedestrian bridge once the winning design has been selected and another 18-24 months to build it. The city plans to build the bridge at the same time it is overhauling Zink Dam.
A Gathering Place is expected to open in the spring of 2018.
The Arkansas River Pedestrian Bridge Selection Committee includes:
Elected Officials: Mayor G.T. Bynum and Councilors Jeannie Cue, Blake Ewing, Ben Kimbro and Phil Lakin
Historical Leaders: Holbrook Lawson (Chair, Tulsa Arts Commission), Michael Wallis (Tulsa Historical Society Hall of Fame)
Design Experts: Amanda DeCort (Tulsa Foundation for Architecture), Shawn Schaefer (OU-Tulsa Urban Design Studio)
River Corridor Stakeholders: Juan Miret (Growing Together), Stuart Solomon (Public Service Company of Oklahoma), Jeff Stava (The Gathering Place), Darton Zink (River Parks Authority)
Support Staff: Rich Brierre, Nick Doctor, Matt Meyer, Dawn Warrick, and Paul Zachary