By Councilmember Ed Selich
There has been some criticism of the recent City Council approval of a pedestrian bridge across San Miguel, connecting two sections of the Civic Center Park. Unfortunately, the criticism appears to be the result of political punditry or a lack of knowledge about the park’s design and intention to function as one entity.
There are three good reasons for the bridge to be built: unity and continuity of use, improved traffic function and safety, and a favorable construction-cost environment.
Although the park is divided by a major highway, it was designed as a unified park, specifically to include an integrated pedestrian/jogging trail that will be seamlessly connected by the bridge.
The park will have sculpture garden sites on both the north and south side of San Miguel. Joining both areas with a bridge helps integrate the two portions of the garden so that visitors can enjoy it without the inconvenience of veering away to cross a major intersection.
In addition, the park has been designed to include a diverse array of plant communities, best enjoyed by linking the two sections. Dogs will be allowed on leashes throughout the park, and what is being referred to as a “Dog Park” is actually a fenced exercise area where dogs will be allowed to roam free of their leashes. Both sides of the park will have picnic/view areas and benches, as well as innovative play areas for children that will be easier and safer to access via the bridge.
The San Miguel/Avocado Avenue intersection is one of the most impacted in the city, and was recently widened to accommodate traffic flow from MacArthur. Removing the pedestrian crossing from the traffic signal cycle will improve its functionality and provide a more pleasant and safer traverse across San Miguel. This will benefit everyone, particularly young children and the elderly. It is important to remember, over time, as park use increases, the pedestrian demand at that intersection will significantly slow traffic and decrease safety.
The timing couldn’t be better to take advantage of building the bridge now – and having it open to the public at the same time as the rest of the project – while the current construction environment is still favorable. Adding the bridge after the project is complete will raise the current $1,737,000 cost, and cause unnecessary construction disruption.
Great cities of the world are defined by their public and open spaces, and created by citizens and civic leaders with vision and long-term thinking that positively impacts a community for generations. The vision for this park is inclusive of many different users, and its sole purpose is to contribute to the betterment of Newport Beach residents, businesses and visitors. One is reminded of the famed automobile ad from the 1930s with its message that “Long after the price is forgotten the quality remains.”
The location of our new Civic Center and Park, which includes City Hall and the Library was mandated by the voters in 2007. It will become a community focal point and signature landmark for Newport Beach of which we can all be proud. The long-term value of creating a unified park that will be used by so many, more than justifies the cost to construct today. The Newport Beach City Council showed great forethought on behalf of our city by approving this “Bridge to the Future.”
As the visionary urban planner Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Think big.”
Instead of criticizing long-term decisions for the future, let’s keep Burnham’s thinking in mind as we strive to make our great city even greater for generations to come.