In Florida, a group is fighting to re-open the Friendship TrailBridge, which connects Tampa to St. Petersburg. The bridge crossing itself has an interesting and complicated story, beginning in 1924, when the first Gandy Bridge opened. At the time, it was the longest automobile bridge in the world, and the toll was 75 cents. Over the years, three more bridge spans were built and the original was torn down. In the mid-1990s, when the State of Florida planned to demolish the 1956 bridge, the two counties on either side of the Bay — Pinellas and Hillsborough — came together in an effort to save it and create a pedestrian path that would link their two communities.
On December 11, 1999, with watery fanfare from a fireboat, the old 2.6 mile bridge opened to pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, skaters and fishermen as the Friendship TrailBridge. For almost a decade it was enjoyed by more than 600,000 people a year, but in 2008 the state closed it, due to structural concerns about portions of the bridge. In April 2012 Hillsborough County was making plans to demolish it when a second grassroots movement arose to save the Gandy Bridge — again. In a matter of weeks, a group of young Tampa Bay professionals and volunteers prepared a 70-page business plan to transform the bridge.
The group is proposing to form a public-private partnership, similar to the structure that governs the High Line, that would raise funds and guide the vision for an entirely new project to create a world-class linear public park across the water. It would be the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. The length and width of the bridge permits a variety of uses — including an excellent and picturesque walkway for fishing — and the renderings the group has developed depict a unique open space that can be used by everyone in the community. (I even spotted a golden retriever enjoying the future park.)
The folks at Friendship TrailBridge kindly pointed me to sources where I could get historical images, and provided several photos that show the TrailBridge in use and its planned future — see the slideshow below. For more information and to download the Draft Plan, visit the group’s website at FriendshipTrailBridge.com.