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Spinning the Span

A bridge to the past isn't getting the attention it deserves.


This week's cover story about anti-evolution Kansas Board of Education member Connie Morris, by new guy Justin Kendall , reminded this meat patty that the Sunflower State is determined to bring back the good old days.

You know -- the 19th century.

Now, before you go accusing the Strip of Kansas-bashing, we want to point out that it's not always a bad thing when our western-metro residents engage in a little rolling back of the calendar. Not everyone around here has such a myopic view of the past.

Some even understand that in the long ago, the seeds of today's best examples of real progress were sown.

This philosophizin' filet came to that realization in an unlikely spot -- while zipping along on a new bridge.

Let this confusing cutlet explain.

The Strip pedals a bicycle to get from its meat locker in Kansas City, Kansas, to the Pitch offices in Kansas City, Missouri. (Hey, what slab of beef doesn't long to be a little leaner?)

For the longest time, that route forced this chuck roast to risk its giblets crossing the Kansas River over the James Street Bridge.

Ask any metro cyclist -- river crossings are a bitch. Few bridges in the metro are really even as safe as they ought to be for cars, let alone pedestrians or bicyclists.

To the Strip's delight, it discovered several months ago that some far-seeing angels had reclaimed a nearby span for a bike bridge. On a deck underneath the eastbound Lewis and Clark Viaduct, the new stretch of road has a smooth concrete surface and offers a calm, car-free way for walkers and cyclists to cross the river.

But it gets better -- the Woodswether Bridge is not only utilitarian but also a work of art. At either end, the bridge features gates in the shape of old-fashioned, penny-farthing bicycles. And just a few weeks ago, additional decoration in the form of sculptures began showing up on posts along the roadway. The metal cutouts, which feature images that evoke the westward migration, local animals and a celebration of children, are an amazing sight -- at least for the lower deck of an industrial-looking freeway bridge in a blighted part of town that reeks of a nearby sewage plant.

OK, so the smell takes getting used to. But we hope that others begin discovering the new bridge and start using it regularly. (We've never actually seen anyone else use the span.)

And we're even more enthusiastic about our morning commute now that we've learned the story told by the sculptures on the bridge. Created by University of Missouri-Kansas City art professor Ed Hogan, the three decorative aluminum-and-steel cutouts (a fourth by Hogan will be added later) evoke a time when crossing the Kansas River was a lot more meaningful than simply as a way for a columnist to get to work. For slaves fleeing their servitude in the 19th century, crossing the Kansas meant freedom. Hogan's images capture that miraculous journey in art and transform a simple bridge crossing into an ennobling experience.

Eventually, 12 more sculptures will join Hogan's four on the bridge. The process is slow, we're told, so it might be another year before the bridge is finished.

But it makes for great pedaling right now.

Credit the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, which forked over the cash to open Woodswether Bridge even as the rest of the trails network that it's designed to be part of continues to be mired in budgetary oblivion.

The entire Kansas City Riverfront Heritage Trail was supposed to be finished by now: a 9-mile path stretching from Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park in Missouri to Kaw Point -- where Lewis and Clark landed in 1804 -- in Kansas. It was hoped that the trail, littered with art and history markers, would be finished in time for the 2004 bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. But Darby Trotter, a businessman who's president of Kansas City River Trails, a nonprofit group overseeing the project, bristles when we ask him why it's overdue.

Those who have cycled the eastern end of the trail, which meanders from the Isle of Capri Casino through Berkley Park, know that it ends in disappointment -- at the Armour-Swift-Burlington (ASB) railroad bridge, which prevents picking up the next section of trail below the River Market area. There's another gap farther west, which orphans a small bluffside park that recently opened.

Trotter explains that those two final steps completing the trail -- creating an undercrossing at the ASB rail bridge and building another span to connect the bluff park with the West Bottoms below -- are awaiting funding.

The price tag: $5.5 million.

Now, Kansas Citians continue to amaze us with their generosity, raising a quarter-billion dollars to build a monument to Mayor Kay Barnes -- er, we mean a sports arena for truck pulls and traveling circuses. And it's likely that your friends and neighbors will soon find it in their hearts not to feel too put out when Lamar Hunt extorts several hundred million dollars with a threat to move the Chiefs.

But even in a town with such bleeding hearts, served by a daily newspaper that's never seen a tax increase it didn't like, it's truly hard to believe that $5.5 million is going to show up just to fix a short bike trail.

Oh, well. Don't let yet another KC disappointment keep you from discovering the Woodswether Bridge. At least on this new Kansas landmark, you can feel good about the past coming back to life.

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