What The Neighbors Feel About A Light Show On The Historic Walnut Street Bridge

Monday, June 11, 2018

The design and price tag for the Walnut Street Bridge lighting project have galvanized public opinion by raising concerns about cost to taxpayers, funding priorities, government transparency, and impacts to the historic bridge, the adjacent neighborhoods and the environment.

 

Below is a position paper prepared by "Friends" of the bridge who live in the immediate area.

On a lighter note, we also pass along this comment about the lighting from someone who is obviously a "Jeopardy" fan: "I'll take Seizures for $4 million."


PROBLEM: Mayor Berke’s administration is proposing a $4.05 million project for new lighting on the Walnut Street Bridge. The City’s 2019 Capital Budget describes the project by Moment Factory as a data responsive lighting design that responds to pedestrian activity on the bridge and the flow of the TN River below the bridge to create color variations and ripples of light. The artistic lighting project includes expenses related to the artistic lighting fixtures and their installation, smart data, prototyping, creative services, technical services and fees. 

SOLUTION: A neighborhood “Friends of the Bridge” group respectfully requests that the Chattanooga City Council modify the project description and reduce the cost estimate in the budget. Future lighting elements for the Walnut Street bridge should be tasteful and energy efficient, utilizing low/down lighting of deck and pillars. The “Friends” group supports wash lighting, white lighting, and no motion and NOT an expensive interactive multi-color lighting display. More public involvement opportunities are needed, including a Section 106 review by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Here are our issues with this proposal:

COSTAmount; escalating costs; no commitment on "other" funding; O&M costs, city priorities.

The City’s Public Art Department showed a cost of $2 million in their presentation to City Council in March. Apparently, this was the estimate to replace existing lighting. In a meeting with the Mayor and Public Art Director on April 30, representatives of the “Friends” group were told that interactive lighting would cost $3 million. The proposed budget now shows a $4.05 million project for dynamic, interactive lighting.

City staff has said that the City would pay $2 million from hotel/motel tax revenue and that the other $2.05 million would come from “external” sources or private donors. This “other” money has not been committed.

There is no estimate given for ongoing operation and maintenance costs, which could be considerable. How much will repairs cost when the system malfunctions?

Spending this amount of money on a controversial “Vegas” type project raises questions about spending priorities. We have lots of needs in the city. A neighbor whose home overlooks the bridge asks: "Why is the mayor's administration recommending such an outrageous and costly proposal in the 2019 budget document? Do we really need a gaudy light treatment to illuminate it when we have no funding for the homeless who live beneath that very same bridge"?

HISTORIC PRESERVATIONThe Walnut Street Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Because the on-going bridge renovation project involves federal funds, it is under the jurisdiction of “Section 106” of section 4 f of the Environmental Protection Act. Section 106 provides for a review process and protection from changes which would “change the character of use or setting” or “introduce incompatible visual elements” among other things. Adverse effects may include introduction of incompatible visual, atmospheric or audible elements.

In the opinion of the “Friends” group, the proposed visual effects are too bright/flashy/ modern/ carnival-like, and as such not suitable for a stately historic pedestrian bridge. An article in the Times Free Press dated June 3 suggests the lights might be red and green for Christmas and red, white, and blue for the 4th of July. Earlier we heard that “baby shower” pink and blue would be the norm. This is about CONTEXT. The Walnut Street Bridge is not the Cartier Bridge in Montreal nor is it a modern bridge. It is a beautiful historic bridge, not a casino. 

A memorial honoring Ed Johnson, who was lynched and shot on the bridge in 1906, will be built adjacent to the south end of the bridge in 2019. The current bridge lighting proposal is inconsistent with this memorial. 

TRANSPARENCY:  The lighting proposal does not reflect input from significant stakeholder groups.

Homeowners within view of the bridge, donors to plaques on bridge and the State Historic Preservation Office only recently became aware of the current plan for data responsive lighting.

In January 2018, a “steering” committee voted 12-1 to recommend that the Moment Factory develop the new lighting plan. This company specializes in “dynamic, interactive” designs, including the lighting for the Cartier Bridge in Montreal.

At a meeting at the Hunter on April 16, the Moment Factory presented a conceptual design. It looked very similar to their interactive design for the five-lane vehicular Cartier Bridge. Of the 55 people on the email list for this meeting, most were city employees or professionals who do business with the city. 

NEIGHBORHOOD IMPACTThe adjoining residential neighborhoods would be negatively affected.

The City has given no indication that it realizes there is a residential neighborhood with 130 homes located at the bridge at 99 and 129 Walnut Street. The owners in the two condominium complexes and the townhomes on Cherry Street paid over one million dollars in city and county property taxes in 2017. There are many homeowners on the north side of the bridge who also would be impacted. Locations include River Street, Forest Avenue and the Bridgeview condominiums on the north side of the Market Street Bridge. A number of people bought their condos in part based on their views of the classic, historic bridge. What about glare, colors, hours of operation? Would there be music associated with the light "shows"? Who would be in charge of the programming if the bridge lighting includes interactive or motion elements? 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: The concept of a brightly illuminated light show is passé.

The newest trend is toward downlighting and “Night Sky,” which is compatible with the outdoor enthusiast lifestyle of the Chattanooga area. Our city prides itself on being cutting-edge. However, we may be going against progressive thinking with this proposed lighting. In an article from Metropolitan magazine called "Let There Be Night," the author states that lighting designers and experts are nearly unified in their belief that outdoor lighting in recent years has been excessive. The author advocates for more thoughtfully conceived lighting systems that work with, rather than in opposition to, nighttime darkness. The International Dark Sky Association works to protect the night sky for present and future generations.

 

Helen Burns Sharp


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