Walking and the pedestrian environment
August 1, 2004
Bridges of Uptown (San Diego)

One of Uptown's greatest assets is a set of provocative pedestrian bridges.

It took a trip to Paris for me to realize how much more willing I am to cross an attractive pedestrian bridge than something bland and utilitarian. Some nice ones have been built recently in Seattle, including Amgen's DNA spiral. But they're located throughout the city.

First AvenueUptown has four pedestrian bridges, three of which are really attractive. They all provide flat access across canyons, not forcing walkers to go up and down stairs needlessly. Spruce and Quince have a short set of stairs on one end. The view from the First Avenue Bridge makes it a tempting #5, but unfortunately cars can traverse it as well. Here's a photo looking out west to the bay.

Quince viewQuince bridgeThe Quince bridge, located between 3rd and 4th Avenue on Quince Street,was the first I crossed. I got a nice profile photo, then went to cross the bridge. About four or five steps out I noticed that the wood deck of the bridge was the slightest bit spongy under my foot. It looked as if it were made from rail road ties. Another few steps, as the floor of the canyon dropped below me, I remembered that I'm afraid of heights. Suddenly taking a walk over a bunch of bridges seemed like a bad idea.

no sidewalkBoth sides of the Quince Street bridge end in the middle of intersections without sidewalks. The west side is a quiet T with a one-way alley, so it really isn't a problem. The east side, though, is a three-lane roadway. It could really use a sidewalk to make the bridge more attractive.

Not throughAll of the bridges could use better signage. The canyons are a significant barrier for folks who don't know how to walk around them. On this post, for example, one of those little "Except Pedestrians" signs would be extremely useful. At Vermont Street, it wasn't obvious that if you walked or rode through the shopping center you could get across Washington Street. I'm sure that residents figure this stuff out pretty quickly. Visitors could use some guidance though, and perhaps some people driving now don't realize that they can walk so easily to their destinations. Likewise, it would be nice to know where the canyon trails lead.

SuspensionSpruce viewClose apartmentsThe second bridge I crossed was the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. It's between Front and Brant on Spruce Street. As I stepped onto it I remembered reading that children refer to this as the 'bouncing bridge.' Yikes. I tried to ignore the height and just get across. I couldn't help but laugh at myself for not being able to enjoy the best part of my walk. No mistakes - a regular person would have loved it.

Vermont BridgeVermont BridgeThe third bridge stretches over highway-like Washington Street along Vermont Street in Hillcrest. The south end can be found at the back of the Uptown shopping mall, near the community center. This was a nice, sturdy bridge made from concrete and steel. Also, the railing was high enough that I couldn't tell as easily how high up in the air I was. Unfortunately the view wasn't as nice as from the previous two bridges. One of my favorite aspects of the Vermont Bridge was the pedestrian-oriented artwork and poetry incorporated into the railing and deck of the bridge.

Upas BridgeClosed entranceThe final pedestrian bridge was in the northwest corner of Balboa Park. I entered a nature trail near the Boy Scout complex on Upas west of Richmond. The entrance was a bit trecherous, it needed a level ped/bike entrance since the roadway is often closed. A bit down the path, it crosses over a concrete bridge with an out-of-place sidewalk. Then the trail curves south. I forged my way up a hill to get back on Qunice Street. I'm not sure where the official trail leads to.

I should have been more prepared for the dry desert heat of San Diego. I had plenty of water, but I was still embarrassingly tired by the end of my trip. In Balboa Park, the hot dust of the trail and the sight of Boy Scouts elicited memories of expeditions in New Mexico's Philmont Scout Ranch. But those treks were a hundred miles in less than two weeks, carrying a fifty or sixty pound pack. I'm getting old.

Extraordinary DessertsThis completed my Uptown bridge loop! Needing refreshment, I dropped into Extraordinary Desserts on 5th and Quince. My snack was very tasty. I couldn't help wishing they had some fruit-parloresque dishes, though. I guess if you spend all day in air conditioning a piece of cake seems perfect. After walking around for a couple of hours I just wanted some lightly dressed melon or something. Who knows why I bought a scone if I was looking for something light - they certainly had more appropriate desserts for my mood!

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at August 1, 2004 9:26 AM
Lost Seattle
Check out my book Lost Seattle for more explorations of history and urbanism.
These pages are an archive. For my new content, visit ba-kground.com.
Copyright Rob Ketcherside; contact roket swirly gwu.edu