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A Unifying Process
Bridging Neighborhoods Once Divided by a Freeway

by Mike Dahl, LASN

A Unifying Process

In the early 2000s, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the city of Columbus partnered to help reunite the King Lincoln neighborhood with the city's downtown and with the Discovery District neighborhood that had been separated by the construction of Interstate 71 in the early 60s. A major part of that effort resulted in the renovation of the Long Street (shown) and Spring Street bridges. MKSK, a local landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm was selected to help physically and visually envision the reunification. One of their proposals was to replace the standard bridge fencing with an illuminated screen wall spanning the length of the bridges on both sides.

One of the great benefits that freeways provide is that they better connect us. One of the unintended drawbacks of them, paradoxically, is that they sometimes separate us, especially when they course through the middle of well-established communities: eradicating wide swaths of neighborhoods, while removing everyday access that citizens of those communities once enjoyed and replacing that access with largely impassible breaches.

This then was the lot of Bronzeville, a vibrant, historic area of Columbus, Ohio, that saw its fortunes change with the construction of Interstate 71 in the 60s, essentially dividing the King Lincoln neighborhood from the downtown area and the Discovery District neighborhood, which by some reports, led to the growth of crime and socioeconomic decline.

But a recent project by the Ohio Department of Transportation, partnering with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and city of Columbus, was designed to reunite the neighborhoods and downtown Columbus with each other and their rich history, and help mend the urban fabric and pedestrian experience of the area.

Named the I-70/71 Columbus Crossroads Project, its predominant goal included enhancements to more than 12 bridges. Each crossing was individually considered and designed to reflect the unique character of, and connections to, the neighborhood across the way.

A Long Time Coming
Two of those bridges are Long Street and its sister bridge, Spring Street, which were the part of the first phase of the project. To help with its implementation, ODOT requested that local landscape architecture firm MKSK be involved with the project when, according to Chris Hermann, AICP, senior planner at the company, the transportation department realized that the community was firmly set on improving the connectivity that was removed when the interstate was built.

"We worked on a similar project on the north side of interstate 670 and came up with a number of improvements as part of that project so we were asked by ODOT to be on the engineering team to help them," remembers Hermann. "And as part of that, in about 2005, 2006 we participated in a number of community meetings - probably close to 100 across a three-year span. The big priorities were to connect the communities. They wanted gateways to the neighborhoods, they wanted to hide the freeway and they wanted to make it more multi-modal so it wasn't just about car connectivity"

A Unifying Process

MKSK turned to 3form, a Salt Lake City manufacturer of environmentally-friendly architectural translucent resin panels to fabricate the illuminated walls that would not only be aesthetically pleasing but also reduce freeway noise levels, screen freeway views, and mitigate gusty wind conditions for pedestrians.

A Unifying Process

3form developed a custom steel framework to meet ODOT requirements, support the wall of Koda XTA(R) panels and mount them onto the concrete bridge parapet. Attached inside each 4'x8' panel are custom aluminum light boxes. Each lightbox holds high-powered, low-profile LED light bars to illuminate both sides of the panels.

The project was broken up into six phases and was estimated to be about a 1.2 billion project back in 2006.

"The first phase was to redo the interchange of 71 and 670, and the community and mayor insisted that the Spring and Long Street bridges be included so that they could show the power of improving the connectivity," Hermann states.

The original plan for both bridges emphasized screening the highway noise and the sight of the highway, and to do this, the landscape architect team came up with the notion of the "lit walls."

Besides that, they proposed platforms that would be built as green parks on either side of the Long Street bridge that could later be
further developed.

But as the planning moved forward, issues arose that made building a cap on the southside much more costly so only the northside was designated for one, which made it a bit lopsided by Hermann's estimation and caused concern as to how to balance it out.

So an idea was hatched of putting historic pictures or art into the illuminated panels on the southside to make it a unique feature for that part of the bridge - the Cultural Wall was born.

A Unifying Process

On the inside surface of one of the illuminated walls on the Long Street bridge, are panels depicting a visual history of the local cultural heritage. Two winners of a public art competition, Larry Winston Collins and Kojo Kamaur, composed a series of images that celebrate the history and leaders from the area. Collins is well known for his wood carvings that he inks and applies on a surface. Kojo is a local photographer. 3form used their proprietary technology to embed black and white digital renditions of those images in resilient Koda XTA(R) material to create what is now called the Cultural Wall. On some of the precast planter walls are Bega 2307LED wall recessed lights.

Assembling the Rest of the Team
After convincing the community and ODOT it was viable, an art competition was formed to find images to put into the panels. ODOT ran that process with help from the public arts committee at the city. And to create those panels, MSMK reached out to 3form, a manufacturer of architectural translucent resin panels based in Salt Lake City.

"Eric Lucas, a landscape architect for MKSK called me and wanted to know if we could do that and make it structural," says Susan Studer, a materials consultant at 3form. "We worked through the design detail to determine the structural engineering."

The Main Attraction
Then 3form worked on the technical issues to create the best Koda XTA(R) material that could match NOA Miami-Dade hurricane requirements, and the best lighting componentry. Ultimately it was a three- year project for 3form.

They created mockups at the ODOT construction yard in Columbus, setting up some 4'x4' and 4'x8' panels with frames and different lighting setups, and figured out some of the finishing hardware details before the final order was placed.

We wanted to make sure the coloring of the lighting was correct," Studer remarks. "To make sure it coordinated well with the other lighting that was on the streetscape."

A Unifying Process

A "cap" which is a "a parallel platform that carries a static load and abuts the live-load bridge," according to Chris Hermann, AICP, senior planner at MKSK, was added to the bridge deck. Here the cap is the area between the trellis and the illuminated wall. It was decided that the static load on this cap would be a green park, which provides a new civic gathering space for neighborhood and community events. The lanterns on top of the trellis are custom brass fixtures. The linear LED light bars on the back beam of the trellis have sandblasted tempered glass lenses. Knuckle-mounted trellis post downlights are 4620 LED accent lights. Acorn globe lights, which are standard street lights of the city of Columbus, were also specified.

A Unifying Process

The initial rendering for the cultural wall from MKSK shows, in the words of one project designer, Tim Rosenthal, PLA, that through collaboration "the finished product looks more impressive than the earlier concepts that we came up with."

"We used LED bars on the inside of the structure so it is up and down lighting," says Cory Pymm, the solutions engineering manager at 3form. "And to get an even glow we had to use the right amount of power and position them correctly.

To apply the selected artwork to the wall, the artists sent high resolution graphics of their work to 3form, who then made copies that were printed on a very thin layer of resin and embedded inside the panel.

According to John Willham, 3form senior vice president and strategic accounts general manager, "Our technology actually encapsulates the imagery inside the material. These panels are 3/8" thick and right in the middle of the material is where the imagery is actually laminated."

More than Just a Cultural Wall
The design team wanted to do other things to make the street feel inviting for the pedestrians. Part of that was creating pedestrian scale lighting using post top lights that had a historic yet contemporary feel placed along the edge of the bridge, which not only illuminated the sidewalk and the street, it also created, "a nice vertical element that pulls you through as a pedestrian," Hermann relates.

Pergolas were built to anchor the corners of the bridge, so that there was something of interest to attract people to the bridge and encourage them to cross to the other side. As people do so, steps lead up to an irrigated turf area that is relaxing in large part because of the 3form panels that block out the traffic noise and sight of the freeway down below.

A Unifying Process

Besides the Long Street bridge (top) and the Spring Street bridge, there are two more bridges in the design phase, which propose to incorporate 3form technology, and then plans for two more bridges after that.

A Unifying Process

The 244'-long expanses of 4'x8' illuminated panels on the Spring Street bridge are seen from interstate 71 as monolithic glowing walls.

Receiving High Marks
Besides bringing more similar projects to both MSK and 3form, the results of the Long Street bridge project have garnered many accolades including the 2014 Outstanding New Short Span Bridge Award, ABCD Central Ohio Chapter, and it was a finalist for the 2014 Columbus Landmarks Foundation James B. Recchie Design Award. In addition it was highlighted in USDOT's 2017 Report "Transforming Communities in the 21st Century."

"It is certainly a signature piece and has activated a bridge that was not very pedestrian-friendly into a welcoming gateway linking downtown Columbus to the King Lincoln District neighborhood," remarks Devon Mayhugh, the business development coordinator for MKSK.

Rosenthal adds, "We were pushing the boundaries with what a typical freeway bridge could be: and then taking it above and beyond even that."

"It is a high-profile project for everyone involved because it's seen 24/7, 365," Studer states. "People are constantly at this wall, taking photos, understanding and connecting to that part of the city again. So it has done its job."

Project Team
Bridge Aesthetic Design and Landscape Architect: MKSK
Illuminated Panel Manufacturer: 3form
State Department of Transportation: Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT)
Municipality of Project: City of Columbus, Ohio
Metropolitan Planning Organization: Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC)
Cultural Wall Artists: Larry Winston Collins & Kojo Kamaur
Public Relations: Murphy Epson/Engage Public Affairs
Design Engineer: Burgess & Niple, Inc.
Engineer of Record: CH2M Hill
Contractor for Implementation: Kokosing Construction Company
Transportation Engineer for I-70/I-71 Initial Planning Phases: ms consultants

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2019.

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December 12, 2019, 8:22 pm PDT

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