News: Flocking to the Riverfront

Bridges provide dramatic vistas, unsettling close-ups

 
Sam Robinson


Welcome to Cincinnati! This is one of the sights that greet visitors strolling to a downtown event.



There's a lot more foot traffic on Cincinnati's downtown bridges on game days than there used to be. Nowhere near the number of fans take the scenic route over the river as drive downtown, but big crowds trek over the bridges for every game.

In years past, nearly all the Reds fans walking over a bridge to the baseball stadium walked across the Suspension Bridge. This year baseball fans have been avoiding the Suspension Bridge in favor of the Newport bridges.

The Southbank Bridge, painted purple and for pedestrian use only, is most active on game days. That increased traffic has meant increased attention to appearances — and to the contrast between them on either side of the river.

Last week State Sen. Mark Mallory (D-Cincinnati) met with city officials to discuss ways to spruce up the Cincinnati side of the "Purple People Bridge," as it's been called.

"We've all noticed how the Kentucky side of the bridge has certain amenities that we lack on the Ohio side," Mallory said.

Mallory offered to help the city of Cincinnati find funding for $400,000 in improvements, including bicycle paths, planters, benches and an information kiosk.

But the purple bridge isn't the only passageway for pedestrians crossing the Ohio River from Newport.

The other favorite is the Taylor Southgate Bridge, beginning at the Newport Aquarium. The west sidewalk of the bridge provides a direct connection from Kentucky to the Stadium Concourse. Families seem to prefer this approach. Extended families, including children and grandparents, are commonly seen walking across the bridge to the stadium.

Although the Cincinnati side of the purple bridge "lacks amenities," as Mallory put it, the Cincinnati side of the Taylor Southgate Bridge is often downright filthy. For months families traversing the bridge had to pick their way through broken glass, garbage and even discarded clothing on the north end of the bridge. Human waste sometimes soiled the sidewalk and entrance stairs to the stadium concourse at the southeast corner of U.S. Bank Arena.

The stairs and sidewalk have been cleaner lately, but from the looks of things in the area, it isn't only people who've been roosting there. Birds have been, too.

Until recently, the tops of three industrial-size air conditioners at U.S. Bank Arena had been caked with bird droppings. Two of the units were recently scrubbed, but dried white stains of bird droppings are easily visible.

A third air conditioner — a chilling tower, according to arena officials — is still dirty. A substance that appears to be bird excrement is caked on top of the equipment and buried in its lateral vents. The fan blades are partially encrusted.

The mess is not a health threat, according to Mohammad Alam, director of environmental health services for the Cincinnati Health Department. Field technicians investigated the site after receiving inquiries from CityBeat.

"The site does not appear to be a health risk at this time," Alam said.

Local architect John Schlagetter, a Charter Committee candidate for city council, agrees.

"The debris on top appears unsightly but benign," he says. "At a minimum the bird droppings should be removed to prolong equipment life and reduce damage to the finish and materials of construction."

The health department says dried bird droppings are not dangerous. However, in other locations significant accumulations of moist bird droppings provide a fertile environment for the growth of histoplasma capsulatum, an infectious fungus commonly found in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys.

Disease-causing spores explode into the air whenever ripe fungus cultures of histoplasma capsulatum are disturbed, such as during construction, maintenance or cleanups. Susceptible people who inhale the airborne spores can become seriously ill.

Most develop immunity without ever feeling sick.

"Positive histoplasmin skin tests occur in as many as 80 percent of the people living in areas where histoplasma capsulatum is common," Alam says. "It is so common in this region you could almost say effectively everyone has had exposure to histoplasmosis."

U.S. Bank Arena officials say the bird droppings are the city's responsibility and they have tried to get the city to clean the mess.

Since the "Purple People Bridge" reopened in April as a pedestrian crossing, visitors have noticed that the Cincinnati side lacks the flowers, park benches and other improvements that have been made on the Kentucky side.

"There's no reason the Cincinnati side can't look as good or better," Mallory said.

That's equally true of the Taylor Southgate Bridge, where visitors arriving in the city encounter filth.

For those who still walk the stately Suspension Bridge, the Covington side opens onto a wide green swath surrounded by many new restaurants and bars. The Cincinnati side puts pedestrians in a sea of parking lots. ©