When tragedy happens in your neighborhood

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I was biking home from my job downtown last night, riding across the Stone Arch Bridge just minutes after 6:00 pm and saw the cloud of dust that had been created by the collapsing bridge.

Like many residents of Minneapolis today, I’m having a terrible time concentrating on my work, as I can think of nothing but the shocking collapse last night of the 35W bridge. It’s impossible not to think of the horror drivers experienced as the roadway gave out underneath them, sending them skidding, crashing or falling into the river. And of course those of us in Southeast can’t help but think that it could have been us, as we all take 35W all the time—to work, on errands, to kids’ activities, to Roseville or South Minneapolis, or going in and out of town. Now I feel incomparably blessed that the freeway entrance and exit ramps to and from 4th St. and University Ave. SE have been closed so often this summer, leading most of us in the area to give up on the freeway.

Opinion: When tragedy happens in your neighborhood

It’s simply stunning to have such a catastrophe happen not just in your city, but in your own backyard. I was biking home from my job downtown last night, riding across the Stone Arch Bridge just minutes after 6:00 pm and saw the cloud of dust that had been created by the collapsing bridge. Sirens soon began to wail, helicopters gathered overhead and emergency vehicles started streaming to the riverfront, coming from communities all over the metro area. And the people came by the thousands, filling our neighborhood streets with their cars, just like on the Fourth of July. There’s just an irresistible human urge to see such a shocking site, I guess, but it was hard not to be irritated with how hordes of people can get in the way of emergency workers. Still, I was so happy to see each Marcy-Holmes neighbor I came across in the crowds, knowing that they were safe.

Now that the rescue effort has turned into a recovery mission, our neighborhood has become a large staging ground for emergency workers and countless media caravans. Our mobility within the area has become limited, as the Stone Arch Bridge is closed, Second Avenue SE is closed on either side of the freeway, and the 10th Avenue Bride is closed. This is a time when many Marcy-Holmes residents, including myself, are glad that we live in what feels like a little urban village; many of us work downtown, shop at Lunds (and Surdyk’s), eat at restaurants on East Hennepin, send our kids to school at Marcy Open and even go to church at First Congregational Church. There’s very little we need that we can’t walk to.

And it’s good we have most everything we need close by because the challenges of getting out of our neighborhood are going to be huge in the next few years. Life is going to be very different without 35W roaring through our community. There are so many everyday errands we’re going to have to rethink, simple trips that always began by getting on the freeway.

But the flip side is that other people are also going to have trouble getting into our neighborhood. With 35W traffic being rerouted to 280, and with University traffic detoured to the Huron Avenue exit on I-94, will the hundreds of University students who usually park on our streets park elsewhere? Maybe Prospect Park? Will we enjoy easier access to the river without so many cars racing down University and 4th to and from the freeway? And might the crime rate go down? One thing we often hear is that neighborhoods like ours, with easy access to the freeway, are attractive to criminals and drug dealers, who can quickly be miles away from the scene of their illegal activities. One thing I know for sure is that the neighborhood will simply be quieter without the constant hum of thousands of cars, trucks and motorcycles flying by.

One thing I’m definitely hoping for is that a thorough and honest investigation gets to the bottom of who should have been responsible for the structural safety of that bridge. It’s too soon for politics, I suppose, but I can’t help but think back to the Governor’s veto of the recent transportation bill. Those monies wouldn’t have kept the 35W bridge from falling, but if we hadn’t been riding the “no new taxes” train for so long in this state, our roads, bridges, schools and health-care system would surely be in better shape, and not suffering from years of underfunding and neglect.

For now, though, we all have to get used to this new reality and pray for the victims of this horrific tragedy and their loved ones. It’s surely strange to be at the center of a national tragedy like this, and I, for one, hope that we can learn from this experience, righting our local, state and national priorities so that we remember the importance of investing wisely in our communities, rather than living on the cheap and crossing our fingers.