The Casco Bay Bridge Abomination

I resent the bridge that connects the coastal peninsula where I live to the city where I work. The cruelty of its “bike path” especially galls me. The lane’s only separation from barreling traffic is a faded stripe of grit and broken glass that cars and trucks drift back and forth over in the perennial strong winds that also conjure up cyclones of litter and debris.

This section of the otherwise lovely commute into Portland must feel what it’s like biking on Route 1 into Boston over the Tobin Bridge. Anyone sober or minimally risk averse won’t do it but the alternative is to ride on the sidewalk separated from the stampede of vehicles by a grim cement barricade that pedestrians believe is exclusively theirs. I feel the walkers’ resentment of me as I whiz by on my bike resenting the poor design of the bridge.

The Casco Bay Bridge pits cyclists against walkers and people with carts and wagons trying to navigate an urban monstrosity when the real enemies are oil companies and artless bureaucrats.

“It’s not my fault!” I want to shout as I ring my bell announcing my oncoming presence on wheels to a family on foot scrambling to get itself organized single-file. “Share the sidewalk!”

Why is the bridge so ugly and accessorized only with barbed wire, steel beams and chipped paint? Why must rust soil its dingy boring facades and nowhere can be found an architectural line interesting enough to spark the imagination? Where are the coils, sculpture, poetry, spirals and arches that adorn the bridges of my youth in Rhode Island and New York?

There is no majesty in the Casco Bay Bridge, no romance, or style or good taste. It’s a bridge built to suit the needs of gigantic petroleum companies whose tankers infest the Fore River like sharks and a bridge designed so people drive like jerks.

Coming in to Portland via the bridge in a vehicle the wide two-lane highway ascends just enough to prevent seeing the other side and begs acceleration up to speeds of 50 or 60 miles per hour. Then suddenly there appears a ridiculously tight four-way intersection lined with a rickety narrow brick sidewalk overgrown with hedges that’s gingerly being navigated by pedestrians and cyclists and people in wheelchairs and on scooters and skate boards. A collision is always imminent.

The Casco Bay Bridge could be so much more. More attractive, more efficient, better lit — you name it. There is nothing to praise except the sheer magnitude of its ugliness and improbable birth from our skin-and-bones public transportation system.

Transportation in America today is retched. A smoothly paved road feels like a full body massage but is the expectation that something beautiful might spring from a functional need to connect two vibrant sea-side communities asking too much? Is an awful bridge a first world problem?

No, I say! Poor design and the absence of art is a symptom of a society unraveling and not confident about the future. A bridge as infrastructure or metaphor should bring people together.