National buzz for 'Buddy's bridge' | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

National buzz for 'Buddy's bridge'

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2006 at 4:52 PM

The new June edition of Bicycling magazine opens with a note from editor Stephen Madden about his recent trip to Little Rock to see the new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River that's about to open at Murray Lock and Dam.

It's quite a nice piece, giving the city some good national publicity and underscoring the benefits the bridge will bring. It also gives credit to Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, who conceived the project and got it built. (Last week we told you about a petition drive to officially name the bridge for Villines.)

Since it is not available on the magazine's website, we're putting the full text after the jump. Here are some choice excerpts:

The 4,200 foot span is a pedestrian- and bicycle-only bridge built on a dam that towers as much as 75 feet above the river.  You read right:  bikes and pedestrians only.  At a total cost of $12.5 million ($8 million of which came from the Feds), Buddy’s Bridge will be the longest and highest car-free bridge in the world. ...

When I ask him why a bike bridge should be his legacy, he gives a quick answer.  “Bridges connect people and places,” he says.  “This one will attract people and be good for economic growth.  When you approach the bridge, you have to look both up and forward, and I like that metaphor.  Plus, our culture has got to change its ways.  We have to be healthier.  I think that once the bridge is open, 60-70 percent of the people in the community will use it.”

Think about that the next time a local politician tries to convince you to pay more taxes so he can build a stadium for a billionaire owner of a professional sports franchise who’ll charge ticket prices so high you won’t be able to take your family to a ball game for less than $400; a bridge we can all use to get off our fat butts for $12.5 million, or $400 million for a place we can sit around and watch someone else do something.

LOOKING UP AND FORWARD

If you called the folks at central casting and asked to send over a Southern politician, chances are the actor would look and sound a lot like F.G. “Buddy” Villines, the judge and chief executive officer of Pulaski County, Arkansas.  Of a certain age, and of a certain size, Judge Villines has a white beard that’s as silky as his political acumen, which explains why he has held elected offices in and around Little Rock for 22 years.

Lately, as Judge Villines explained to me one recent, warm morning in his office in downtown Little Rock, he has started to think about his legacy.  “You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I rode my bike all the time as a kid,” he said.  “My memory of cycling is that it was fun.  My doctor told me to exercise.  Walking is boring.  So I started riding again.  Not a lot, but I can cover more ground on a bike than I can walking.”

He took me onto the terrace of his office, with the Arkansas River off in the distance.  He pointed out the recreation trails that line the river’s banks, about seven miles on each side.  To cross the river and close the loop, cyclists have to brave bridges with traffic.  “That can be kind of dicey,” the Judge said.

But that will all change this October, when the as-yet-unnamed-but-jokingly-monikered Damn Buddy’s Dam Bridge opens for public use.  The 4,200 foot span is a pedestrian- and bicycle-only bridge built on a dam that towers as much as 75 feet above the river.  You read right:  bikes and pedestrians only.  At a total cost of $12.5 million ($8 million of which came from the Feds), Buddy’s Bridge will be the longest and highest car-free bridge in the world.

When the bridge is complete and renovations are finished on the Bill Clinton Bridge at the east end of town, riders will be able to enjoy an excellent, 15-mile loop run almost entirely on wide paths and through parkland, all with front-row views of the river and the cityscape.  It’s a sweet little ride, as I discovered that afternoon.  We have the Judge to thank for all that.

When I ask him why a bike bridge should be his legacy, he gives a quick answer.  “Bridges connect people and places,” he says.  “This one will attract people and be good for economic growth.  When you approach the bridge, you have to look both up and forward, and I like that metaphor.  Plus, our culture has got to change its ways.  We have to be healthier.  I think that once the bridge is open, 60-70 percent of the people in the community will use it.”

Think about that the next time a local politician tries to convince you to pay more taxes so he can build a stadium for a billionaire owner of a professional sports franchise who’ll charge ticket prices so high you won’t be able to take your family to a ball game for less than $400; a bridge we can all use to get off our fat butts for $12.5 million, or $400 million for a place we can sit around and watch someone else do something.

Thanks, Judge.  If you ever decide to run for national office, let me know.  I think I can deliver at least one voting bloc.

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