The new $28 million Walnut Street Bridge opened yesterday morning allowing Center City motorists to enter the University area directly for the first time since 1988, but drivers and government officials faced another obstacle. Twenty bicyclists were lying across the road. They were protesting the opening of the bridge, saying the new structure did not provide sufficient space for cyclists. But after the protest cleared, a train of honking cars initiated the 2400-foot bridge, the first few of the 20,000 cars that are expected to use the bridge daily. The bridge starts at 24th street, spans the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill Expressway, and brings passengers to 32nd street. Before cutting the ribbon, city officials delivered several speeches about how the bridge will cut congestion in Center City. Motorists have been detoured around the bridge to Market Street since February 1988, when the 94-year-old steel structure was closed. As more cars began to use the bridge during the day, students noticed the sudden increase in traffic at the University end of the bridge. Philadelphia resident Marta Pelczarski, poised in front of the ribbon in her white Plymouth Reliant, said that she had been waiting a half hour in order to have the honor of being the first person to drive a car across the bridge in over two years. Pelczarski said that in her daily drives into a Center City dance school she had had to go out of her way over South Street or Market Street bridge. But not all were happy about the bridge. Engineering freshman Mic Notshulwana, who was crossing Walnut Street at 33rd street to head for his 11 a.m. class, said that he had noticed more cars in the area. Notshulwana said that since his Hill House room faces Walnut Street, he will be affected by "a lot more noise." "That will mean closing the windows all the time," Notshulwala said. And 20 protesting bicyclists said they felt the bridge's shoulders, where bicyclists ride, were not wide enough along the length of the bridge. The protesters lay on their backs across the road, eyes closed, bicycles beside them. Police and government officials were quickly able to persuade the protesters to get up, but organizers said that the group had not intended a long protest. Third-year mathematics graduate student Jeffrey Abrahamson said the Bicycle Coalition of the Delaware Valley, of which he is president, has sent letters to PennDOT recommending the widening of the bridge's shoulders. Abrahamson said that cars would not be able to pass bicycles safely and would "force bikes off the roadway." He added that bicycles could use the sidewalks, but that this is more dangerous because turning cars do not notice bicycles coming off the sidewalks to cross intersections. As the bicyclers got up to leave, University graduate Noel Weyrich, a Coalition member who lives in Center City, thanked everyone for attending the "dedication of a deathtrap." Lester later called the protest "unfortunate" and said that bicyclers should rally for bike lanes on all roads instead of concentrating on that particular stretch of Walnut Street.Comments powered by Disqus
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