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February 21, 2012

Winning design for Belmont: No bridge, more connectivity for Belmont and Downtown Mall

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DailyProgress

20120219-Martin_Kate
Kate Martin, UVa Architecture graduate student, next to her team’s winning entry

Related Belmont Bridge stories:

UVa teams unveil Belmont Bridge concepts, 2/12/2012 by Sean Tubbs

UVa teams finalizing designs for new Belmont Bridge, 2/11/2012 by Courtney Beale & Sean Tubbs

UVa architecture school to spend next 10 days imagining a new Belmont Bridge, 2/1/2012 by Brian Wheeler

Belmont residents seek new design for city bridge, 1/30/2012 by Sean Tubbs

Belmont Bridge design coming into focus, 6/22/2011 by Sean Tubbs

City to pay $14K to fence off Belmont Bridge sidewalk, 4/13/2011 by Jason Ha & Sean Tubbs

JPA bridge replacement funded by money from Belmont Bridge project, 1/27/2011 by Sean Tubbs

Belmont Bridge replacement offers opportunities for cyclists, pedestrians, 12/1/2010 by Sean Tubbs

City adopts new strategy to accelerate Belmont Bridge project, 5/19/2010 by Sean Tubbs

MMM Design selected to oversee new Belmont Bridge design work, 4/8/2009 by Sean Tubbs

By Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The winning entry in the grassroots contest to design a new Belmont Bridge is a proposal that recommended eliminating the bridge altogether. Community members and exhibitors gathered together Sunday at CitySpace to learn the results of the Project Gait-Way design contest.

With over 120 ballots for 36 entries, the jurors and the public agreed that the UVa project, “Belmont Unabridged,” was the best idea for the city. The concept won first place in all four categories: Judges’ Best Bridge Design, Judges’ Best Urban Design, People’s Choice Best Bridge Design and People’s Choice Best Urban Design.

The winning team was made up of UVa students Kate Martin, Wyatt Hill, Nell Connors, Charlotte Miller, Jason Truesdale, Joanna McKnight, Madeleine Hawks, Kirsten Sparenborg, Chris Barker, Enrique Cavelier, Meghan Maupin, Rodrick Cruz, and Kelly Hitzing. The UVa faculty advisors for the team were Daniel Bluestone and W.G. Clark.

“We had doubts about going into a bridge competition without a bridge, but we did feel strongly that [our design] was the right answer,” said Martin, a second-year graduate student in architecture and member of the winning team, which received $1,300 in prize money.

The winning concept focused on better connecting the Downtown Mall with Belmont and would remove the existing bridge over the railroad tracks to create an at-grade crossing on Avon Street for vehicles. The Belmont Unabridged entry would also relocate the nTelos Wireless Pavilion and widen the underpass on Fourth Street Southeast to two lanes to accommodate more traffic.

“We decided to take the Downtown Mall and design it in such a way that it reached Belmont,” Martin said.

The winning designers said they were thinking about the needs of Charlottesville in the future.

“Designs like [Belmont Unabridged] are looking forward and saying, ‘What are the needs of the community going to be in the next 100 years? Will we [have] 150 coal cars coming by holding up traffic and do we need to accommodate that?’ Probably not,” said Brian Wimer, the Belmont filmmaker who created the contest.

The jury was made of local community stakeholders Peter Waldman, a professor of Architecture at UVa; Phoebe Crisman, associate professor of architecture at UVa; Greg Jackson, president of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association; Joe Atkins, architect and former Board of Architectural Review chair; Heather Higgins from Bike Charlottesville; Zack Worrell, co-founder of the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative; and Brian Wimer.

20120219-bridge_exhibit

The submissions were judged on how well the design would suit the needs of pedestrians, bikers and automobiles as well as aesthetics, feasibility, innovation and sustainability.

“[Removing] the bridge opens up opportunities and former easements,” said Wimer. “[With this] the city now has property that it can either lease or sell; it is a huge corridor. When you look at it this is actually a net-gain of revenue for the City instead of a $14 million expense.”

In addition, the judges liked the way Belmont Unabridged fused the Downtown Mall with Belmont and the rest of the city.

The entries were not limited to UVa students and the contest caught the imagination of many Charlottesville residents.

David Robinson, a creative director at Birch Studio and resident of Mill Creek South, said “I cross that bridge twice a day… I see the issues.”

He focused his design on practicality and making the bridge feel like part of the Downtown Mall.


Watch Brian Wimer's interview with a member of the winning team
TEAM-18_FINAL-BOARDweb

View Brian Wimer's coverage of the winning entry
Poster image by Brian Wimer

The Belmont Bridge was built in 1961 and a study in 2003 determined the bridge’s deck was deteriorating and recommended replacement as a more cost-effective solution than repair. City officials say the $14.5 million project, and a proposal submitted by MMM Design, are on hold so that some new ideas can be evaluated.

Some of the exhibit models have moved on to the Chroma Gallery in the Downtown Mall to be featured in the exhibit, “Paper City.” Others will be showcased during the Tom Tom music festival in the spring.

Although the prizes have been awarded and the exhibits will move to new venues, Wimer encouraged the community to stay involved in the project and follow it as it is presented to Charlottesville City Council.

“This whole thing was an experiment in getting involved and the lesson learned was that being involved results in change,” Wimer said. “It’s up to you to keep pushing [the project]. We have to keep the momentum going.”

Maurice Cox, an architecture professor and former Charlottesville mayor, has helped create a grant proposal for cities seeking to complete this type of project. The judges are encouraging all those interested to come and speak at tonight’s City Council meeting on behalf of the project in hopes of persuading the city to pursue the grant.

“The city has talked about putting together an ad hoc committee made up of city councilors, faculty members and neighborhood activists in Belmont to begin to really go over proposals with a fine-toothed comb and pull out the things that are most relevant to continue a dialogue on the transformation of this area,” Cox said.

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