Some Question Why Bike Bridge Not Part of Plans for New OhioHealth Offices
Big changes are coming to the area surrounding West North Broadway and State Route 315. A new office complex means that upgrades to the street network are planned and a freeway exit is being removed, but Clintonville residents and Olentangy Trail users will have to wait for a long-hoped-for bike and pedestrian bridge across the river.
The list of infrastructure improvements announced by the City of Columbus to complement the new OhioHealth offices does not include a bridge to connect the Olentangy Trail with the new development, although city officials say that the project could still happen at some point in the future.
“It’s a huge missed opportunity,” said Will Koehler, a Clintonville resident and bike advocate who sits on the Clintonville Area Commission’s planning and development committee. “Here you have the leading health organization in the city, and they’re not promoting healthy living, they’re not giving their employees healthy transportation choices to get to their campus.”
The new offices, which are currently under construction, sit on the west bank of the Olentangy River, south of North Broadway and east of Olentangy River Road.
Koehler said that a bridge spanning the river at that point on the trail would provide a safe, low-stress way for cyclists or pedestrians to access the new offices, as well as the many other businesses along the Olentangy River Road corridor.
“A low-stress connection means that you don’t have to be an athlete or a fearless person to use it,” said Koehler, “and this would be such an ideal way to provide that for so many people.”
A new bridge would also be a key first step in a plan to eliminate the last remaining section of the Olentangy Trail that detours away from the river and onto city streets.
“That’s been a difficult section for many years,” said Brad Westall, the city’s Greenways Planner. “A bridge in the area around Clinton Como Park makes logical sense…it would be so easy to get to for a lot of people.”
A second bridge, at Northmoor Park, would allow trail users heading north or south to continue along the west bank of the river, on the city-owned land in front of the new OhioHealth site (the city does not control the riverfront land on the east bank of the river in that section). That bridge would be more difficult to build because of the relative lack of space to work with in the park, according to Westall.
Steve Schoeny, the city’s Development Director, led the team that negotiated an incentive deal with OhioHealth for its new offices. Although not a part of the final package of promised infrastructure upgrades, he said the bike bridge is “something that has been examined and we’ll continue to look at…along with a bunch of other options, like improving the connection across North Broadway, improving the connection down at Ackerman, and looking at how do we do bike lanes throughout the Olentangy River Road corridor.”
Mark Hopkins of OhioHealth expressed general support for “the development of bike and pedestrian paths and other resources that help people stay active and are eco-friendly.”
“In fact,” Hopkinsn added, “the city’s plans call for development of ‘shared use’ bike paths through the administrative office project and also along Olentangy River Rd. north to the McConnell Heart Health Center.”
As for the bridge idea, Hopkins said, “we can’t speculate about what the city plans to do with the city-owned land along the river, but would be open to discussion if they decided to pursue that.”
Other private interests have been more open in their support of a bike and pedestrian bridge across the river.
“We definitely would have interest in this,” said Brent Crawford, Principal of Crawford Hoying, the developer who bought the 16-acre Kohls site just south of the OhioHealth site and is looking into developing it.
“Part of our initial look at a redevelopment had included (a bike bridge),” he added. “We are still in early stages of planning, but we certainly intend to push this piece forward when the time is right.”
The fact that the roughly $40 million being spent on infrastructure improvements is going mostly toward new roads and changes to the street network has been noticed by local residents and trail users. Many of the comments from residents that attended the city’s two open houses about the infrastructure improvements were about trail access to the site.
Also, at the July 6th Clintonville Area Commission meeting, there were “many commission and public questions about” the trail and a possible bridge, according to notes posted online.
Westall, the city’s Greenways Planner, remains hopeful that the project will eventually happen.
“Hopefully we’ll have a project in the not too distant future to connect both sides,” he said, adding that the new OhioHealth development may end up furthering the cause; “it’s projects like these that help to get that discussion going.”