Sunday, April 27, 2003

Purple People Bridge links Newport, downtown

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Thousands of people taking part in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure were the first people to officially cross the Newport Southbank Bridge Saturday morning.
(Ernest Coleman photos)
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Yetta Petty, 48, of Newport, remembers watching the trains cross the old L&N Bridge from Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati.

Saturday she gazed at the same bridge, this time filled with thousands of people on foot.

"This is so neat to see, this bridge getting some use again," she said.

The 2,670-foot Newport Southbank Bridge, formerly the L&N (Louisville & Nashville), is the longest pedestrian bridge in the country that links two states.

The structure officially opened for pedestrians, cyclists and skaters Saturday, shedding its previous life as a rusty, useless hunk of metal. The restoration began in 2000 at the urging of Kentucky House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, who wanted to revive and paint the span.

Four million dollars later, the bridge has embraced its new role and its new moniker - the Purple People Bridge - a nickname coined for its bright lavender paint job.

[IMAGE] Cyclists ride along Riverbank Row in Newport during the Southbank Bicycle Race.
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"It's like we've got a rainbow over the river now," Petty said, looking at the multicolored structures that extend across the Ohio River.

The new flashy-hued span literally bridges the gap between Newport and Cincinnati. Water taxis already shuffle people back and forth for Cincinnati Reds games and special events. A lunchtime shuttle helps downtown Cincinnati workers hop on a bus for some grub at Newport on the Levee. And now pedestrians will have the best of both cities within walking distance.

"It's a wonderful gift to citizens to be able to get to both places with ease," said Jim Coppock of Mount Lookout.

Coppock and friends Don Burrell of Delhi and David Rombach of Hebron had their bicycles in tow Saturday. The trio spent the past few years working on issues for cyclists with a pedestrian advisory committee in Cincinnati.

"We're not really up to speed with other cities, but this (bridge) helps," Rombach said. "It's definitely a much safer route for people on bicycles."

Unfortunately, the three found the crowd at bridge kickoff event to be too thick.

"We had to walk our bikes across," Coppock said.

Thousands were on hand for the weekend's grand opening.

The festivities began Friday with a private party to raise money for the bridge maintenance fund. The evening concluded with purple fireworks.

Name(s): L&N Bridge (the old official name), Newport Southbank Bridge (the new official name), Purple People Bridge (what folks are calling it).

Opened: April 1, 1872.

Length: 2,670 feet, the longest pedestrian bridge in the country that links two states.

Closed to cars, pedestrians: 2001.

Restoration cost: $4 million.

Why they chose purple: A dozen focus groups were shown computer-generated images of the bridge in a variety of colors. In every group, purple was a top choice.

The first to cross the bridge Saturday were several thousand people for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Greater Cincinnati Race for the Cure, a run/walk to raise money for research.

Other Saturday events included the Southbank Bicycle Race, an antique car show, hot air balloon rides, and street artists, craft booths, clowns and food vendors. An opening ceremony on the Newport side concluded with fluttering purple and silver confetti.

"This is just a fun thing to be doing," said Dick Lewis of Wrights Corner, Ind., who was boasting a 1931 Model A Ford in the vintage car show, which was held on the bridge, probably the last time any cars will be on the structure.

Most enthusiastic were members of the Purple Peacocks and the Purple Two-lips groups, who raved about the bridge's color. The two chapters are a part of the Red Hat Society, an organization devoted to fun after age 50, whose members are often distinguished by vibrant purple clothing and large red hats. They were asked to participate in the kickoff parade, and were happy to oblige.

"I guess because of the purple bridge, we fit right in," said Nanette Ripberger, 64, of Cheviot. "Besides, we never miss anything fun."

The women were impressed with the quality of the structure, which will be outfitted with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras, emergency call boxes and trash cans.

"For my fear of heights, I did good," said Carol Sheyer, 57, of Covedale. "It's a nice bridge - but I stayed right in the middle by the yellow line."

Magician Kristian Charles, who works at Newport on the Levee, was on the Newport end of the bridge, performing a trick involving a $10 bill and a kiwi fruit.

"I think this might bring more people back and forth," he shrugged. "I guess it's a good thing."

But Charles was already skeptical about how much use the Purple People Bridge will get.

"I usually just use the (Interstate) 471 bridge when I make magic in Cincinnati," he said.


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