2006-04-27 / Letters to the Editor

A memory of two bridges

Amidst the current sentiments arising from the demise of the Jamestown bridge, ranging from the wistful to the lessthan charitable, I think this week's historic event also has its place as perhaps the symbol of a certain cultural trend.

The concept of "road rage" did not exist during most of the structure's tenure, nor did the notion that anything more than two lanes would be needed for the expected volume of traffic. The open mesh steel deck was intimidating to some, but it also made people necessarily more aware of their surroundings, much in the way that the likelihood of having to change a tire (in any weather) used to be greater than it is today.

The newer bridge represented the relative safety and security of the evolved transportation infrastructure, which three generations after the birth of the old bridge has led to the public "right" to travel at 65 mph and higher on most highways. This thinking is now so much a part of the fabric of everyday life that any "imperfection" in a road is considered a hazard in need of fixing, since slowing down is no longer really an option. As technology advances to protect us, old survival skills wither away as they become unnecessary. We can now cross Narragansett Bay without that intimidating feeling of vulnerability, but also with a bit less sense of awareness and adventure. There is also no need to slow down from standard highway speed (despite the 45mph speed limit) since the new bridge is just a part of the monolithic monotony of the modern highway system.

While this is not intended to be a Luddite's lament, the memory of the two bridges existing alongside each other for many years could represent the evolutionary change of technology and perspectives that occurs as gradually and incrementally as the receding tide. As some things are gained, other things are imperceptively lost.

Jon Dember


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