Discover Duluth Redux: Bong BridgeA relatively young age is just one advantage the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge has over its older counterpart, the John A. Blatnik Bridge (aka the “High Bridge”).
By: Matthew R. Perrine, Budgeteer News
Originally published May 9, 2008, on DuluthBudgeteer.com.
The Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge was dedicated with much fanfare July 20, 1985.
A three-day celebration, dubbed one of the year’s largest and most exciting events by that week’s Budgeteer, culminated in a “spectacular” air show at Duluth International Airport. Other highlights included a Coast Guard salute under the bridge, a 49th Fighter Wing flyover and a foot race across it — and back.
A relatively young age is just one advantage the Bong Bridge has over its older counterpart, the John A. Blatnik Bridge (aka the “High Bridge”): Of the two major arteries connecting Duluth and Superior, only the one named for Bong, a celebrated World War II fighter pilot, has a dedicated pedestrian walkway.
It’s great for thrifty border workers, conscientious objectors to Big Oil (as witnessed last week*) and ... roaming Budgeteer photographers up for a little five-mile exercise challenge now and again.
*Carl Sack responds to being placed on our cover in the photo titled "Keep Earth Alive, Don't Drive":
"When I built bicycle-mounted buckets to haul supplies for bike-commuting around town, I decided to paint them with slogans in the hope that they would draw attention. Therefore it was gratifying to see that my picture — albeit one of my backside — and my bike’s main message made it onto the front page of last weekend’s Budgeteer News.
Now that I’ve been noticed, I’d like to explain myself a bit to the community. I work as a substitute teacher — on the day the picture was taken, I was riding home from a day at Denfeld High School — and kids who see me on my bike often ask, bewildered, why I ride. To most young people, the ability to drive is a holy grail, a major privilege to look forward to. I remember feeling this way in high school too.
I tell the kids who ask me this question a few things: Biking is healthier for me than sitting in a car. Biking to work is more interesting than driving; my commute is longer, but I don’t notice the time pass as much. Like my buckets say, biking is better for the environment and reduces, if only by a tiny amount, the threat of global warming. And, of no small importance to me, biking is cheaper than driving. Much cheaper.
You see, I am not some deadbeat trust-fund hippy. Like much of the working class today, I work two jobs to get by (and I am single with no dependents). I do not have a high income; last year I got all of my taxes back. I do own a car, and it really does count whether I have to spend an extra $5 to $10 to fill up my gas tank. The message on my buckets is largely for myself — an environmental reminder to reduce the temptation of using expensive gas. But in the winter, the Bong Bridge bikeway is not plowed, so like it or not I have to drive to get from my home in Superior to work in Duluth.
Therein lies the main problem. I can’t take the bus, because I work in the evening and the last bus to Superior runs around 7 p.m. Even during peak times, they only go every half hour, and most of the day they’re hourly. Meanwhile, forget about improving our bus system, neither the city of Duluth nor the state of Minnesota can seem to come up with a paltry $1.5 million for a study on the cost of passenger rail to the Twin Cities, despite the billions spent every year on road building and maintenance in the state.
If we are going to solve our oil addiction and halt climate change, we can’t just blame workers and consumers, who are bombarded with commercial messages that idolize the automobile in such a way that driving a car has become an unquestioned symbol not just of status, but of adulthood. We must create (or re-create) efficient mass transit systems that can convey the majority of commuters to the places they need to go at the times they need to be there. There should be a Marshall Plan to retrofit transportation, energy supply and industry to cut this country’s carbon output by 90 percent or more in the next decade.
I am 25 years old now. I am going to have to watch as this one and only Earth changes from the lush garden we take for granted to a boiling hothouse with mass extinction, famine and war over increasingly scarce energy resources and water. If little messages painted on a bike can help people start to take these threats seriously, then I feel like I’ve taken a baby step toward accomplishing something."
“Discover Duluth” is an ongoing photo essay series by Matthew R. Perrine that highlights points of interest in and around the region. For more photos from this set, click on the accompanying photo gallery.