A bright idea for city's skywalks Bridges: As a safety measure, lights will be installed by spring on six of the downtown pedestrian walkways.

Urban Landscape

July 18, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

FOR TOURISTS and conventioneers who are in the dark about where to go in downtown Baltimore at night, the Schmoke administration wants to shed some light on the subject.

The city has long had a skywalk system of pedestrian bridges that connect the Baltimore Convention Center with spots such as Harborplace and the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Some of the footbridges are practically unusable after dark, however, because they aren't illuminated.

By spring, however, the city's Public Works Department will light six of the bridges so they will be easier to navigate at night.

The problem with unlighted footbridges, planners say, is that people can't see very well where they are going or who is approaching them. The lights are intended to make the skywalks as bright as the sidewalks below.

"The primary focus of the lighting is safety," explained Douglas Andrew, project manager for KCI Technologies Inc., which heads the bridge-lighting design team. "It will help you tell whether friend or foe is coming toward you," he said during a presentation to Baltimore's Architectural Review Board last week.

The bridge-lighting effort is part of the Brighten Baltimore campaign, which is designed to illuminate key downtown buildings and public spaces.

The lights will be installed under a $1.5 million contract to refurbish footbridges connecting attractions around the Inner Harbor. Funds will come from the city's Department of Transportation.

City officials say they want to complete the work in time for the city's bicentennial in 1997 and April's reopening of the Baltimore Convention Center after a multimillion-dollar refurbishment.

The bridges, all about 15 years old, span Pratt, Light and South Charles streets. They connect the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace with the McKeldin Fountain; the McKeldin Fountain with the Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel; Harborplace with the Hyatt garage; the Bell Atlantic building with the Convention Center; the NationsBank Center with the Convention Center; and the National Aquarium with the Inner Harbor Center.

Other consultants to the project are Alpha Corp. of Baltimore and Allen & Shariff Corp. of Columbia.

Andrew said the city's Public Works Department had planned other repairs for the footbridges and decided to add lighting to the contract as part of the Brighten Baltimore campaign.

The city wants the work to be completed at the same time as the $150 million Convention Center expansion because the bridges serve many conventioneers and tourists who visit downtown Baltimore.

The Convention Center expansion will open in September, after which the original building will be closed until April 1997 for renovations.

During his presentation to the review board, Andrew said the team has been trying to decide whether to use a lamp-and-pole design already in use locally.

He said KCI has been following guidelines developed for the Brighten Baltimore campaign by Grenald Waldron Associates of Norris, Pa., and has tentatively proposed use of the "sugar cube" light fixture style found throughout Charles Center and the Inner Harbor.

The review panel questioned whether the sugar cube was the best choice, since the bridges are long and narrow and are aboveground.

"Maybe there should be a Baltimore bridge light designed by somebody," suggested panel member Phoebe Stanton. "We are not devoid of design capability in this town. Somebody designed the sugar cube. Maybe somebody could design this."

Andrew said the team is open to suggestions and will consider other fixtures in the Brighten Baltimore guidebook. The advantage of using a standard light fixture, he noted, is that it would be in stock and could be installed sooner than a fixture made from scratch.

Andrew also presented a preliminary proposal to introduce "aesthetic lighting" on the sides of the bridges, using fiber optic strands that would change color.

Review board members said they were intrigued by the fiber optic strands but didn't consider them as essential as the safety lights.

They also expressed concerns that the fiber optic lights would break or that pedestrians would try to steal them.

"They're amazing," Stanton said. But "we're already haunted by neon signs that break down and flicker."

Cheesecake Factory opening at Harborplace

The newest restaurant at Harborplace, a branch of the California-based Cheesecake Factory, will open Monday after a private reception Saturday. Featuring neo-Egyptian decor and a menu that includes much more than cheesecake, it is on the first floor of the Pratt Street pavilion, where the Nickel City Grill used to be.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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