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Des Moines, Iowa Bridges

One of the most unexpected places to find a variety of interesting bridges, historic and modern, traffic and pedestrian, is Des Moines, Iowa. Des Moines is located at the confluence of two rivers, so the presence of bridges is not unexpected. However, the creative manner in which they have re-purposed multiple older bridges into pedestrian bridges, constructed now pedestrian bridges, and then added brilliantly-colored lighting at night, is a pleasant surprise.

Three historic bridges, all within a short distance of each other near downtown, have been preserved and converted to pedestrian-only bridges. These are known as the Green Bridge, Riverside Park Drive Bridge, and Red Bridge.

On the southern fringe of downtown, a short walk upstream on the Raccoon River from the stadium, is the Fifth Avenue Bridge, also called the Jackson Street Bridge, and more widely known in Des Moines as the Green Bridge. The Green Bridge was constructed in 1898 as a roadway bridge leading to southern suburbs of the city. The bridge was abandoned in the 1990s, rehabilitated, and then reopened as a pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge in 2016, becoming the fourth pedestrian bridge connecting trails in downtown Des Moines. Consistent with its name, the bridge is freshly painted dark green, with a black steel railing and wooden deck.

Directly at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers is the Riverside Park Drive Bridge, also known as the Southwest First Street Trail Bridge. This is a handsome open-spandrel cement arch bridge consisting of five arch spans and dating from 1937. This bridge was converted to pedestrian and bicycle-only use in 2006. The bridge is wide, with dedicated bike lanes in the middle of the bridge and sidewalks with comfortable benches and planter boxes on either side.

Directly opposite the main part of downtown, crossing the Des Moines River, is the Red Bridge. Constructed by the Des Moines Union Railway in 1891, the Red Bridge is a hybrid construction type that has been partially reconstructed a few times. The ends of the bridge are steel-plate girder construction, but the two spans in the middle of the river are the original steel through-truss spans. The bridge was abandoned in 1996, but it was rehabilitated and reopened as a pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge in 2004. The bridge is painted bright red and lined with a modern white railing. In the center of the bridge, between the two through-truss spans, a modern platform extending off both sides of the bridge has been added to the original structure. This modern platform is outfitted with benches and is designed to provide a relaxing park-like space in the middle of the river. The Red Bridge is lighted at night, both from the outside, and with lighting of the steel components from within the truss. Because the bridge is a very bright shade of red, the interior lighting makes the bridge appear as if it glows from within at night.

A prominent feature of the Des Moines skyline on the north side of downtown is the high white arch of the sculptural Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, also known as the Center Street Bridge. Center Street Bridge was constructed in 2010 as a third pedestrian and bicycle-only bridge connecting the trail systems on either side of the river. Considering this seemingly limited purpose, and the fact that the Red Bridge a short distance away also offers a pedestrian-only connection between these trails, construction of the Center Street Bridge seems unnecessary. It is somewhat surprising, then, that it was constructed on a monumental scale.

Many cities have rehabilitated a single abandoned bridge and set it aside for pedestrian use, providing links between the riverwalks and other park trails in the area. Des Moines has done this not with a single bridge, but with three bridges within a short walking distance. More importantly, the conversions are not limited to blocking the ends to preclude car access and just allowing pedestrians to cross. Red Bridge had park-like platforms constructed on both sides, and both Red Bridge and Riverside Park Drive have benches added to develop the bridges into attractive park spaces in the middle of the river.

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