Caitlin Stallings
Guest Columnist

Of the many projects on the plate of the City’s Department of Planning and Development Review, the Brown’s Island Dam Walk (BIDW) is the top priority of the Richmond community.

An unexpected number of over 200 Richmond natives showed their support and appreciation for the project at the Department of Planning and Development Review’s public meeting on Tuesday February 18, 2014.

However, the BIDW is not a new topic of discussion. Many Richmonders have been asking, waiting and wishing for the Brown’s Island Dam Walk for years.

“It’s just amazing for me to see Richmond evolve into a city that I want to live in, and this [BIDW] has become a part of what makes this place unique,” says Karen Thomas, Board Member of the Friends of James River Park.

Hargreaves Associates is the firm leading the design of the Dam Walk. Representatives from the firm introduced their designs for the Phase 1 Implementation Project, the BIDW, which will provide the latest access point to the James River.

The newly improved Dam Walk will serve as vehicle-free, pedestrian and bike route connecting Brown’s Island on the north bank to the floodwall and Manchester neighborhood on the south bank.

“It [BIDW] has evolved considerably from where we were

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in 2012, and really is about the connections across and along the river,” says Mark Olinger, Director of the Department of Planning and Development Review.

The Three Days in April Civil War Memorial is a segment of the 1,700 foot old dam structure and originates at Brown’s Island, but cuts off before it meets the south bank due to public safety reasons.

Kirt Rieder, Principal of Hargreaves Associates, jokingly showed the huge crowd a photograph taken in 2011 of a couple near the Three Days in April Civil War Memorial to emphasize the need for the re-establishment of this connection.

“By God, this area is just begging for a reconnection even if people aren’t using it in the safest manner possible,” says Rieder.

The current Vepco Levy Bridge Photo courtesy of Phil Riggan
The current Vepco Levy Bridge
Photo courtesy of Phil Riggan

The BIDW will be constructed using some of the existing historical structure such as the concrete piers and a steel superstructure.

As stated on the Department of Planning and Development Review’s website, “The power plant ceased operation around 1980, ending almost eight decades of dam operations.”

Mary Lydecker, Project Manager of Hargreaves Associates, elaborated on the proposal’s inclusion of a 10 foot wide clear bridge, which would be placed over the surviving concrete piers and steel structure, as well as a recommended 48 inch guard rail to oblige bicyclists using the bridge. The bridge would require the addition of a metal framework for stability.

The firm’s primary goal is to achieve a transparent effect. Lydecker suggested the use of discrete pathway lights and overlook lighting, particularly on the benches that will be attached to the four overlooks. The lighting will be purely functional for public safety.

The panel responded to comments and questions at the end of the meeting, which lasted for about an hour. Some audience members made useful suggestions including the use of solar lighting and the building of public art into structures, which would create opportunities for more benches and stairways on the Dam Walk. Everyone who spoke seemed to show a great deal of gratitude for the BIDW.

Olinger announced that the Department of Planning and Development Review has requested $3.2 million to complete Richmond Riverfront Plan projects. Most of the money will go towards the construction of the BIDW, since it will be the most expensive project. There is currently no set amount of funds determined for the BIDW, but it will remain the most highly anticipated project in the Richmond area up until its expected date of implementation in September 2015.

“This is unparalleled because most scenic river structures are all, except for this one, in rural settings. This being in an urban setting makes it fantastically unique because of the recreational and historical aspects,” says Greg Velzy, Adventure Programmer for the Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation.

“You don’t have this in any other city in the country and opening up this walkway is just going to get people that much closer and in tune to the intimacy of the river, so you’re not just seeing it as you drive by 50 miles per hour.”

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