Closing the Black Bridge in Cohoes

By Kim M.

soapbox badgeBy now I'm sure you've heard about the tragic and untimely death of Warren Belcher on the Black Bridge in Cohoes on New Year's Eve.

I did not know Warren, but the TU piece about him really tugged on my heartstrings. If the article's description of this charming guy's relationship with his girlfriend's son didn't choke you up too, you're cold and dead inside. I can't imagine the pain that they, and the rest of his friends and family, feel losing him.

Later I read about the petition to destroy the bridge. That upset me in a very different way.

It wasn't until skimming through my social media feed before going to bed the following Monday, that I read about the petition to destroy the bridge where Warren died. I probably fell asleep with an angry and puzzled look still on my face.

It's a natural reaction in grief to want to lash out at someone or something, so I understand the urge to blow the Black Bridge to smithereens. But the logic doesn't play out. Warren has been described as someone who took walks "to clear his head," someone who "liked to explore" and "never liked to take the main path."

I know I'm not the only one that feels this way about the call to demolish the bridge. By the time I saw the link to the petition, someone had already asked where he could sign the anti-petition. Later I was relieved to hear Cohoes mayor John McDonald say that demolition would not be cost effective and that the revitalization of the bridge will continue to move forward.

Some have also raised concerns about the limited security measures beyond "No Trespassing" signs on the bridge. I am not convinced fencing would have averted this accident. Explorers pay little mind to such things, thankfully. I mean, could Sebastien and Bennett's Urban Decay Tour of the Capital Region exist if rules are never bent? Unfortunately Warren's adventurous spirit led to a tragic fall. However, I still think it would be a damn shame for this petition to get any traction.

Fellow Soapboxer Martin Daley wrote a great piece in September about the pedestrian walkway on the Livingston Avenue Bridge. Reading his post reminded me of a little adventure I took while in Valentine, Nebraska a few years ago with my dad on a hunting trip (don't ask). While he spent the day in the Sandhills looking for Bambi, I took a 2-mile walk out of town to an old railroad trestle 150 ft above the Niobrara River, part of 321 miles of old Chicago & Northwestern railroad line maintained by Nebraska Game and Parks as the Cowboy Trail. It was absolutely breathtaking.

We need to support the reuse of these bridges. Bike and pedestrian access to the Troy-Menands Bridge was recently completed. We should continue to connect existing trails across neighborhoods. These pathways are a public good we should not neglect. Their use improves our physical and mental well-being and their existence adds a social space that is often lacking in our urban layouts. In an increasingly digital world, we need places to commune with nature, and each other.

Kim loves Troy even more than you do.

Kim on the Soapbox:
+ Can you feel the love?
+ National Night Out
+ Children at Play
+ Hoosick Street: Future UFO landing site
+ Stop wining and do something about it
+ Good neighbors check in to make sure you haven't frozen to death


There's an existing bike/pedestrian trail on either side of the bridge... The bridge is structurally sound and basically in need of decking and safety upgrades... Plans to convert the bridge to a pedestrian walkway already are in place...

Logically, the only thing to do is to tear it down. Riiiiight.

It's a petition that makes no sense, since there are not just plans but actual work going on to use the bridge again. The path on the Cohoes side already goes up to it (and believe me, one look at the bridge deck would convince anyone of sound mind NOT to try to cross it). Furthermore improving the bridge will ENHANCE safety for many of us -- no more will people cycling up from Green Island have to cross Route 787 TWICE to get to Peebles Island and Waterford. It's a seriously dangerous crossing (and the lights don't detect bicycles).

Funny how when people get killed on the highway, we don't propose closing the roads. This is a reaction I just don't get.

As terrible as the death was, I agree that nothing good can come of knee-jerk reactions. We've lost too many historical landmarks in this area, and having a restored walking bridge could have a much greater impact on people's quality of life than if it was destroyed forever. I took the below photo two years ago, and this is one of my favorite hidden places to mull some thoughts.!i=700036757&k=JJG5G&lb=1&s=A


Nice job on this piece. I'm with you.

Jim Kunstler and I talked about this black bridge situation on this Thursday's podcast.

KunstlerCast #189: Irrational Cries to Demolish Infrastructure
Citizens React to Tragic Death With Calls to Demolish Train Bridge

If you'd like to get a glimpse of what's going through the minds of the petition signers, be sure to read the comments on Steve Barnes' Table Hopping blog.

This, for example, from a poster named Shaun:

"How does this petition that grew only out sincere sorrow affect your lives negatively?" ... "To attack David Dobbs who is only interested in community healing is also just a slap in the face to all who knew and loved Warren. I signed this petition not thinking the bridge would be torn down. But to let those in charge know that something more needs to be done to protect people."

(David Dobbs is the creator of the online petition. I've tried to email him twice, no response. As far as I could tell, no one was "attacking" him.)

If this were happening in Clifton Park, the bridge would already be long gone.


@Jiminy: For those who may not know (or who choose not to know), the Town of Clifton Park has 39 sites on its register of historic places.

Thanks Kim for touching on such a sensitive issue. I fully agree that tearing down the bridge is unnecessary. In a perfect world there would have been funding for the project many years ago. Maybe this attention will help to speed the process.

Terrible kneejerk reaction. Next: man falls off building, destroy building.

good infruastructure is hard to replace, and violating no trespassing signs is not a reason to get rid of a bridge.

This David Dobbs fellow (the petition creator) just won't back down.

Bridge petition to hit Mayor's desk
WNYT, 01/16/2012 5:34 PM

(I've tried emailing him twice through his petition website. No response).

I am truly saddened by what happen to Warren Belcher. I'm pretty sure we all are. Nevertheless, I do believe the bridge should be fixed up and a pedestrian walkway created. Let it serve as a memorial to such a wonderful person. Instead of petitioning to have the bridge destroyed, petition to have it called the Warren Belchner walkway.

Some people are so short-sighted it defies understanding.

Tear down the bridge. Make people bike on 787 (or wherever) to get to Peebles Island from the south. Someone will get hit by a car, then we'll have a petition for providing safe access to the existing bike trails.

Perhaps somebody needs to start another petition for preserving and converting the bridge for safe pedestrian/bike access? Perhaps that petition could also call for renaming the bridge as "Belcher's Bridge" - this would really make the point that demolishing the bridge destroys any possibility of a memorial for him at this site.

Paul, more likely if someone was hit riding a bicycle on 787, the petition would be to ban bicycle-riding on public roads!

Duncan did a good job on the Kunstlercast summarizing the issues at hand, and I was going to link to it here, but I see Duncan already beat me to it! What happened was unfortunate, but it comes down to personal responsibility. The bridge was not well barricaded, but even if it was, people would climb over it, I'm sure. I checked out that bridge once and didn't dare cross it. It takes a certain kind of person to take the risk of crossing that bridge, especially in the early morning.

I'm glad the bridge is staying. What irks me now is that, elsewhere in the city, Cohoes is closing a few railroad crossings under the guise of "we can not afford to risk losing another precious life."

Any idea when the repairs will be completed?

I just moved to the area, into Waters View actually, and have been exploring bike paths to RPI. I found this bridge's repair about half way completed, starting from the south side. They've also placed a plywood floor 'suspended' from the structure below the old railway decking. This should catch you so do don't fall into the water. While I was there I saw a cyclist get to opposite end and have to turn around...

I noticed some tools and materials left on north bridge head, but they seem to be for building the suspension floor, no new deck planks.

Any idea when the repairs will be completed?

Looks like I found the answer to my own questions:

Reno should be done by September.

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