The serious setback suffered by the “BridgeZilla” project on Red Bridge Road hopefully will represent a watershed moment for transportation projects in Kansas City. Ten years ago, the community would have stood little chance of blocking the placement of a freeway-size bridge in the middle of our bucolic Blue River valley. Even in 2007, luck and timing played a crucial role. Nevertheless, two enabling forces can be seen behind this victory for communities over commercial interests. One is the internet: E-mail and the web made it possible to organize hundreds of our neighbors into a powerful grassroots organization. The other is the growing belief that over-engineered projects do not constitute “progress”. In the past, the driving force behind an opposition to a project like BridgeZilla might have been simply a sentimental attachment to the rural character of the Blue River valley. But it’s not a resistance to change that gave the Friends of Red Bridge the passion and dedication needed to fight City Hall; it is a vision for a future that we need to start building now. This vision is hard to articulate for many reasons: It is wide in scope, sometimes counter-intuitive, and a grave threat to the power status quo. For example, one might blink at the statement that this is about global warming or the fiscal solvency of our government, though it surely is. It may seem crazy to say that a narrow, curvy road with a railroad crossing is safer than a wide, straight road with no obstructions, but proponents of the New Urbanism would find it so. Does the project solve the problem of flooding, or make it worse? Well, how many rain gardens will it take to handle the runoff from a road more than twice the size of the old one?
The realities of the 21st century are only beginning to dawn upon the engineers and planners that shape our communities. For the Friends of Red Bridge, the challenge now is to find the right people to bring that New Vision into reality.