NEWPORT, Ky. -- Exciting plans for the Purple People Bridge this summer include a fresh coat of paint, food and ice cream vendors and reinstatement of the popular “Love Locks” art installation.
Newport-based Southbank Partners banned the locks last year amid concerns over organization and safety. But starting next month, pedestrians will be invited to attach locks to specially designed panels in designated areas throughout the bridge.
Southbank Partners provides maintenance and programming for the Purple People Bridge. The group is looking into other long-term projects for the span, such as widening its usable portions with reinforced flooring on the railroad side and adding LED lighting on the entire bridge that can change to coincide with various holidays and events -- similar to lighting features used on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
“My hope is that people will start to view the bridge as a real asset to the community,” said Southbank Partners president Jack Moreland. “It’s a real advantage for both sides of the river, and I don’t think we’ve made a great case for that, to be honest.”
Moreland’s group is currently in talks with local painter Chris Baynum, who expressed enthusiasm for repainting the bridge. A native Cincinnatian, Baynum has painted large structures all over the world, including roller coasters and water-park attractions at New York's Coney Island and as far away as Sydney, Australia. (Look for a more in-depth discussion with Baynum and his team early next month on WCPO Insider.)
Repainting is slated to start this summer and take about two months to complete. The project will cost around $1 million, and Southbank Partners is in the process of jumpstarting several initiatives to cover that cost.
“Some (fundraising measures) I can’t tell you about, because they’re not yet finalized, but they will be much more aggressive than what’s been done in the past,” said Moreland.
The bridge operates on an annual budget of roughly $250,000. That funding comes mostly from events on the bridge and advertiser partnerships, such as one last year that allowed St. Elizabeth Health Care to post exclusive signage and visitor health information along the bridge’s footpath.
The Purple People Bridge also regularly hosts weddings, parties and charitable events such as Wine Over Water, which will take place Aug. 26 and benefit Newport’s Brighton Center.
Meanwhile, Southbank Partners has begun reaching out to food and ice cream vendors in Newport who are interested in having a semipermanent presence on the bridge.
“We are starting with food and beverage providers in Newport because we have no desire to bring in vendors from outside the city who would compete with our local restaurants,” said Moreland.
These and other plans began to see more traction recently in response to data from traffic trackers installed on the bridge earlier this year. Before that, Moreland said, there hadn’t been much data collected for the bridge, but organizers previously estimated annual usage at around 400,000 trips on foot or by bike.
The trackers show that number could be closer to 600,000 bridge visitors per year -- with 90,000 of those visits recorded in the first quarter of this year alone.
“I think that’s a big deal,” said Moreland. “Of course, we didn’t have a bad winter, but the fact that we’re seeing what we previously thought were summertime usage numbers in the middle of winter is pretty telling.”
Southbank Partners borrowed the trackers from the OKI Regional Council of Governments. Going forward, the group will engage with Green Umbrella’s Tri-State Trails to supplement that equipment with devices to get a deeper analysis into who is using the bridge and for what purpose.
“I would say the 90,000 number is a generous estimate, but we are working with a consulting team to get a more accurate measurement,” said Tri-State Trails spokesperson Wade Johnston.
In the meantime, said Johnston, the Purple People Bridge continues to be a valuable asset connecting bike and pedestrian traffic in Greater Cincinnati.
READ MORE: Biking Cincinnati's bridges
“I’m really excited to continue to collect this data on the bridge long-term,” said Johnston. “I think it will tell a really interesting story that could build support for continued investment in bike and pedestrian facilities to help make our communities more bike-able and walkable.”
Interested in learning more or scheduling an event on the Purple People Bridge? Visit purplepeoplebridge.com or call 859-655-7700.