Citizens’ Bridge Commemorates 25th Anniversary Reflecting on the Trial, Error & Acclaim of Homegrown Advocacy

The Citizen’s Bridge, which was proposed and advocated for by Craig Day, is seen as a symbolic achievement of small-town government. (Photo: Orrin Konheim)

Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the Citizens’ Bridge running over Broad Street between West and Birch Streets. The bridge might be easy to take for granted to motorists down below and trail users walking on it. For Falls Church resident Craig Day, who spearheaded the proposal, it’s a different story.

The seemingly simple task of building a bridge over a highway was complicated by the fact that Falls Church owned the sidewalk, Route 7 was owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Washington and Old Dominion trail was owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

“To get all those people to say ‘Yes, we need this’ and to get them to cough up the money for it was a near miracle,” said Day.

Day first got involved with the project in 1987, five years before its completion, when he heard about the streetscape project which would widen the Broad Street sidewalk from six to 12 feet in an aim to be more appealing to commercial development. In the interim, the traffic along the W&OD Trail was growing with safety concerns.

“The bikes and runners going through auto traffic was a major injury waiting to happen. There were signs for trail users to cross at West Street, to make the crossing safely, but most did not,“ said director of Historic Falls Church Inc. Keith Thurston, who was involved in historic preservation efforts at the time. “The community awareness was there. But, it was Craig Day that I first recall forming an organized campaign to get a bike bridge built over the road.”

By the time Day started showing up at meetings, the Falls Church City Council was mulling over two options: either a bridge or a tunnel (which carried concern for safety reasons) and both would cost an inordinate amount of money. Day would not only attend meetings for the cause but he would go to trail users firsthand and ask them to attend meetings and rallied up support door-to-door.

“It was before computers and before the internet, so everything had to be done face-to-face. Nowadays people can just send 1,000 emails [at once], but back then, things had to be done either by face-to-face or snail mail to letters-to-the-editor,” said Day.

Day recalls the main opposition to his plan was that the focus was on the streetscape initiative and a massive project like the construction of a bridge could deduct from that. Thurston remembers it differently. He believed there was a commercial influence involved.

“There was some opposition to the overhead bridge solution because the structure and land ramps would be blocking views and access to some nearby businesses — especially the adjacent West End Shopping Center. Also, many would prefer that those bikers and runners slow down – and stop and spend in Falls Church businesses [and] not just speed through on a route to somewhere else,” said Thurston.

Barry Buschow, who was the city’s representative to the board of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority at the time, said costs were high. He also said that a concentrated community effort was needed. For instance, Virginia Power agreed to reroute their power lines at a higher elevation free of charge. Compromises like that, Buschow said, have never been easy.

“The good news is in a small city like Falls Church everyone makes a difference,” said Buschow who also served on advisory boards for the city. “The bad news is that anyone can stop you.”

The News-Press echoed these sentiments in a 1992 article which dubbed the project “The Bridge Over Troubled Broad Street” because of the disruption it caused.

In addition to campaigning, offering to coordinate between departments, and travelling down to Richmond to lobby the state legislature, Day co-founded “Friends of the W&OD Bridge” with Dan Silverman of the Washington Area Bikers Association and the two raised some $40,000 of the total price tag that (the News-Press in 1992 reported) would cost $900,000 for a bridge that spanned 390 feet.

Day still has six binders lying around somewhere that contain of all the correspondence on the project, but he also proudly displays a number of souvenirs from the experience including a framed t-shirt from his campaign that is lined with a letter from Buschow that reads “The more we recognize citizen participation, the less apathy our democracy will suffer…Thanks Craig for any and all assistance towards that end.”

After the completion of the bridge, an unexpected side effect occurred. Thurston recalls that kids took to throwing pebbles of a substantial size onto Route 7. The Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Services worked with the Boy Scouts on a series of Saturday mornings to remove gravel and stones from the area and the trail was eventually replaced with granite dust.

The bridge originally was called the Broad Street Overpass, but it was eventually renamed at Day’s suggestion to the Citizen’s Bridge.
“A couple of people said that it should be named after me, but I said I thought bridges are named after dead people. I wanted it to be called the ‘Citizens’ Bridge’ because it is a testament to small-town government.” Day said.