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Posted on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 8:30 a.m.

Residents on Ann Arbor's west side launch campaign to save Lansdowne foot bridge

By Wendy Ochoa


A foot bridge in the Lansdowne neighborhood on Ann Arbor's West Side has been closed since summer 2008. Residents are petitioning the city to fix the bridge and reopen it.

Lon Horwedel |

The laminated handwritten sign stapled to a barrier blocking the Lansdowne footbridge on Ann Arbor’s West Side asks, “Why is this bridge closed?!”

The better question may be, “Will it ever reopen?”

The bridge connects Morehead Court to Delaware Drive in the Lansdowne subdivision near Lawton Elementary School. It was closed in June 2008 and hasn’t reopened because the weirs footing the bridge are structurally deficient.


A hand-written sign is posted at one entrance to a foot bridge in the Lansdowne neighborhood.

Lon Horwedel |

Frustrated by the lack of a timely response from the city, residents in the neighborhood have launched a campaign to get the bridge reopened, said Kalan Dutta, former president of Lans Basin Inc., the homeowners association. The group created the website and have signs similar to those of a political campaign that read “Reopen Lansdowne Bridge” placed throughout the neighborhood.

The association owns the weirs but the city owns the bridge itself.

In an e-mail to fellow city officials, Michael Nearing, senior project manager for the city, stated that when he inspected the bridge on June 13, 2008, the dam or weirs upon which the bridge sits were in such bad shape that they could fail, causing the bridge to collapse.

The footbridge sits on a weir that connects the upper and middle ponds of Malletts Creek. Three ponds are connected via the weirs.

Nearing said he visited the bridge again last month and the weirs are in worse shape than they were in June 2008.

The association does not dispute the fact that the weirs need repair. Dutta said the association is willing to fix them. It received a bid from local landscape construction company John Hollowell & Associates to repair the weirs for roughly $45,000.

However, Dutta said the association was told by city officials at a June 2009 meeting that before any weir repair could take place, a 100-year flood study must be done at a cost of $50,000. At a time when the city budget is tight, it’s not clear if or when such a study could be done.

“Fighting with city was getting to be an incredible hassle,” said Dutta. “That is one reason why I resigned as association president. It was talking entirely too much time to fight with the city in their uncooperative position.”

Neighborhood residents say the closure of the bridge changed the atmosphere of their community.

“(The bridge) has been an area of beauty in our community,” said Debbie Merion, a 22-year resident of the Lansdowne neighborhood. “The bridge gives everybody in the neighborhood access to that beauty, blue herons, turtles, kingfishers and that’s a really unusual site to see in the city. And now that access is cut off."


A foot bridge in the Lansdowne neighborhood has been closed since 2008, when the city determined that the weirs at its base were not structurally sound.

Lon Horwedel |

The bridge was used by students who would cut through the neighborhood to catch the school bus on Delaware, Dutta said. He added that it was a popular spot for many taking senior photos or wedding photos.

“It changes the way you function,” said longtime resident Susan Irwin. Irwin, who would walk her dog on the path, said that the fellow dog walkers she used to see have changed their routes. “I don’t see them anymore,” she said.

Michael Psarouthakis, who owns a home that borders the bridge, said the closure is impacting property values. He called the barricaded bridge an eyesore.

“We understand that there is no money, but there are things that we can do,” said Dutta. “This is a situation where the medicine is worse than the disease. It has become an unattractive nuisance.”

Residents expressed frustration with the city.

“You start out believing when you are told something’s going to happen in a timely manner. Then two years later still nothing is being done,” Irwin said.

Margie Teall, 4th ward Ann Arbor City Council representative, acknowledged that something needs to be done with the bridge.

"For the city's part we are prepared to decouple the bridge," Teall said. "If and when we put the bridge back it will not be on the weir," she said.

Teall added that the bridge is slated for work in the capital improvement plan for 2012, but that she is unsure where the funding will come from.

Barb McMullen, current vice-president of the homeowner’s association, echoed Irwin’s frustration with city officials.

“The city closed the bridge with no real plan to reopen,” McMullen said. “Our goal is just to get them to commit to a specific time and plan.”

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Wendy Ochoa is a journalism student at Washtenaw Community College where she writes for the Washtenaw Voice and a summer intern on the Community Team. She is also an English teacher at Plymouth High School. E-mail her with news and events on Ann Arbor's West Side.


John Q

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 9:28 a.m.

"$50K to make sure a $45K bridge is OK, and we wonder why there is an "anit-incumbent" movement." Last time I had a plumber to my house, I had to pay $100 for him to replace about $15 in materials. Why? Because the replacement cost involved more than just the cost of buying the pipe. There are engineering and design costs associated with replacing a bridge that are going to be above and beyond the actual cost of the bridge. You may not understand that but the people who will have to pay for that work do.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

I see a lot more questions than facts surrounding this story. It appears to be incomplete at best and is based upon a lot of "according to Dutta", with a few "Margie Tealls" thrown in. How do we know for sure that the study is actually required and what it will likely cost? Did anyone talk to the proper city officials or a civil engineer or an attorney who are professionally versed in these matters? And by "proper city official", I don't mean someone on the City Council, unless they are a civil engineer. It appears to be very important to get the project right, especially if it could materially affect flood prevention and flood control. But, again, how do we really know what is needed without hearing from someone with independent professional knowledge and not someone who could be playing politics? We also do not know if the quoted $45,000 weir repair/replacement is even appropriate. What potentially could be prescribed by the study in question could alter drastically alter what is needed and blow the cost right out of the water for the association and the City. It is stated in the article that a free-standing bridge could be built independently of the weirs and would be feasible. I don't see a cost estimate or an independent opinion that it truly would be physically feasible. This is very material to the story. Is the City being stingy about a few thousand dollars, or are we talking about a potential cost of six figures or more? We can't tell from what is presented. If these facts are unknown to all, I think is premature and irresponsible for Teall to even talk about scheduling and budgeting without having better information. And if she has it, please share it! I realize that much of this story is about whether the City is moving too slowly and once again appears to be following a pattern that we have come to know and detest, but we need a better perspective as to what the components of the project are and what they will cost the parties involved. Otherwise, all this story does as it is written is to stir people up over some unknown items that are presented too much as facts. Is the City really being the "Bad Guy" here, or is it properly going through the necessary steps needed to get the project right?

John Q

Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 10:19 a.m.

The DNRE, formerly the DEQ, is going to require the study before permits are going to be issued for the bridge and weirs to be rebuilt.

Duane Collicott

Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 8:50 a.m.

We ignorant citizens just don't understand that the City Council has much more important work to attend to than fixing bridges, such as the resolution about the Arizona illegal immigration law.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 7:17 a.m.

Yeah, I have a ton of things around my house that "are slated for work, but there's no money for". Those are known as "things that ain't gonna happen". All they have is a dilapidated neighborhood bridge. They should consider themselves lucky that they don't live near the Georgetown Mall. And that they haven't had a fire station closed, and had 1/6th of their streetlights turned off. Hey - that's in the 4th ward too. It's almost like a pattern...


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:11 p.m.

I grew up with, on, around, and sometimes under this bridge. The concerns with the present state of it are about how the city left it, not that the residents want some pretty little side attraction that they can revel in every time someone crosses over it. For those of you that claim there are other important things than this little bridge I would reply that you may be right. However, anyone can argue the importance of one thing over another. This shouldn't be a forum to claim that, "these hard economic times...etc." should call for more pressing matters and this issue should be at the bottom of the barrel. Instead, all of you "armchair quarterbacks" should realize this story is a microcosm for city council negligence and misappropriation. It's easy to claim this bridge isn't important when you aren't affected by it. All of you should ask yourself, what if the closest park you can go to suddenly was surrounded by a chain-linked fence for 2 years and the city had no intention of re-opening it? What would you all say then? The amenities it offers-convienent access to Stadium via Delaware, a short-cut for walkers, a great photo-op, rare bird visits, wildlife observation, etc-aren't the freaking point! When the fence went up the city should have removed the bridge. Then the issue of the weirs and flood study could have been met head-on. Now let me fill you in on the flooding regarding this creek. The concerns have NOTHING to do with where this bridge is but rather up and down stream to where the source water originates and continues to drain! During the most violent of storms the creek fills and the water can't move fast enough but NEVER has the water passed through or over the bridge. The way the weirs and damming is built needs improving and rebuilding and a $50,000 study is completely erroneous regarding this. It's an obstacle and excuse because someone was smart enough to find a federal regulation to cite and hide behind. The community is willing to pay for weirs and they've already invested in this bridge before-more than 10 years ago it was stated that on two sides foundation support was needed to help support the concrete path meeting the foot bridge. Tons of large stones were poured to help combat erosion to keep the existing structure in place. The bottom line is the City isn't willing to do anything! Even if tomorrow someone said, "I'll put up the $90k to fix the weirs and do the study..," the City STILL wouldn't be willing to come out and start working. And I challenge anyone to email me with the direct chapter, section, ect. with regards to a necessary study. There isn't ANY law that requires such measures. As defined by the state, it means the city feels that any change in the condition of the bridge and creek now could have lasting, catastrophic impact-which is ridiculous considering by definition, implication of such rules applies to, "...a flood with a magnitude which has a 1% chance of occurring or being exceeded in any given year." So Email me at if you care to prove, with direct citations, where such a study is necessary as deemed by law.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 8:25 p.m.

"... I'd be cautious about any bridge design that stuck anything in the floodway." "... something that looks as minor as this bridge can have serious impacts up and downstream from the bridge. The city doesn't want that liability and neither should the homeowners in the area." Based on the information provided in this story and in the comments: • This pedestrian bridge was a well-used structure in the neighborhood for a fair number of years, apparently without serious, flood-related troubles. • Two summers ago, the city's given reason for closing the bridge was deterioration of the weirs. Flood control concerns weren't raised. • One summer ago, in the context of organized neighborhood interest in bridge rehabilitation, the city presented the flood study requirement for the first time. Solid weir reconstruction would not be enough. • Now, one more summer later, the city shows no initiative regarding removal of the existing weirs (and the bridge supports) which still reside in the floodway, despite recent flooding along portions of the creek. • Rehabilitation of this bridge remains among the line items for civic work projects in the future. Civic Conclusion #1:  Bridge rehabilitation simply cannot move forward without a costly, necessary flood study. Floodway questions are an extremely serious matter, especially in this part of town near the creek. Civic Conclusion #2:  The decaying, closed bridge remains right where it is, and will for however long, with all of its water-obstructing weirs in place. Let it be understood that concern over floodway waters isn't THAT important! Through its actions these past few summers, the city's "body language" seems to say, "We really, really don't want to deal with this little bridge any time soon — and in any way. We don't want to pay to build a flood-safe replacement, with new weirs or with no weirs. Nor do we want to bother with removing the current structure, which partially blocks the floodway right now. Please don't call us; we might call you, someday, when we actually decide to allocate funds."


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 4:21 p.m.

hmmm...this is a tough one for me. I live in the Lansdowne area and love walking across that bridge (it is pretty and fun for the kids), but it is not necessary. If the association were willing to pay the full fee (flood survey and all)...then go for it! But, there are other easy ways to get from Morehead to Delaware (it takes about 5-10 extra minutes to walk around the block---on the sidewalk). Thus, I do think that this is a bit wasteful (of course I know the city has wasted money on lesser projects). Instead the city should just close the bridge and take it down. My kids will be upset that they no longer have a short-cut, but hey, they will get some more exercise!

John Q

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 12:58 p.m.

What Ed said. In an urban environment, tinkering with the flow of water even with something that looks as minor as this bridge can have serious impacts up and downstream from the bridge. The city doesn't want that liability and neither should the homeowners in the area.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

The sad state of this rustic bridge in a small, but very pretty, far corner of the city demonstrates — yet again — the narrow minded, very downtown-centric nature of local planning and politics. The claim that it's a 'neighborhood amenity' not deserving of city attention is only a crude talking point designed to distract from the city's wish to restrict its priorities to various pet projects. One can hope that this article helps create just enough embarrassment at city hall to warrant some further discussion and a more helpful response at council meetings in the near future. It's too bad this piece didn't run a couple weeks ahead of the August 3rd city primary, which would have made a public response from both Fourth Ward candidates politically mandatory. Unlike the bridge on Stadium, this is not an enormously costly fix. If city council and the administration have seven-figure chunks of change in the general fund to toss at their new city hall addition, then they clearly have the means to fix this little bridge. The bottom line is that they simply don't want to do it, preferring instead to direct discretionary money toward downtown. The recently-defeated city council opposition does only a little better. They're equally downtown-centric and, as I recall, brought scant public attention to the bridge during the just-concluded primary campaign. Apparently, this issue was too micro-local and did not provide a sufficiently fertile ground to harvest opposition votes. So, with little to exploit here, the focus was kept on the Stadium bridge, where they could cash in on commuter frustration. With the city acting recalcitrant, let the neighborhood take the lead this time. And a creative bridge redesign should earn One Percent for Art distinction.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

@A. Green: When the City put this bridge in in the 80's, they did so saying the neighborhood needed this public walkway in order to connect the neighborhood to bus stops, schools and parks. It may not be the most important issue in the City but it is certainly needed and should be prioritized as appropriate. @Sue D.: I would be very interested in any info you can provide us for connections to the school. You can send an email to the address on the website linked to this story. Thank you!! @uasisok: HA! That may very well be true!


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 11:05 a.m.

I still say it's bad karma caused by landsdowne developer who blocked 7th st from going thru to ann arbor-saline road!!

A. Green

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

@countykate That is not what I read above. The association is going to fund the repair of the weirs while the city will have to pay for the bridge (since it currently owns that part) and the $50,000 for the flood study that appears to be required by state and federal law.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

A. Green, the neighborhood association is willing to fund the repairs. So, your point?

A. Green

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

What a waste of money. After the city had endless debate over cutting the budget last year to eliminate waste, there are still some out there who insist that their pet projects get funded. If this neighborhood wants a bridge to be used for photo-ops and nature walks then they can finance it. This is a small walking bridge used for nothing important. Although the neighborhood residents might appreciate it, I think it is not appropriate for the city to subsidize this in such poor economic times. This project should be on the bottom of the priority list for the city and maybe should not even be on the list at all.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:42 a.m.

@Barb it is worth trying again with UM. Students change, faculty change, priorities change. Given the tight job market, students may now be more willing to work on a volunteer project that strengthens their resumes. Masters students at SNRE and Ford School of Public Policy are especially good prospects, since they are supposed to have a practicum component to their training. I am happy to try to hook you up with people on the Ford side.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:41 a.m.

Sorry Fourth Ward, but you are stuck with the representation you elected. Oh well, there's always next year, right?


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:11 a.m.

I don't understand what the flood study is for. If the flood study is just to ascertain whether some higher engineering standards need to be used in rebuilding, why not skip the study and go ahead and use the higher standards from the start?

Lifelong A2

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 10:07 a.m.

I'm not sure why people are confused: Flood studies are common -- and yes, they're required by federal and State law, not the City. If the neighborhood believes that the study isn't necessary, then they should focus their anger on State and federal regulators, but not the City. Otherwise, the neighborhood should pay for the study. Even if the flood study issue is resolved, this is a neighborhood amenity, and should therefore be a low priority for receiving City tax dollars in this difficult economic climate.

Richard C

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

I wasn't even aware that this bridge existed. Closing the bridge without a plan to do something about it sounds extremely sensible, if (as reported) there is an immediate concern about the saftey of the bridge. I'd rather the city not get socked with a huge lawsuit because the bridge collapsed out from under someone's wedding party. However, leaving it closed like this for 2 years seems rather excessive. Since the bridge is special, and there are (inconvenient) workarounds, a local assessment to help pay for the work seems reasonable.

Stephen Landes

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:44 a.m.

City government, as usual, is so tied up in its underwear it can't get dressed in the morning. I was pleased to lead an Explorer Post years ago that would have done the job for the cost of the materials and the experience of building the structure. Find a contractor who is willing to work with some Scouts and everyone will win. If the City is so concerned about their weir then build a new bridge without it - from the photo the span isn't impossible. The City is waiting for the Feds to take care of the Stadium bridge and we can see how well that is working out. Why wait on the City to do something locally? Just do it.

Ben Connor Barrie

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:35 a.m.

Sounds like a great opportunity for the city to partner with U of M's College of Engineering. A group of senior students (with faculty supervision) could undertake the flood study. They city could stave money and the students would have an chance to apply their knowledge to a complex real world problem.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

@Ed We presented this to UofM students a while back with that thought. No one was interested.

Ed Verhamme

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

This might be a good senior design project for engineering students at the University of Michigan. They could easily handle updating a FEMA flood map.


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

@PR of AA: a neighborhood association willing to pay to fix the bridge in their own backyard is a separate issue from the Stadium bridge.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

Why is a 100 year flood plan required for a noncritical foot bridge? Is there some state or federal law that requires it?


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

The real problem is that the City is neglecting its residents and neighborhoods in all shapes and forms. Of course compared to other issues, this is quite small. But wouldn't it be nice if they were responsive enough to us on all matters? This just illustrates a larger problem overall.

PR of AA

Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 8:44 a.m.

I believe there is a more pressing bridge "issue", how about fixing that eyesore we call the Stadium bridge at State Street. We are adding bike lanes all over this town and we can't use any of the money for fixing something that will be used by vehicles, not foot traffic or bike traffic??? Typical Ann Arbor, everyone is worried about things that don't matter!


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 8:28 a.m.

What a fiasco. It's obvious the bridge is important to the people who live in Lansdowne and they're willing to pay for fixing the foundation. Doing a 100 year flood study for $50K sounds absurd and a waste of money. The bridge has been there all these years and not been washed out by a flood - the risk is extremely tiny. These are the same kind of bureaucratic delays that have resulted in the Stadium Bridges being in the deplorable, unrepaired condition they are today. The city seems to have calendars without months on them - only years. I realize there is always a process that needs to be done, but c-mon. City: Get the bridge fixed and quit the foot dragging!


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

Yes, the medicine is worse than the cure as the article states! The poorly thought out closure keeps normal walking bridge traffic off the structure, but does nothing to deter the youngsters who regularly climb over and under the ugly fencing. It is an attractive nuisance created by the City! It is more dangerous closed than open!


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 7:56 a.m.

One more bridge that the city can't fix! I wonder if the mess of the Broadway bridge years ago, has scared the city from repairing or replacing any bridges?


Fri, Aug 13, 2010 : 7:52 a.m.

The "medicine is worse than the disease" indeed! Come on, Ann Arbor City government, let them pay to rebuild the bridge. Yes, flood planning is a good idea, but this bridge already existed and has served its community very well. Find a way to make an exception and let them get on with it.