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Taking it to the bridge: Arbor Hill residents protest the opening of the Hudson River Way. Photo by Joe Putrock

A Tale of Two Bridges

While Albany celebrates the opening of the footbridge to the Corning Preserve, activists charge that the city has neglected a run-down, unsafe pedestrian bridge in Arbor Hill

‘Mr. Mayor, why are you spending $90,000 on this celebration when our bridge is falling apart?”

That was one of the questions posed on placards carried by two-dozen demonstrators protesting the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning for the Hudson River Way, a newly opened pedestrian bridge connecting downtown Albany with the Corning Preserve.

The bridge has been touted by Mayor Jerry Jennings as Albany’s landmark attraction, but some city residents say the money ($9 million for the entire project and $90,000 for Saturday’s celebration) could have been better spent.

“Mr. Jennings can raise millions of dollars for this pedestrian bridge so people can go from the beer improvement district and walk across 787 and puke in the Hudson River,” said Rodney Davis, Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation executive director and demonstration participant. “Meanwhile, you have the other bridge that’s crumbling and falling apart, and children have to use that bridge to get to school and residents have to use that bridge, with no lighting, and holes in the walking surface.”

The other bridge Davis speaks of is the pedestrian footbridge that crosses Manning Boulevard in Arbor Hill, connecting residential neighborhoods through Colonie Street Park to Arbor Hill Elementary School. As pedestrian bridges go, the Manning Boulevard footbridge stands in stark contrast to the newly constructed Hudson River Way.

Above Manning Boulevard, tree limbs reach through the footbridge’s handrails, which are marked by rust and peeling yellow paint. The uneven, worn concrete walkway full of cracks and holes—in one spot, wide enough to trap the foot of an average-sized elementary schoolchild—winds down to the Arbor Hill Elementary side of the street, where exposed rebar juts from the ground and from concrete benches. The bridge’s supports are cracked and crumbling, and the electrical conduit running beneath the footbridge, connecting the defunct street lights, has rusted from its brackets and hangs loose.

“Instead of using the bridge, kids use the hill and cross the road,” said neighborhood resident Gregory Fields. “And this is a main thoroughfare. For a whole section of the neighborhood, legitimately, this is the only way of getting there. But they’ve had to find other ways.”

When asked about the Manning Boulevard footbridge’s state of disrepair in contrast to the gleaming new Hudson River Way, Jennings called the comparison “apples and oranges.” Jennings also said that maintenance responsibilities for the Arbor Hill footbridge lay with the Albany City School District—but the ACSD said otherwise.

“We believe that the city owns the bridge span on the practice and history over time that they constructed it and had maintained it,” said Jeffery Honeywell, attorney for ACSD. “But it’s not like there is any document out there that says this. This is one of a number of issues looking for clarification between city school district and the city.”

The need for clarification goes back to a sloppy piece of state legislation written 30 years ago. Until the early 1970s, the management of the city’s schools was an undertaking of the city itself. At that time, the state Legislature created the ACSD as a separate governing entity, but failed to make clear what maintenance responsibilities were whose.

The Manning Boulevard footbridge illustrates the dilemma created by this ambiguous legislation. The span connects Arbor Hill Elementary School to Colonie Street Park and the walkway to the Capital District Field of Dreams. Since children use the footbridge to walk to and from school, it might seem logical that the school district would be responsible for the maintenance. But other neighborhood residents use the footbridge to get to the park or the Field of Dreams, which seems to push responsibility more in the city’s direction.

While the footbridge’s ownership, and thus the maintenance responsibilities, are issues Honeywell thought were “resolved a long time ago,” the city believes otherwise.

“In my experience, the school district has been involved in the repair and maintenance of the bridge, from snow removal to painting,” said Gary Stiglmeier, corporation counsel for the mayor’s office. “There has been an issue with respect to this bridge for some time, I’m not sure it ever was crystal clear who’s facility it was or remains today.”

Though Stiglmeier said a letter sent by Davis to the mayor’s office on Aug. 9 represents the first time the city was presented with information regarding the bridge, Fields said the bridge’s longtime dilapidated state has never been a secret.

“Bottom line, this is a well-known problem, not something that came about eight months ago,” Fields said.

As work continues on the Hudson River Way (several of the trompe l’oeil murals adorning the footbridge’s 30 lampposts have yet to be finished), Davis said there is no way of tricking the eye into believing the Manning Boulevard footbridge is without need for steady maintenance.

“The city needs to distribute funding and help the neighborhoods, instead of building their bridge to nowhere,” said Davis. “We’re not asking for special treatment down here, just equal treatment.”

—Travis Durfee

Over the Wall

The one principle of journalism that is supposed to remain inviolate is the “wall” between news and advertising. Sometimes, a catastrophic breach will occur on a major daily newspaper. In 1999, for example, the Los Angeles Times published a special issue of its Sunday magazine about the Staples Center, where the NBA’s Lakers and NHL’s Kings play. It was actually a promotion disguised as journalism. The Times split the $2 million advertising profit with the Staples Center, and forgot to disclose this to its readers or editorial staff.

In other instances, the breach is so small, and so subtle, that it can go almost unnoticed.

If you glanced at the back cover of the Life & Leisure section of the Times Union on Friday, July 26, you would have seen a page of ads for various Capital Repertory Theater current and upcoming productions, alongside a theater review, written by the TU’s Michael Eck, of Capital Rep’s Song of Singapore. The review, however, was actually an advertisement, just like the rest of the page. The original piece was republished almost exactly as it originally appeared, in the usual Times Union format.

Running reviews as advertisements is a common practice, explained Nancy Laribee, Capital Rep’s marketing and public relations director. Laribee, who put the page of ads together, added that “they run ads just like this in papers in other parts of the country. It’s exactly what happens if you run an ad like this [in any newspaper].”

Not in the Times Union, however, according to editor Rex Smith: “The ad did violate our standards.” Smith explained that even though there are legitimate ways to use editorial copy in advertising, the Capital Rep ad did not differentiate itself clearly enough from the paper’s standard editorial style. “Not only is the ad to be clearly differentiated,” Smith added, “certain typefaces are not to be used.” Although it included a small-type disclaimer (“Paid Advertisement”) above the reprinted article, the ad did not meet the paper’s accepted standard.

Though this particular breakdown seems inadvertent, it does reinforces an obvious point: Advertisers just don’t have the same interest in editorial integrity. Their job is to sell. It’s up to the media to be vigilant about the separation of editorial and advertising, which Rex Smith acknowledged: “We’re going to be more careful.”

—Shawn Stone

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