The Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge, built as the Leigh Street Viaduct in 1976, provides six vehicular lanes as it spans 2,151 feet long over the Shockoe Valley between the Medical College of Virginia campus to the west and the residential neighborhoods of Union Hill and Church Hill to the east. The bridge’s capacity for vehicular traffic is beyond the current needs of both the campus and the neighborhoods, yet it serves as a vital and well used pedestrian path over the interstate highway and railways on the valley floor below.
In recognition of the bridge’s current and projected loads and modes of use, the proposed enhancements will reduce the vehicular lanes to four allowing for an increase of surface area devoted to pedestrians and bicycles. The harshness of the currently dominating concrete surfaces will be softened by the introduction of landscaping and the ‘highway’ scale of the bridge will be mitigated with the addition of human-scaled light fixtures and paving. Although these enhancements focus on the pedestrian’s experience – an average journey of 8 minutes to walk 2,151 feet – a narrowing of the surface devoted to motor vehicles will have a calming affect on traffic speed, encouraging adherence to the current posted speed limit of 35 mph.