"Let the truth be known"

Rev. Charles Mock, in his Dec. 27, 2017 opinion piece in the Erie Times-News calls for a Public Hearing to vet the "professional opinions and sound research suggesting that the Viaduct Bridge should be saved." Rev. Mock asks for "well-advertised, public conversation" in a setting "where everyone who speaks is on the legal record" allowing the "open air of public scrutiny." Such a process has been recommended by Erie Refocused author Charles Buki, and could help foster a "paradigm shift" that can help Erie become a "place of equal opportunity for all people."  

Photo of Rev. Charles Mock by SARAH CROSBY/ERIE TIMES-NEWS

Photo of Rev. Charles Mock by SARAH CROSBY/ERIE TIMES-NEWS


What a wonderful sight!

I sat in the City Council Chamber and prayerfully watched a major conversation take place. Among others, at the table were the Erie City Council president and other members; Erie County Councilman Andre Horton, Mayor-elect Joe Schember, Pastor Dale Snyder of St. James A.M.E. Church, etc.

The discussion centered on the recent report classifying Erie as the number one worst city for Black Americans in the nation (24/7 WALL St. “The Worst Cities for Black Americans,” by Evan Comen and Michael Sauter, Nov. 3, 2017).

I, among others, took issue with some of the evidence that rendered such a judgment. However, even if our city is not number one, to be in the top 20 worst cities is a judgment that deserved dialogue. The table discussion that evening centered on what was needed to change such realities.

The discussion was rich with well-measured responses, diverse perspective, common agreement on several issues and positive ideas on the way forward.

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I left that meeting feeling that those at the table had arrived a consensus that a paradigm shift was in order in city governance. I am excited about current opportunities to test the earnestness I heard around that table.

One such opportunity is the east side’s McBride Viaduct Bridge scheduled to be torn down.

Once demolished, the folks making 200 daily trips over the Viaduct will be forced to use the dangerous intersection at East 12th Street and the Bayfront. Should the Bridge be saved or torn down? That is the key question. Some believe that the question has been fully answered while others believe otherwise. Bridge Retainers, such as myself, Rev. Anthony Harris, the African American Concerned Clergy, the NAACP, County Councilman Andre Horton, Citizens United, etc., are calling for a well-advertised public hearing on this question.

In our current age of disinformation campaigns, fake news, rushed, unvetted news, etc., what is the truth? Some well-informed professional opinions and sound research suggest that the Viaduct Bridge should be saved.

Let the truth be known. All citizens directly or indirectly impacted by the decision to demolish the bridge are asking is that truth be given a chance in the open air of public scrutiny. When someone like Charles Buki, principle consultant of Erie’s comprehensive plan, weighs in someone might want to listen. Buki advised Erie to start “engaging citizens” and work together.

Speaking on a history of sad neighborhood separations in Erie, Buki stated, “If there is a more squandered asset in America than the City of Erie’s shoreline, it is hard to imagine. For more than 100 years now, the community has acknowledged the need to integrate the city’s downtown and neighborhoods with the Bayfront — and much has been done in the past 50 years to realize that goal. But those efforts have been inadequate and have, in many ways, worsened the physical separation of the shoreline from the rest of the city.” (Erie Reader, “Grasping Erie’s Comprehensive Plan,” by Charles Buki, April 13, 2016).

According to the article, “Considering the City: The Buki Plan, the Viaduct and Erie CPR” (Oct. 28, 2016), Charles Buki has weighed on the side of building up the Viaduct Bridge. “We must leverage existing assets, stated Buki, including our built environment, beautiful Bayfront, and entrepreneurial tradition.” Buki’s additional comments called for elevating (not demolishing) the needs of pedestrians. His words echo the advice of many other experts who agree that connectivity and walkability are crucial to creating a thriving city. Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist wrote in a 2015 edition of the Erie Times-News urging retention of the Viaduct as a key walkway.

Last April, architect and urban planner Toni Griffin spoke in Erie about the need to work together to create a “just city” with amenities for everyone. Famed city planner Jane Jacobs once commented, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everyone if they are created by everybody.”

Bridge retaining advocates argue against paying out-of-towners $2.3 million to demolish the bridge. It makes more sense to spend $3 million to re-skin the bridge and allow it to continue in its present use as a safe route to school, work, and play. Fixing the bridge will create good temporary jobs, and an estimated 33 permanent private sector jobs. This fix is in keeping with Charles Buki’s reflections on the heritage of Erie.

Bridge Retainers say children, teens, and adults — some pushing strollers — will make 200 trips over the Viaduct a day. If the Viaduct is demolished, they will have to walk on a path along the Bayfront Highway as 22-ton semis and speeding traffic barrel by. They say retain the safer environment of the Viaduct.


Who’s right? Bridge demolishers or Bridge Retainers.

A well-advertised, public conversation is needed where everyone who speaks is on legal record. What better time than now to make a paradigm shift? Let the next report on Erie reveal Erie as the best place of equal opportunity for all people! Give truth a chance to be heard!

The Rev. Charles Mock is pastor of Community Baptist Church in Erie.