In the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday, back in August, 1962, 13-year-old Bobby Manning was out on his bike delivering newspapers, in Louisville’s West End neighborhood. When he finished his task, he noticed that the barriers to the approaches on the newly-completed Louisville to New Albany bridge had been removed, in preparation for the span’s grand opening, scheduled for later in the day.
A curious lad, Bobby decided to pedal his bicycle the 2,052.9 ft length of the double-decked twin arch bridge, across the Ohio River, and into Indiana. In doing so, he became the first citizen to traverse the Interstate 64 bridge, named after New Albany native and former United States Senator and Supreme Court justice Sherman Minton.
Fast forward a half-century. The bridge has been closed since September 9, when Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels reported that a crack had been found in a load-carrying section of the bridge, and ordered emergency repairs. Steel “arch supports” are being installed, and the Indiana Department of Transportation is now predicting that the span may be opened to traffic several days before the original March 1 target date.
This is not only welcome news to the thousands of commuters and riverboat gamblers who have suffered during the shut-down, but presents Bob Manning—now 63—with a fantastic opportunity to make history once again.
We spoke with Mr. Manning on the telephone earlier today, and learned that he discontinued his paper route some time ago. Now an executive with one of Louisville’s hospitals, Manning is anxious to repeat his historic ride across the Sherman Minton. He wants to be the first cyclist to cross the refurbished bridge.
His first sojourn across the mighty span was totally unplanned, and something of a lark. Upon his return, Manning happened to come across Louisville Times photographer Bud Kamenish, who snapped a photo of Bob on his bike. When the afternoon newspaper came out that day (Remember when we had both a morning and evening newspaper in Louisville?), there was Bob Manning, front page, above-the-fold. Pretty heady stuff for a 13-year-old.
It is therefore understandable that Manning is keen to revisit and repeat the glory of his youth. In fact, he is so serious about it that he has written to Gov. Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, requesting the honor of being allowed to repeat his singular accomplishment.
“I’d sure like to ride my bike across that bridge again,” wrote Manning. “In fact, I am hoping that you will allow not just me, but all interested cyclists from both sides of the river to take advantage of the rare opportunity to ride across the bridge. Maybe one day before the bridge re-opens this spring you could declare a ‘Healthy Hometown’ event for cyclists, pedestrians, wheelchairs, roller-skaters… everything but cars. I think people would flock to participate. You could lead the way!”
Manning told the Governor and Mayor that he had originally planned to take his children and grandchildren on a bike ride this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his historic ride. “But now my dream is for the family to actually be on the bridge and to enjoy the same experience I had all those years ago. You can make this happen for my family and many others,” he added.
Doubtless it will take some time for a letter such as Bob’s to wind its way through the bureaucratic labyrinths of City Hall and the Indiana State House. But any politician worthy of his parking space would be well advised to heed the wishes of a 63-year-old citizen who still can ride a bicycle. Bobby Manning rides again!
WDRB’s Chris Turner reports:
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions). The Arena is read by more people in Louisville than in any other city in America. Photo credits: Indiana Dept. Transportation, WDRB, Louisville Times.