On June 16, 2001, Austin celebrated the grand opening of the James D. Pfluger Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, spanning Lady Bird Lake — well, Town Lake in those days, as longtime locals will berate you in various comment sections — directly east of the Lamar Boulevard bridge. This new car-free thoroughfare offered non-drivers a safer passage across the lake than was possible on the narrow sidewalks and shallow curbs of the increasingly congested Lamar bridge, the site of a number of fatalities including the death of cyclist Chris Kern at the hands of a drunk driver in 1991.
The original 700-foot span of the bridge opened in 2001 stretched between West Riverside Drive and Cesar Chavez Street, with a small addition extending the north end of the span to Electric Drive in the Seaholm District constructed a decade later in 2011. The bridge is named for the late James D. Pfluger, an Austin architect involved in the design of the Hike-and-Bike Trail and other parkland around the lake. A persistent telephone game-style urban legend claims Pfluger was killed by a car while walking across the Lamar bridge, but he actually died in a plane crash in 2000 — regardless, the bridge is dedicated in his memory as an advocate for the lake and its trails.
The bridge’s “double curve” design by Austin design firm Kinney & Associates provides ample space for walking and rolling, but what makes its design truly special isn’t simply about the safer commute it unlocks. With impressive skyline and lake views, plenty of seating, and an ever-rotating cast of interesting characters, the bridge is a place all its own, a piece of downtown infrastructure supporting not just walking and biking but the creation of memories.
Love. Love. Love. pic.twitter.com/xsf1DHebGr
— Meg Merritt (@mobilitymeg) June 2, 2022
I actually got engaged on the Pfluger ped bridge and used to walk it everyday when I walked from Barton Springs to downtown. Favorite bridge in ATX!!
— Connor @ Stream (@ConnorGreissing) June 1, 2022
Set up video projector on my birthday and watched Superbad on the pedestrian bridge. After we broke down the screen, high schoolers showed up with DJ rig and held a dance party.
— Trumpaganda (@TrumpLieMachine) June 1, 2022
The Pfluger Bridge is downtown’s front porch, with all the excitement and human drama that status implies. Here, you’ll find frequent live music of dubious legality, clandestine beers of definite illegality, dates, proposals, breakups, reconciliations, and all the other aimless wandering and lingering vital to the urban experience.
Great for midnight band practice pic.twitter.com/KJIMsIVqLz
— Steven Polunsky (@StevenPolunsky) June 2, 2022
All in all, the best happy hour in Downtown. pic.twitter.com/Y9I7RJJLGE
— C. Alan Pritchardo (@cubbie9000) June 2, 2022
Spending time on the bridge rather than simply passing over it, particularly as the sun starts dropping over the lake and the towers across the water begin to glow, is an incredible piece of downtown living that every Austinite can share for free, right now — and 21 years later, it’s clear that the city deserves more places exactly like this.