Cycling Bridge over Rideau River

Donald/Somerset crossing seen from Tennis Club on east side of Rideau River

Last night the City held an open house on the planning for a new multipurpose bridge over the Rideau River. For convenience, this can be referred to as a cycling bridge or pedestrian bridge, because those multi-purposes do not include motorised vehicles.

Actually, the planners couldn’t bring themselves to call it a “bridge” either. It’s an overpass. To me that sounds like something over the Queensway, but plain simple language evaded the two dozen presentation boards. The project is being run by traffic engineers and the evidence was abundant. (anyone for a Champlain Overpass? McDonald Cartier Overpass? Alexandra Overpass? Hunt Club Overpass?)

The study team looked at several crossing locations  …

crossing No 3 (circled) is recommended, connecting Somerset to Donald Street

  … eventually deciding the only sane choice was to connect Somerset East (on the west side of the River) to Donald Street (on the east side of the River). Donald runs into the River at the Ottawa Tennis Club:

the Donald Street parking lot for the club

No mention was made of Donald Street itself, which will need drastic upgrading if it is to be a safe major pedestrian and cyclist approach to a new crossing. The road has no sidewalks, and cars park along both sides at an angle: it looks and feels like a service lane at Loblaws or Wal-Mart. Yes, I would worry about sending my 12 year old unaccompanied down that street. Parking lots are dangerous places. If the angle parking is removed, a new parking lot location would have to be found, but I have never found the city shy about removing green parkland to provide car park space before.

The bridge will need to span about 100m. The water here is shallow, and reportedly  during the summer  people simply ford the river once they take off their shoes and sox and roll up their pants. There was an historic photo provided showing a simple wooden “multiuse overpass” used in days of yore, which was removed for the winter/spring flood.

The next phases of the study will examine the bridge overpass options. Chatting with the staff on site revealled there are several bridge options. The most expensive (~$10million) would have a clear span over the entire river, and would necessitate a complex bridge structure to support the deck (picture a tower+cables, or very fancy — and high — steelwork side supports). Much cheaper would be a pier in the middle of the river, with two bridge sections simply resting on a concrete pad on each side (~$3million). More piers >more bridge sections >cheaper bridge. If they go for a single span I expect they could get a very dramatic and sculptural bridge. Maybe Calgary would sell  this ped-cyclist bridge as it is the right colour for Ottawa:

 Could Jim Watson ever spring for something so darned nice?

The height of the bridge above the water will probably be in the order of +/- 12′. The banks appeared to me to be about six feet high already, so it would be simple slope up to the bridge at each end. The height will be finalized once the city crews that blast the ice in the spring tell the city planners what height clearance they need to move their equipment under the bridge. They also need clearance from the Federal planners to confirm that the Rideau River is not navigable waters (dust off those reports by one Colonel John By…).

The deck of the bridge is expensive if steel, but the city likes the low maintenance costs. If the deck is wood (say 4×10’s, similar to cycling bridges elsewhere or along the Gatineau side boardwalk along the Ottawa River) the construction cost drops dramatically but the need for annual maintenance increases. The bridge would be about 3m wide.

The presentation boards made frequent reference to what I might call “short trips” connecting the two neighborhoods, but not the advantage of the bridge for “long trips”. For example, I cycle from Preston to St Laurent a few times each summer, this bridge would make the east-west cross town route much more direct and safe. It also connects large residential areas to Ottawa U; I believe that university students have a higher propensity to cycle than does the general population. It is in direct line to the existing Corktown Bridge that connects Somerset East and West.

One very noticeable feature of the proposed bridge is that it offers many benefits without pissing off anybody except the “don’t build anything except for cars brigade”. Unlike the Laurier segregated bike lane, there is no BIA baying for blood, no condo associations lobbying for the city to provide free on-street parking for their buildings whilst they sit on hundreds of empty spaces in their garages … the only parking issue here is where to shift the cars of those people arriving for athletic exercise who might object to walking a few metres further to get to their lockers (those tennis clubs come in great big bags that look very heavy).

Somewhere in the recent past I recall a guest speaker advising to “pick the low hanging fruit first. There’s plenty of it. And then as the demand for cycling increases it becomes easier to get the next improvement”. This looks a lot like delicious, easy pick’n.

11 thoughts on “Cycling Bridge over Rideau River

  1. I can see why the planners are concentrating on short trips, this one bridge would connect Overbrook ( a growing area, with potential for a lot more growth if there were better connections to downtown), with Sandy Hill and beyond. Helping to grow neighborhoods like Overbrook means less building outside the greenbelt. Even the planners recognize that as a good idea. As a bonus, it would also shave 10 – 15 minutes off my bike rides to visit my brother

    What I don’t understand is the decision to go ahead with this plan, but not with the cycling route along Somerset. Think about it; with this piece of the puzzle, you could have a dedicated bike route from St.Laurent, in the East, to Greenbank(!) in the west, all along one continuous street.

    Well, Laurier it is. We just need to fix up the end of Bronson now and that might actually work.

  2. I would think we could never have a bridge like the one in Calgary pictured. But then, I would have thought we could never have a conference centre like we have almost finished building. You never know. As for complaints, the only ones I can see complaining about another pedestrian/cycle bridge would be the rural councillors. I recall the outcry about the Corktown Bridge and what a waste of money so “a few” people could have a short-cut. As someone who uses the Corktown Bridge every day I can certainly attest to it being used by more than a few. Now if only Somerset wasn’t so darn unfriendly to bikes.

  3. Thanks Eric,
    This is a big step in the right direction, but we need at least a half dozen new crossings over the two Rideaus to really stitch this town together! I get sad when I see old Greber plan maps/models with all of their crossings over the rivers/canals; it always seems to me like we only built the crummy sections of his plan and then blame him for all of this town’s ills (including the Queensway, which IIRC, wasn’t his doing at all…)

  4. The water here is shallow, and reportedly during the summer people simply ford the river once they take off their shoes and sox and roll up their pants.

    Guilty! It’s fun!

  5. Back in the days of controversy over West March Township Your Name Here Stadium, didn’t The Powers That Be determine that Carp Creek was “navigable waters”?

    1. anything you can canoe at some point during the year is “navigable waters” but the Navigable Waters Protection Act was changed considerably in 2009 to help the implement the Economic Action! Plan.

      1. so the requirements for infrastructure projects aren’t as onerous as they once were. In response to Chris B below, you don’t have to be able to navigate the whole river for a river to be navigable.

  6. I think this past year, there was even a picnic table in the middle of the river here, so you could sit and admire the view while you keep your feet cool!

    I agree that this makes the most sense. It was a historic crossing, it links Vanier/Overbrook and Downtown nicely, it should be easy.

    How can it be navigable, with the dam at Rideau falls?

  7. I agree that this is a great start. As a near-east dweller who cycle commutes most of the year, I’d love to see cycling infrastructure east on Donald connecting to the North-South NCC path on Aviation Parkway along with another East-West route on Hemlock/Beechwood/St. Patrick between Aviation Parkway and Sussex.

  8. I think, based on my quick reading of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, that because the only craft capable of navigating the river are low draft, then the bridge would be able to go ahead so long as there is adequate clearance for said craft – in this case 12 foot clearance is adequate. It would still need to be approved by the Minister of Transport.

    I cannot see that being a particular problem. Would a bridge there interfere in any way with the ice dynamiting in the spring?

    On the subject, I think the city could do a better job highlighting the old train bridge beside the Queensway (6 in the diagram above). I suggested a bike lane down Lees to Robin Bennett of the City, but he said the traffic people claim the road is too narrow for a bike lane and parking and traffic. This bridge also presents an opportunity for a N-S connection through the city, either on the Transitway or along Nicholas

    1. i agree that the old train bridge by the former Algonquin College (now U of O) has lots of potential. The approach from the west leaves a lot to be desired, and it would be cheap and easy to improve it.
      thanks for reading and commenting,

Comments are closed.