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 …
… 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:
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.