I visited another Santiago Calatrava bridge, this time in Venice, but this time I was looking for it. The ped bridge crosses the Grand Canal at the main bus terminal, a bit southwest of the train station. The neighbourhood around it is mostly “modern” (as opposed to historic old Venice), as evidenced by Mussolinni’s “fascist modern” train station, the non-descript bus station, the dopplemayr light rail people mover to the cruise ship terminal, and indeed the government building seen in the background of the picture above. I suppose the Venetians needed some corner to strut their modernist stuff (this is also the only area with … gasp … cars).
Here’s a pic from the ‘net, just reminding you we aren’t the only ones with winter and an unskatable canal:
The crossing the bridge and continuing southwards (right off the picture above) leads one eventually ( I say eventually because getting lost en route is the norm in Venice) to the Dorsoduro neighbourhood. Dorso, as in dorsal, or back. Duro, as in hard. The original island is like the back of a large fish or whale.
And that is what the bridge very much looked like to me when I was there in September.
Rather like a sea creature’s skeleton:
Now, look up from under the bridge (picture below) and notice the deck is glass on the two sides by the handrails, and stone (bone?) in the centre spine. (Did you notice the feet in the above picture?)
The bridge is lit from the underside and from lighting hidden in the handrails. The concealed lighting emphasizes the arch and grace of the bridge, and is in total contrast to the murky depths of the canals in Venice (there are, supposedly, sewer pipes buried under the canals to carry away household waste …). I didn’t see it lit up when I was there; mine hosts said they had never seen it lit up and they lived there … it must be sort of like the War Museum in Ottawa with flashing lights on the Morse-code windows in the façade that I have seen operate exactly once in my life.
The bridge surface consists of a series of shallow steps, the run of the steps varying slightly as we ascend the curve, which makes it necessary to watch your step:
Here’s a closer-up of the steps:
and of irregular treads…. The extra joint in the larger stair tread shown apparently makes the lack of a step impossible to see for many users while descending, who stumble and stagger:
Yes, there are many falls and injuries. Venetian officials say the tourists are “staggered” by the beauty of Venice and don’t pay sufficient attention. Also, the glass is slippery in fog, or in wet, or in snowy weather. Notice in the ‘winter’ picture provided earlier, that users stick to the stone treads in the middle. Each stair tread costs about 8,000E to replace (rolling suitcases have very hard wheels which when they drop onto the glass chip it). The annual maintenance bill for the bridge is apparently in the range of 2million E.
It seems to have escaped the planners’ notice that the bridge is likely to be used by people with rolling suitcases, given that it is at the “main gate” of Venice. Wheelchairs – never heard of ’em.
Here’s the inexpensive solution used on other Venetian bridges: plastic
The bridge opened in 2008, and cost somewhere around 15million Euros. The exact cost is hard to determine, due to deficiencies, call-backs, redesigns, competing commissions of inquiry, etc. Nonetheless, they got one nicer than our Airport Parkway bridge.
To “fix” the “universal accessibility” problem, someone hit upon Cinderella’s pumpkin coach on the night of the prince’s ball. The little glass enclosure shown below is the solution.
One (supposedly) summons it down to the glass enclosed roofless building shown above. Enter the coach. It rises straight up the red shaft. Then it is supposed to switch to a red track hung on the side of the bridge to take the coach on a soaring flight over the canal, to the next vertical descent:
Suffice to say such complex engineering enjoys certain reliability features that would escape even Walter Disney. Mine hosts seemed surprised it was supposed to move. Did they think it was a guard hut or toll booth?
Bridges are nice to have. They have useful functions. They can look nice too. Or they can look blah or even ugly.
I’d like our city to have nice bridges, pretty ones. To engage the eye and lift the spirit. But not to pick the pocketbook.
I am left wondering if the Clegg-Fifth bridge at Lansdowne Park which started out curvy and soaring, and like much else at Lansdowne is being value-engineered, will end up with a “we paid what for that?!?”. Underachieving is cheaper than over-reaching when the initial costs are calculated but the long term values are ignored. Lansdowne reeks of that not-quite-there. Maybe it will get a bridge over troubled waters to match.