Somerset Viaduct hardening

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The local community around Somerset Street had to push very hard to get a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly environment. The results, shown above, are extraordinary (by Ottawa’s low standards): wide walks, bike lanes, ped lighting, trees and shrubs in irrigated-planters where there is no dirt …

At the top of the bridge (or viaduct, to be accurate) there is a furnished belvedere. Right now the viewing point is a bit understated, but when the lines of 30-35 storey highrises already in the plans appear, there will be only one sight line to the north and south along the greenway corridor, right out to the Gatineau Hills. And this sight line is not protected in law, lacking a dead knee dipper such as Beechwood has.

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So into this rather benign and low key environment, the City has decided to harden the structure against attacks on the underpassing OTrain corridor. I am unaware of any history of problems here.

Thus far the proposed designs “protect” the trains but leave the cyclists and walkers below (on the astonishingly successful OTrain pathway) vulnerable to whatever dangers the city envisions.

None of the proposed designs are thrilling improvements to the space. Tomorrow, I’ll suggest a more acceptable save-the-Otrain barrier.

chain link arch


The above arched-fence projects out from the bridge at an angle. It is made of chain link. The drawing is outrageously misleading, since chain link cannot be arched at the top, or even left unsupported, so the outer edge metal pipe has been conveniently dropped from the drawing.

The chain link is also shown as nearly invisible, when the most cursory observation of existing chain link installations will reveal that they are only semi-permeable when viewed at right-angles. For a fence parallel to the walkway, it will appear as a very visible mesh.

And those signs !  Are we to see the flying O logo of our fair city blazoned on every fence and railing in the city? If not, then why stick the advertising signing on this structure?

The next design is much uglier. It builds a large flat table or cage outwards from the viaduct, floored with chain link, supported by scaffolding posts, and having a high fence around it. The drawing charitably leaves out many of the posts and horizontal joists required to support the mesh.

extended cage


The flat cage floor will attract and display litter, and challenges some people to climb out onto it. I can certainly foresee a certain appeal to lying face down on the mesh to watch the train skim by a few feet down.

The third choice offered by the City is some unspecified variation of this fence installed in Vancouver:  (

vancouver casePresumably the fence could be silver, to match the Ottawa railing.

Ironically, the design doesn’t prevent dropping objects onto the tracks unless the bars of the fence are to be very close together. This appears more of a suicide-prevention fence than a safety-for-the-trains design.

It is worth noting that the City declined all attempts to improve the existing railing design when rebuilding Somerset just a few years ago. It cited the expense of any such railing, but seems to have forgotten that impediment now.

There is also the famous suicide fence on a Toronto viaduct to draw inspiration from, but that design is also rather obstructive and totally huge. And expensive.

Tomorrow: suggestions for a better design…



It would also be knice if konsultants could lern to spel the naame of the street kerrectly.



5 thoughts on “Somerset Viaduct hardening

  1. When I was an infant, my parents tell me that they used to drive around with me in their arms. Agreed this is unsafe, but things are getting a little TOO safe – Now we have fences stopping people from jumping onto the tracks from any bridge they pass under. If someone wanted to commit suicide, they wouldn’t get there and think: darn, a fence, I guess I won’t. What’s next, fences on sidewalks to stop people from jumping in front of a bus? Subway suicides are most common at platforms… not to mention accidental falls and homicides as well. If they are going to do anything, they should have platform doors at the downtown stations…. and even then, these are uncommon. Ottawa is so cautiously conservative it makes me angry. They need to stop spending tax dollars on things that affect benefit than 1% of the population. This is such an “american” solution, in that the government is doing something to falsely address a problem while taking away the freedom (freedom of view in this case) from everyone.

  2. This does not make sense. Neither the “lean-out” design for Somerset or the inward-arch design used at Gladstone would stop the throwing of a baseball sized object over the top of the fence. This is easily seen if you look at your photo of Gladstone and presume a rock thrower standing in the position of the cyclist. I have no great throwing arm but I think even I would be able to lob a fair size object over either of these designs.

    And what about all of the unprotected crossings over 417? What about the unprotected boat and pedestrien traffic at Corkstown Bridge?

    And if the citizens are not demanding this protection why is it being implemented?

    Maybe we need a new tourism slogan – “Ottawa – the City of Ugly. Designed that Way.”

  3. Speaking of the future line of Condos, what is going on at City Centre? I thought they were tearing it down to make room for a combination of condo’s and office buildings. But, the place got a new roof last week and the parking lot is being repaved this week.

    1. I think there is no urgent and pressing need / demand to redevelop the site. It’s revenues more than pay for its upkeep. Also, mind that it has been zoned for 22+ stories for about 22 years. Equity is not in a rush, i guess. And it remains some of the cheapest space in the (central) city, which is good for incubating business.

  4. No, no, noooooo. Submit a better design if you must, Eric (and I have no doubt that you can do better than these designs). But the community should demand that the city do nothing to this viaduct unless and until there a is an actual problem that needs to be addressed. I was just commenting to my spouse the other day about how well the City did with the upgrade (albeit with lots of community input). Don’t let them mess it up with unnecessary chain link/faux iron fence clutter!

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