The effacing Bridge


This story originally appeared as my WalkSpace column at Spacing Ottawa:

The City is conducting studies for the placement of a ped-cyclist bridge over the Rideau River connecting Somerset E to Donald Street. I think this will be a very useful link. I am also delighted that we are constructing a link based on its own merits and appeal to cyclists and peds and not just as an appendage catering to motorist origin-destination desires.

From the newsletter of the study team, I espy the following comment, which is pretty typical for Ottawa:   “the design should look to enhance the natural environment and reduce visual obstructions of the river vista”.

Hmm. Am I over-reacting when I read this as a wish for a bland, innocuous bridge that is self-effacing and minimizing? And probably cheap, too?

And not, in contrast, something that is dramatic and artistic in its own merit? Consider this ped-cyclist bridge proposed for Calgary, conveniently already in Ottawa colours:

That bridge is the opposite of minimal visual impact, it treats the bridge as a sculpture. Ottawans, of course, prefer something with wooden planks and rusted steel girder sides, as constructed on so many NCC paths or along the Ottawa River below the McD-Cartier bridge. And then, ta da! we will take 1% of the budget and install an “artwork” to beautify it or something. (Actually, we spend 1% but at least 20% of that 1% is consumed with “overhead” expenses to run a competition and pay the bureaucrats administering the project).

The above design is by Santiago Calatrava, here is a view from the ped or cyclist point of view, no 1% artwork budget required:

Lest you think we have to go European to get a great bridge design, here is a design from Toronto-based Ja Studio for the Lent-Tabor Bridge in Maribar, Slovenia:

The undulating bridge is white on top, with red reflective panels on the bottom. There, another design in Ottawa colours. And not just a bridge, it creates its own space, an attraction, a huge functional expansion of the adjacent park space, a place to interact with and enjoy the river.

From Calgary to Slovenia cities are considering pedestrian and cyclist bridges that are sculptural and beautiful as well as functional. Any chance we could ever even consider such a design?

Here’s two more illustrations of how the Maribar bridge would work. Be sure to read the little dialogue balloons in the bottom pic:

4 thoughts on “The effacing Bridge

  1. While it’s no Calatrava bridge, Stantec and the City of Toronto are proposing a decent looking ped bridge linking Fort York to Stanley park over the rail tracks:

    Given the need for many more ped/cycle bridges in Ottawa (e.g. 5th & Clegg across the canal comes to mind), we can expect a debate between fewer placemaking-type bridges vs. a greater number of more cost-effective bridges. I suppose the million-dollar question is, can we do both?

  2. Fabulous bridges. I would love to see designs like this but I seriously doubt we will. We have a mindset here in Ottawa that doesn’t realize people will actually visit to look at interesting architecture or infrastructure like they do in other cities. Paris has the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge linking their national library with Bercy Parc. It is an amazing bridge and we specifically added it to our itinerary in Paris. By the way, I run along that wooden/metal NCC footpath below the McDonald Cartier Bridge and as a runner I love it. It really puts a bounce in your step.

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