WALKSPACE: We can do better than a self-effacing bridge

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 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. 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.

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:


  1. Fantastic.  Though I’d miss the bridge being guarded at each end by six foot tall marble onion/fire-hydrant hybrids… unless that’s already been done.

  2. Thanks for this, Eric. It will make me more aware of the possibilities when we’re presented with design options.

  3. FYI, Calgary’s Peace Bridge (pictured) was controversial for its high cost (that comes with hiring the world’s #1 architect) as well as its perceived lack of usefulness, being built ~200m from the nearest pedestrian crossing. However, it is in a highly visible location, meaning that the eye-appealing design adds value not only to its users but prestige to the city, as most tourists see it.

    A bridge on the Rideau River will have minimal impact on tourists or on the city’s prestige, however it will have obvious use value to residents. The second bridge above first and foremost generates value to its users by making the bridge not simply a utilitarian crossing but a point of recreation, and secondly by providing an interesting, eye-catching design. While this specific bridge would likely not work in Ottawa due to winter issues, the approach of building a bridge to provide recreation value (rather than simply crossing utility or a nice design) seems to me like the approach that would have best benefits to the community and the city.

  4. While I find both designs really exciting another mark against the design for Slovenia is that for most people using a walker or wheelchair it would be almost impossible to use safely.

    • What a gorgeous bridge; makes me want to go to Limerick just to walk across it – thanks for this Mark!

  5. For other interesting pedestrian and cycling bridge designs, look at the Rotterdam-based design group–“West 8”.

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