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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Is Corktown a bridge too far?

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Pedestrians and cyclists alike welcomed the long-awaited opening of the Corktown Footbridge back in 2006. Located half a kilometre south of the busy Laurier Avenue Bridge, the slender and elegant arch offers a convenient shortcut across the Rideau Canal. It provides users with an often-stunning view along the waterway. It’s unfortunate, then, that the eastern end of the bridge represents a failure to plan for the movement patterns of cyclists and pedestrians.

On the western side, the design is reasonably good. Crossing from that side, you’ll see that even though a number of roads meet near the beginning of the span (Somerset Street West, The Driveway, and Queen Elizabeth Drive), they all are controlled by stop signs, so drivers tend to be accommodating towards walkers. Once you get to the eastern end of the bridge, though, problems begin to pop up.

First, you’ll find that you are barred from taking a direct line of approach to the University of Ottawa campus. Instead, a long and sloping rampway channels you in a line parallel with  Colonel By Drive. Starting with a northern leg before a hairpin turn takes the walker or cyclist south, this rampway is such a tedious and looping route that some users heading north choose to shimmy down an embankment and drop down to the beds of shrubbery below, cutting 30 meters or more off their journey. Once you are off the rampway proper – and in sharp contrast to the forest of stop signs halting cars at the western approach – you are met with a signal button at a stoplight that occasionally grants pedestrians a modest 20–30 second window in which to cross. You’ll want to use it though, as without the signal you are on your own to wait for a safe break in the 80 kmh car traffic speeding by. Once across, you’re greeted by a damp, poorly-lit tunnel underneath Nicolas Street and the Transitway. In all, it’s a rather unfortunate way to dump people off at the end of what is otherwise a fantastic piece of infrastructure.

In part, the bridge is a victim of circumstance. The idea for a footbridge crossing the Rideau Canal at the foot of Somerset West was first floated in the early 80s, around the same time that the Transitway was first being constructed. However, endless negotiations between the City and the National Capital Commission (how will the bridge affect the historic canal?) combined with some community opposition (do we really need to spend money on another bridge so close to the Laurier Avenue Bridge?)  kept the project on the shelf for nearly twenty years. Had it been built when it was first proposed, then perhaps it could have been better integrated with its surroundings, rather than having to dodge around a well-established elevated roadway.

Whatever might have been, the bridge and its approach stand as they are, and there’s little to be done about the “afterthought” aspect of the eastern approach, save a multi-million dollar reconstruction project—not a wise bet for any time soon. Perhaps something can be worked out in combination with the proposed light rail tunnel construction work somewhere down the road.

For now, perhaps the best measure that could be taken would be to replace the traffic lights on Colonel By with stop signs, topped by red flashing lights for additional warning. Traffic tends to back up anyway in that spot when high volumes of pedestrians are attempting to cross, and a stop would make it a far safer location. Pedestrians wouldn’t have to rush to catch a light or watch for a gap in traffic, nor would drivers need to watching for people dashing out into traffic. It wouldn’t fix everything, as the long ramp and the tunnel would still be there, but it would go a long way toward improving the pedestrian experience.[videofile width=”600″ height=”516″][/videofile][videofile][/videofile]


One comment

  1. We’re in agreement here. For all its flaws, real and imagined, the Corktown Bridge is just too useful not to have gone up where it did. It’s been a boon to this city since its completion, and hopefully we’ll see more like along the length of the Rideau Canal, and maybe even on the Rideau River as well, if there’s good spots for such.