Sunday, July 5, 2009

A pedestrian/cycling bridge over False Creek?

The very talented architect Gregory Henriquez and Mayor Gregor Robertson made news this week with a public proposal to build a new pedestrian/cycling bridge across False Creek. A number of people asked me what I thought of the idea, and I told them that I supported it in principle, having mused about such a bridge during last year's municipal election campaign. Indeed, I included images of similar bridges in Melbourne and Dublin during a subsequent presentation on 12 Great Ideas for Vancouver From Around the World which I presented in the final week of the campaign.

Based on what I was told following my public propositions, my two concerns about such a bridge proposal are its cost, and functionality (especially for commuting cyclists). However, I was seduced by the idea, and decided to take a quick look on-line for other pedestrian/cycling bridges.

One of the first that I found was the Sundial Bridge in Redding California (illustrated above). According to on-line reports, the bridge proposal began with a $3 million price tag in 1995. By the time it opened in 2004, the price had ballooned to $23.5 million.

The Sundial was the first U.S. bridge by architect Santiago Calatrava of Valencia, Spain, whose work is legendary throughout Europe. Some might speculate that it could have inspired Gregory's design!

The 700-foot long bridge is 23 feet wide. It's deck is opaque glass from Quebec. The 14 cables hold up the bridge without needing in-river support, a major design factor because the clear-running Sacramento is a salmon-spawning stream as it runs through Redding.

The bridge takes its name from a 217-foot high pylon, which acts as a giant sundial, on the north side of the bridge. The shadow follows such a large arc that the measuring circle can record time only four hours a day (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. PDT) on summer solstice.

My favourite blogger Frances Bula, who is away in Europe recently shared her thoughts on a pedestrian/cycling bridge (see as have many of her readers. Like so many things in life, one could argue for and against such a proposal. However, whenever comparing propositions from other cities...London, Melbourne, Dublin and so on, one does have to be careful to consider the context of the idea.

What I do find a bit odd about the Mayor's recent announcement, however, is its timing. After all, on July 13, his highly publicized proposal to alter the Burrard Street Bridge to accommodate cyclists will begin its trial period. Why did he announce an alternate proposal just now? Is the timing serendipity, or strategically determined, in anticipation of some serious negative feedback on his Burrard Street trial. While many fear that the bridge trial will fail, I would like it to succeed, even though the last trial cost my good friend Peter Ladner a lot of support in many circles.

And as for the cost of this proposal, I can say with certainty that should this proposition progress, a bridge design along the lines presented by Gregory will likely cost significantly more than $45 million. The city engineers know this too. I wonder if the Mayor asked them. Somehow, I don't think so!


Neale Adams said...

I agree that a pedestrian and cycling bridge, such as the one you show, can be beautiful and useful. For that reason it might be worth building.
But it seems to me the main reason for allowing cyclists on the Burrard bridge is to promote cycling as a primary mode of transportation. We want (or, I think we should want) to replace the automobile with vehicles that will 1) cut the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, 2) use less energy, and 3) improve urban livability.
It seems to me that for the transport up to 10 km of relatively healthy persons, the bicycle is ideal, and small electric motors on bicycles or tricycles can take care of many others. We really don't need new bridges; we need to reallocate the lanes we have now. To build a bridge such as the one proposed, which as you point out will often be bypassed by serious commuters, is to send the message that, yes, the automobile belongs on the road and should use all the lanes built for it, and we should do our best to find ways that take care of those pesky cyclists so they don't hold up traffic. But as the Critical Mass slogan goes: "We aren't holding up traffic. We are traffic!"
I'm not for banning automobiles; I'm for their appropriate use. It seems to me that for relatively short trips (which a large proportion of our traffic is), save the need to transport heavy goods, the automobile is not appropriate.
Am I being hopelessly ideal, and the hegemony of the internal combustion machine must continue indefinitely?

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