December 3, 2009

Contested Congestion

Most congested city in the U.S.?

Seattle, apparently.    According to global positioning system (GPS) company TomTom of Concord, Mass., the Evergreen City beats out perennial favourite, Los Angeles.

But there’s something more fascinating to note when you check out the complete list of all 30 cities.  Portland, OR (the poster child of smart-growth planning, where the bicycle and the Birkenstock achieve iconic status) is ranked next to Houston, TX (fabled for its absence of zoning, its celebration of sprawl and billion-dollar budgets for road expansion).  Both have identical rates of road congestion: 23 percent.

And what do we conclude?  Um, I’m not entirely sure.

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Good news from Calgary:

City of Calgary officials have announced that construction of the “Peace Bridge,” a signature-design by world-renowned architect, engineer and artist, Santiago Calatrava will proceed. …  

Calatrava worked closely with the City of Calgary and Graham Infrastructure throughout the value engineering exercise in order to preserve the integrity of the original Calatrava design…. 

“Although slight modifications have been made to the design, my overall vision for the Peace Bridge remains unaltered,” said Santiago Calatrava. “It has always been my intention to provide the city of Calgary with a structure of beauty that pays homage to its people, both functionally and aesthetically. I am confident that in its revised state, the ‘Peace Bridge’ maintains and reflects this vision.” 

The highly anticipated Peace Bridge is expected to be in place by Fall of 2010.

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Keeping with the New York theme this week, here’s a submission by Angus Grieve-Smith of what is probably one of the older purpose-built pedestrian bridges in North America.

According to Wikipedia:

The Ward’s Island Bridge, also known as the 103rd Street Footbridge, is a pedestrian bridge crossing the Harlem River between Manhattan Island and Ward’s Island in New York City. The vertical lift bridge has a total of twelve spans consisting of steel towers and girders.  It is unique among the city’s Harlem River crossings in that it only carries pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

It opened in 1951, and is due to be refurbished next year.

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Andrew Curran sends a long a link to this new pedestrian bridge in the Qingpu district of Shanghai.

… this elegant pedestrian bridge is the work of CA-GROUP, an international architecture and urban planning collaborative triangulated between China, Spain, and Japan.

Drawing on China’s long bridge-building history, the designers recognized that “the bridge should provide for a dedicated space on the river, a room over the water, more than merely acting as an engineering device that solves a communication problem.”

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We haven’t had a new passerelle on the blog for awhile – so thanks to Brent Toderian for passing along this announcement:

A tubular, covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists will span Calgary’s Bow River, according to newly released architectural drawings.

The Peace Bridge’s design by award-winning Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was posted on the City of Calgary’s website Tuesday.

The footbridge for pedestrians and bicycles will be west of Prince’s Island Park and connect Eau Claire to Sunnyside. It will be just over six metres wide, covered for year-round use and lit at night.

Mayor Dave Bronconnier revealed the name of the $22-million bridge Monday….

Council approved spending $25 million in September 2008 to design and construct the footbridge. The funding, from provincial infrastructure grants, also covers the costs of a conceptual design for a second bridge at the west end of St. George’s Island.

Ald. Ric McIver has tried to persuade council to scrap the plan.

The bridge is scheduled to be completed in late 2010. Bronconnier has said the pedestrian span is a necessity that will be used by more than 5,000 people daily.

More details on the City’s website here.

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Lots of buzz about the ped/bike bridge proposal floated by the Mayor as an alternative to the lane closure or widening of the Burrard Bridge.  (See Frances Bula’s post on the subject here.)

Architect Gregory Henriquez and engineer C.C. Yao came up with this:

I’m not a fan.  Too big, too complicated, too expensive – mainly to accommodate the ramps needed to get the bridge deck high enough so that boats can sail underneath without impediment.   And that’s the issue that never seems to get addressed head on: must any new crossing of False Creek be a high-level bridge?

In the past, most bridges over False Creek were low level.  Like the first and second Granville Bridge:

And the second Cambie bridge:

And the railroad trestle just east of Burrard:

If there wasn’t an assumed priority to avoid drawbridges or swing spans, then a passerelle (as the French call pedestrian bridges) becomes a possible option.  (I illustrate many of the new and exciting passerelles being built around the world in this summary post here.) 

The presumed cost of manning a drawbridge or swing span could, I suspect, be handled with some wireless technology.  With respect to safety, I doubt the bridge would be any less safe than the adjacent seawall on the south side.

If this alternative was up for serious consideration, we could then pursue the simplest and most affordable option: a ped-bike bridge under the Burrard Bridge roadway where streetcars were originally supposed to cross.  That’s the reason for those holes in the bridge’s piers.

From seawall to seawall, connected to existing bikeways, it would provide a quick link for most users.  Yes, there are still challenges to connect with Burrard and Hornby Streets on the north end – but that’s true for the Henriquez proposal as well.  A Burrard Bridge passerelle, however, avoids the most problematic intersections and provides the choice that would likely be most used by the most people.

The lower-deck option avoids the contentiousness of dealing with native-land claims.  But the greatest impediment is still political.  Will the federal govermnent come to the table, prepared to allow a low-level crossing under the Navigable Waters Act, which gives it jurisdiction in False Creek?  Would sailors and other users of the Creek be prepared to make some trade-offs on access, as would cyclists, who would have to accept delays when the passerelle is open?

We won’t know until we ask.

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Australia’s Peter Newman (Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and author of The Reslient City) is on the Infrastructure Australia Advisory Council.  Their report, National Infrastructure Priorities,  just came out.

It’s significant:

Says Peter: “From our perspective, urban road projects no longer work at this point in our history unless they are primarily for freight and that is largely what the other funded roads are for. ”

So for the first time in Australia’s history, more money is proposed for rail than for roads:

There’s much more: a broadband network, a national energy market, ports and gateways, water (of course), and infrastructure that meets the needs of indigenous communities.

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Good for Calgary: they’ve commissioned designs for two footbridges across the Bow River, and they want them to be spectacular.  (Bit of a controversy on how that can be achieved though; Ald. Druh Farrell wants the commission to go to Santiago Calatrava without a competition.)   But everyone agrees the bridges need to be iconic.

The Happy Pontist (yes, a blog just on bridges) weighs in on the Calgary proposal, and also references another controversy in the British city of Sunderland, where there was a competition for a bridge over the River Wear.  Here’s the winner:

The Pontist was sceptical it could get built, given the cost of its spectacular engineering. 

Which is also the reason that Portland went for a more conservative design for its latest bridge over the Willamette for its light-rail extension:

Price tag: $134 million.  You can see the other proposal for The Wave here.

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Chris Bradshaw, loyal PT reader in Ottawa, writes:

Ottawa is very slowly,  very tentatively talking about adding a second passerelle.   The first one is a wonder (the Corktown Footbridge), but it only came in with huge opposition. 

It makes me laugh so much – they can add a new road bridge for 50 million with their eyes closed, but a passerelle for $12 Million? That is an outrage.  A waste of our taxes.  Damn walkers.

In any event, all those who opposed it look pretty foolish now, as it is very heavily utilised, has won architecture awards and really did not cost that much. I even take visitors there as it gives one of the definitive views of Ottawa (the canal, framed by Parliament and the Chateau Laurier).

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