May 10, 2008

A Passerelle for False Creek

Bravo to The Sun for stoking a discussion on the future of Burrard Bridge – Bridging the Repair Bill Gap.  Journalist Catherine Rolfsen found a range of opinon, from going ahead with the widening but trying to do it cheaper, to building a separate low-level bridge. 

I like that idea.  Build a passerelle, as the French call them, and as so many cities are doing

My current favourite: the Simone de Beauvoir Passerelle across the Seine:

Cost in 2006: 21 million Euros.  But there are so many bridges varying in size and cost, so many being done by great architects with cities vying to outdo each other that I’ll feature some in upcoming posts.   (Send in your nominations!) 

Some are icons for their city, like the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam.

According to the Wayfaring Travel Guide:

The 808 metre long bridge has a 139 metre-high asymmetrical pylon, earning the bridge its nickname of “The Swan” by locals because of its graceful posture over the water. The southern span of the bridge has a 89 metre long bascule bridge for ships that cannot pass under the bridge. The bascule bridge is the largest and heaviest in West Europe and has the largest panel of its type in the world. The bridge was officially opened by Queen Beatrix on 6.09. 1996, having cost about 75 million Euros to construct.

It’s time to put together a task force to really explore the options and not lose a chance to build something truly great – and affordable.


UPDATE: Councillor Chow calls for False Creek pedestrian bridge. 

Derek Moscato’s column in The Province: It feels like we’re being taken for a ride ….

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On July 4th, 2004, the people of Redding, CA, celebrated the opening of a footbridge – a spectacular piece of engineering art that would become an internationally known icon for their small town. 

Designed by Santiago Calatrava (who has gone on to become one of the world’s ‘starchitects’), the Sun Dial Bridge is 700 feet long and cost $23 million. 

By comparison, the distance between the seawalls on the North and South Shores of False Creek at the Burrard Bridge is about 950 feet.  And I’m guessing that for something under $62 million, the estimated cost of widening Burrard Bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, we might get something equally iconic.  

It’s time the city seriously looked at that option. 

We need a passerelle across False Creek – a low-level structure that so many cities are choosing for their narrow water crossings, as I discussed here.  And I’m not the only one.

Real-estate consultant and City Program instructor Herb Auerbach feels the same:

During the  open house seeking public opinion on the renovation of the Burrard Bridge to better accommodate pedestrians and bicycles I recommended that a better alternative was to consider a dedicated light weight pedestrian/bicycle bridge. This recommendation was pooh poohed by the consultants at the open house as technically not feasible and too expensive. In light of the new estimates for renovating the Bridge perhaps this should be reconsidered. 

I was delighted to hear an interview with a Carol McArthur (?) the other morning on CBC re the idea for a pedestrian cycle bridge across Burrard Inlet in lieu of trying to modify the bridge for $62 million.  I couldn’t agree more, that that is the best, most effective, efficient and people (tourist) friendly solution. 

It would also enhance the link from English Bay promenade and the Aquatic Centre to the Maritime Museum, Vancouver Museum and Festival sites (Children’s, Bard on the Beach), Kits Pool, Conservatory and Archives without negatively effecting, in fact reducing the impacts on the Kits Point neighborhoods.   It also precludes “tampering” with the Burrard Bridge which has heritage characteristics.

In a world of changing climate, rising energy costs, increasing obesity and limited budgets, how odd that decision makers aren’t spending ‘the first dollar’ on solutions that we know will address all of these challenges simultaneously.  

UPDATE: Several commentators have noted the inability to build a low-level bridge because of False Creek boat traffic.  Correction: sailboat traffic.   Barges and motor-boats would still be able to slip underneath most passerelles.   The problem is with the masts of sailboats and the occasional very large boat. 

Okay – that’s the trade-off.  Unless a draw-bridge was included – too expensive to man, says the city – then sailboat traffic would have to be phased out of False Creek or limited to those with masts that could be lowered. 

So that’s the choice: provide ustainable transportation for literally thousands of people a day, save the heritage features of the Burrard Bridge, provide better connections for Kitsilano and the West End, create an iconic structure, and do it all for less cost.  Or serve sailboats as the highest priority.

It’s time there was at least a discussion about that trade-off.


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It’s just one element along the finished seawall next to what will be the Athlete’s Village for the 2010 Olympics (and then Millennium Water) – but it’s a grabber:

Yes, it’s a bridge.  But since passage is limited to those on foot and paw, I prefer the French term – passerelle.   Though they have a long history (the Pont des Arts of 1804, for instance), they are among the most interesting blends of architecture and engineering to be found these days. 

The idea behind this one: to evoke the image of a sea-going kayak, including the straps across the deck. 

For the record:

These crossings are particularly favoured for narrow rivers in Europe and Australia (see Price Tags 93 for examples), where they can be integrated into bike routes and greenways.  From Calitrava to Foster, big-name architects are adding these kind of bridges to their portfolios – for instance, in London, the Millennium Bridge:

And in Paris, the Simone de Beauvoir Passerelle:

Now the obvious question: why is there not a passerelle across False Creek?  The need is obvious.  A low-level bridge that connects both banks would be an elegant solution to the Burrard Bridge problem.  The cost alone – now $50 million – to widen the structure over the objections of the heritage community justifies a look at other options.

The problem, apparently, is that a low-level bridge would block the passage of sailboats.  But perhaps it’s time to ask the question: why should we sacrifice a solution that could serve thousands of people every day, support sustainable transportation, add a landmark to the city and save a lot of money to instead serve a few recreational craft that might, with adjustable masts, still be able to navigate the creek?

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