New Flora Foot Bridge Over Rideau Canal Now Open

Flora Foot bridge
Flora Food bridge as seen from the canal.

To Ottawa standards, the Flora foot bridge was built in the blink of an eye. With the LRT being over a year late, the bridge over the Airport Parkway a major disaster project, not to mention the Vimy Ridge Bridge delays, not much seem to go right lately. But this time the builders got it right.

I love this photo: a view from the onramp on the west side

Construction in 2017

Looking north: view of the pond where the Flora bridge is now

“A legacy project”, the always affable Yasir Naqvi joked at that time, referring to ‘Canada 150’ when construction started in the fall of 2017. It took just over a year and a half to complete it, ahead of schedule. Yours truly was even invited for the official start of the construction. I should have worn a red shirt.

I didn’t take this picture as I am actually in there (on the right). Let me now if you were the photographer

Flora bridge over the canal open before Canada Day

When July 1 was approaching and I saw the many workers frantically working on landscaping, I figured the aim was to have it open on July 1, Canada Day. Low and behold, the bridge opened yesterday afternoon. So I went out at 2 pm and I wasn’t the only one. Already there were people on the bridge walking and cycling.

Two artificial islands were built to enable the construction of two V shaped supports

I was initially a bit disappointed that the bridge wasn’t designed more elegantly, but now it is finished I think I can like it. But do we need a bridge that high: I am still not sure. I don’t expect the Navy will use it to get to Kingston (the original purpose of the canal) and pleasure boat use is gradually declining over the years from 100,000 vessel movements annually in the 80’s to just over 60,000 last year, and that is partly that high because of the addition of Le Boat in Smith Falls. The Ottawa Locks only saw 1321 vessel passages in 2018, 817 of them from Quebec.

Source: Rideau-info.com
First part of the deck is in
The bridge in 2018: the deck is in

21 million dollars Flora bridge

The bridge was financed by three levels of government with Yasir Naqvi being one of the major engines behind the project together with the mayor and John Dance. John Dance worked hard to make this bridge happen, and was also heavily involved in making Main Street a complete street. Former city councillor David Chernushenko, now cruising in an electric vehicle through Canada (sleeping in a tent next to charging stations I suppose) promoting his latest book, is another person to be mentioned. And let’s not forget Catherine McKenna, our federal minister of the environment who was able to secure part of the funds.

The canal could not be blocked. Not just for boating in the summer, but also for skating in winter

$21 million sounds like a large amount for a bridge, but as David Reevely wrote in his June 23, 2017 piece, it is nothing compared to the $58 million to widen just 1.7 km of Greenbank Road, or $200 million-plus to widen 11 km of Highway 417. Shall I mention one more time the $110 million for the 6 km stretch of widening of the Queensway?

A beautiful view of the bridge from the frozen canal

Flora MacDonald

Flora bridge by night
Flora by night

The bridge is named after Flora Isabel MacDonald (June 3, 1926 – July 26, 2015) who was a Canadian politician and humanitarian and Canada’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs. Her family apparently didn’t want her last name added to the bridge as she wouldn’t have liked that.

Some numbers about the Flora Footbridge

The bridge is 5 meters wide and 123 meters long. This June, the bicycle counter just north of the bridge under the pathway along the canal on the Queen Elizabeth Driveway counted around 1500-2000 bicycles per day passing on cooler rainier days, and 3000-3500 on the warmer dry days, totalling 69,176 for June 2019. It will be interesting to see if that number is going up after this weekend from people cycling across the canal and then heading north (or the other way around).

Going Dutch: Anouk and Hans visiting the bridge between rain showers. Note the textured deck. Photo taken by Alex deVries to show to his brother “Perfect” Craig, an avid Volvo driver

The bridge connects Old Ottawa East and beyond to the Glebe and beyond and vice versa. To get to the same place across the canal in the past, it would take you a 2.5 km walk or bike ride via Bank street bridge; via Pretoria it would take you about 1.8 km. Enough for many to take the car.

So how was my first ride?

The location over the canal, circles indicate existing bridges

It was a wonderful experience to bike across the bridge. The bridge is quite attractive and spacious, “Delightful”, Erik de Vries uttered in a tweet after he crossed the bridge on opening day in the pouring rain.

The lily pond is restored and has a more natural appearance. There are some nice details such as the wooden hand rail and the small traffic signs. The landscaping is very attractive. I hope it will survive the hot week ahead. There will be a bench at the ramp on the west side. (Not all work was finished yet). Perhaps Toon Dreessen of DCA Architects says it best in a tweet to me:

Its an excellent example of bill 5 in action: include #architects on #infrastructure and increase beauty, enchance design; bill 5 reqs this on every #infrastructure project but isn’t applied; most are boring, poorly designed; this sets a bar for excellence

I was not the only one enjoying the bridge. I happen to pass a proud and happy Yasir Naqvi, former attorney general of Ontario.

Architects of the bridge are DTAH, which also worked on the Vimy bridge and the Bank of Canada as well as the lovely Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. The bridge was engineered by WSP and the contractor who got it all done in time was Pommerleau. The city’s project manager was Richard Moore.

Public Art

Algonquin artist Claude Latours’ Mōnz (Moose) bench will be located on the west side of the canal in the wetlands area facing the lily pond. Sally Lee Sheek’s Alone bench will be located on the east side at the foot of the staircase ramp.

Subtle signs

The deck has an anti slip material on it. We noticed a tiny sign on the down ramp integrated in the railing on the east side asking to cycle slow (0:34 in the clip below), rather than one of those yellow oversized signs. The post on the west side (1:54 in the clip and that silvery line in the photo below at the end of the ramp) is not overly visible and could cause collisions. The corner on the east ramp is quite tight, but that is matter of getting used too.

wooden railing at Flora Footbridge
The wooden railing is a nice touch
The tree on the corner was left in place. The corner has become a bit of a mini plaza. Future idea: a bench wrapped around the tree
The ramp going up towards the bridge on the Colonel By side. I find the ramps quite massive and the corner halfway a bit tight
2017: a resident’s view towards the canal before the bridge was put in (Google grab)
2019: The same view has not improved, but trees are coming
2017: the view from 4th Ave towards the canal (Google grab)
2019: the view from 4th Ave towards the canal
The canal and the pathway looking north with the revitalised pond on the left

Check out my post on some of the other Ottawa pedestrian and cycling bridges.

Landscaping on the south side along Queen Elizabeth Drive
View from the bridge, looking north
Yesterday I saw a trike, today a cargo bike and someone in a wheelchair
Many people just stopped to take in the views
The downpour on Friday caused a bit of a spontaneous stream downhill from the ramp
Happy to see landscaping rather than just paving everything
A bit of a pet peeve of mine: large signs for cyclists are not necessary, so I am glad to see the signs sized to pedestrians and cyclists
Making new friends on the bridge: Yesterday Alexandra twittered that she was in the video I shot. Today she introduced herself and her husband Doug when I was taking some sunnier pictures. Here they are walking on the bridge

A bike counter will keep track of pedestrians and cyclist numbers

I don’t think I have ever seen so many happy people on a new piece of infrastructure. On Saturday, the second day of the opening, I went back with a tour group from Escape Bicycle Tours and the numbers of cyclists on the bridge was impressive. It was a rainy afternoon on June 28 opening day, but I wanted to film the crossing via the Flora Footbridge anyway. Here is a 2:20 minute clip, cycling from East to West. Enjoy.

I wrote a blog post with some cool bridges in the Netherlands, which you can find here.

More reading about the Flora Foot Bridge

Flora MacDonald on City of Ottawa website: https://ottawa.ca/en/news/flora-macdonald-continues-link-communities

Article by John Dance in Glebe Report: http://www.glebereport.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/GR-August-2017_web.pdf

City of Ottawa project page (Includes images of artists works): https://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-engagement/projects/flora-footbridge#public-art-project

4 Comments

  1. That tight turn half way down the east side (Colinel By Dr.) is too tight for any bike over 18″ or 20″. I ride a 24″ and it was impossible to do without dismounting, especially with cyclists coming up to watch for. A stupid design by idiots who never ride a bike… probably neber had.

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