Building Bridges in Ottawa – September 18 meeting

The bridge seen from the south end. Welded in Spain and shipped to Calgary, it initially didn't meet Canada's safety standards.
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Ottawa is building bridges. That probably sounds like Stephen Harper is reaching out to Thomas Mulcair, but I am really talking about bridges. Currently a bridge is being built over the Airport Parkway. Design is under way to build a bridge over the canal and one over the Rideau river. Also, a bridge is planned extending Hickory St over the O-Train, just north of Carling, to connect with the O-Train pathway. To be clear, I am talking about cycling and pedestrian bridges. In the near future, that O train bike path will connect further to Dow’s Lake, so that those pesky cyclists will disappear from Preston, to great joy of the retailers there, who are convinced that car drivers are their future. (From people in the know, I learned that many business owners live in Ottawa’s suburbs, and are very car focused). Unfortunately, I noticed Preston is clogging more and more, and traffic will come to a complete stand still in years to come, with new highrises being built. Future customers are safely tucked away behind their stores, on their way to Wellington West’s growing food scene.

Connecting the dots

The single most important issue in Ottawa’s bike infrastructure is connecting the existing infrastructure. With our waterways, O-train, Transitways and parkways and highways, bike infrastructure (and pedestrian for that matter) is often interrupted. Connections are an afterthought as cycling has always been considered recreation. Many people though have indicated that they’d cycle more and more regularly if only they feel safer. Part of feeling safer is safe crossings. As a City we’d like to have a healthy population, living in a healthy city. The city is starting to recognise that telling people to live healthy is one thing, but getting people out to actually do so is a complete different ball game.

So the city is starting to build bridges. and yes, that cost money. But so does reparing a sinkhole, or widening the Queensway ($220 million) or building a one kilometer road behind the General Hospital ($65 million. And what about parking once the driver arrives? – even the current mayor is not convinced).

Calgary, under the visionary new mayor Naheed Nenshi, is working on bike infrastructure too. They just hired the new amicable Tom Thivener, who is the new cycling coordinator. The mayor also inherited a bike pedestrian bridge over the Bow river, that runs more or less east-west through town. It was a bit pricy though (in the 25 million dollars range) and probably could have been built for a third if it wasn’t so fancy. However, one may hope the bridge might also become an icon for Calgary, although it is a bit hidden and really only visible from Memorial Drive.

Esthetics count

In the Netherlands, governments don’t always chose for the cheapest option too. They weigh things like esthetics, design and even the promotional aspects of a piece of infrastructure. I remember very well that one of the bridges over the Maas river in Rotterdam was chosen for its beauty, despite a higher price tag. In a way, you could consider paying part of it from a marketing budget. You probably saw the blog about the floating bike roundabout in Eindhoven earlier this summer. Blogger Mark wrote that he received 25,000 hits on that post, compared with the usual 500-1000.

While in Calgary last week, I strolled to the new Peace Bridge, a 126 meter long bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. You can read about the details in Wikipedia, so I will just share some pictures of the bridge with you, to educate yourself a bit on how other bike and pedestrian bridges look like. (pics made with Ipod, with disappointing results).

I am not making a point for gorgeous bridges only though, as in Ottawa we may want to spend our money on quantity, not on beauty only as we are so far behind with our infrastructure for cycling and walking. However, the Corktown bridge does add to the city’s image and so will the next bridge over the canal. 25 million dollars for a bridge is probably a bit rich though.

Hickory Street bridge

On September 18th, the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association has a meeting about the Hickory bridge with guest speaker Robert Grimwood, who I respect very much. I suggest you go out and listen and make sure that we get a damn big bridge out there as it will be a busy one in the future: Tuesday, Sept. 18th at 7pm at the Civic Hospital Amphitheatre.

Note the slightly elevated side walks, wide enough for two trollers side by side I noticed.
The bridge seen from the south end. Welded in Spain and shipped to Calgary, it initially didn’t meet Canada’s safety standards.
A concrete sign clearly indicated a separation between cyclists and pedestrians.
The ramp leading up to the bridge is very nicely landscaped.

To learn more about this Environmental Assessment study, visit


  1. I would like to see better access from the south of town for cyclists. Many communities such as Metcalfe, Vernon and Osgoode have been made part of the City of Ottawa but have yet to see the benefits of this association. I currently drive in with my daughter with my bicycle on the back of the car and cycle from her work to mine but would consider the longer cycle from home if it could be done safely.

  2. That Calgary bridge looks bulky and a bit of an eyesore…much prefer the simplicity of the Corktown design and hope the upcoming designs for the Sommerset to Donald emulate it, instead of taking inspiration from Calgary’s Gaudi gone wrong.

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