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.
Construction in 2017
“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.
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.
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.
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.
$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?
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).
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?
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“
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.
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.
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.
Love the bridge. Why? It brings communities together, and adds economic benefit to both. It makes for a safe canal crossing alternative to Pretoria Bridge, which is huge. It is beautiful.— Alexandra Gruca-Macaulay (@DrAlexGrucaMac) June 29, 2019
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