Public Works: Building Bridges
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Public Works: Building Bridges

Forget the scramble. Would you rather wait for traffic, or walk over it?

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Photo of Toronto's Lake Shore Boulevard bailey bridge, from the {a href=""}Wikimedia Commons{/a}.

You’ve been there. Stranded afoot on some stretch of traffic disaster, meanwhile right across the street OMG PIZZA NOVA HAS A LARGE PEPPERONI FOR $8.99 and the nearest light is a block and a half away. You either walk to the light and wait like a chump while they run out of pepperoni, or you do a Frogger across the street, putting yourself in mortal danger and risking a jaywalking ticket just to fill your gut with discounted oregano and nitrates.

Of course, it’s 2013, and we should all have jetpacks by now. But since we don’t, another solution is pedestrian bridges.

Take Hong Kong, for example. It’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet, yet many of the most crowded areas of the city are more pedestrian-friendly than downtown Toronto. There are a variety of reasons for this (including a robust and widely used transit system), but it can be attributed, partly, to a maze of pedestrian bridges—or flyovers, as they’re misleadingly called in the U.K.

We’re not talking about scenic bridges that are physically required to allow passage over creeks and ravines. These overpasses are urban, typically existing in addition to—or in place of—traffic lights on the ground, letting pedestrians rise above the mechanized mayhem and cross busy streets without getting plowed over by a right-turning garbage truck.

These bridges can take many different forms, from enclosed walkways between buildings fully kitted out with shops and conveniences, to straightforward outdoor stair-and-bridge arrangements.

A pedestrian bridge in Hong Kong. Photo by {a href=""}wok{/a}, from Flickr.

We have a few examples locally. There’s the Lake Shore Boulevard Bailey Bridge, which is venerable enough to have been given heritage designation. There’s also the much more recent Puente de Luz bridge, which spans the downtown CN tracks and makes CityPlace feel like more of a neighbourhood and less of a penal colony.

But the idea has never really taken off here, probably because the cost/benefit trade-off hasn’t justified spending taxpayer dollars (the Puente de Luz was paid for by CityPlace developer Concord Adex).

Times change. Toronto is no longer New York’s dull country cousin. It’s now the beating heart of a regional megalopolis stretching from Buffalo to Kitchener to Newmarket. Fact. Even lacking the population density of Hong Kong, there are areas of the city where the volume of automotive and foot traffic would warrant bridges: Bloor between Bay and Avenue, Front Street near Union Station, and Yonge and Dundas come to mind.

As with everything in the city, cost will be an issue. (Witness the debate over the on-again, off-again Fort York bridge.) And prices vary enormously, depending on location, style, and use of the bridge. Detailed studies would be important.

Toronto is one of the most liveable, walkable cities in North America, and we want to keep it that way. An idea that encourages walking, reduces crowding at intersections, and that may save lives is probably worth finding a few dollars for.