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Department of Irony: Canadian Bridges – or, “No Peace for Port Mann”

January 9, 2013

Two items came in within hours of each other.

From Brent Toderian: Top 10 world’s best public spaces

Peace Bridge


6. Peace Bridge in Calgary, Canada, by Santiago Calatrava: The single-span helical footbridge gently arcs across the water, sheltering users with a glass roof along its 126 meter length. Adjacent to Prince’s Island Park in the downtown district, the structure will provide pedestrians and cyclists with connecting routes between the urban center and Memorial Drive.


From Scot Bathgate: Why Does This Canadian Bridge Keep Trying to Kill People?

Port Mann Bridge

Ever since it opened in September, this inanimate giant of cold steel has been waging bloody war against the puny humans who use it for their daily commute.

As much as I thought the Port Mann Bridge was excessive, I have some sympathy for its managers.  A bridge is a big, complicated piece of machinery – and screw-ups are always part of start-ups.  It’s true for a bridge as much as a rapid-transit line (remember snow and SkyTrain?)   But in an age of social media and instant branding, there’s also no patience.   



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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2013 3:54 pm

    There is no easy fix for this. 

    Heating the cables flies in the face of our conservation pretensions (greening the city etc.). Wiring each cable for power would be complicated and prohibitively expensive: if possible!

    This design is typical; following a famous fashionable practitioner, in this case Spanish engineer Santiago Calatrava, without understanding the underlying design principles invariably spells trouble.

    I have enjoyed Calatrava’s Puente de la Mujer, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires that has cables spanning across the right-of-way in a climate receptive to such design liberties. It is a magnificent pedestrian bridge.

    The problem with Port Mann Two, when it is used in typical BC winter weather, is that the cables span across the right-of-way, Calatrava fashion, freeze, thaw and as traffic causes vibrations potentially lethal shards of ice fly all over the place: luckily, so far, without fatalities.

    The bridge deck, typically, freezes in cold weather due to it being exposed on all sides: top and under.

    Furthermore the designers lack Calatrava’s creative instincts. As with all copies Port Mann two is just plumb ugly.

    I don’t see how they can fudge this one . . .

  2. Guest permalink
    January 9, 2013 4:31 pm

    The Zakim Bridge in Boston and the Incheon Brtidge in Korea are both cable-stayed bridges in winetry climates. I trust information can be gleened from their past experience.

    In part, the problem can be attributed to the success of the Port Mann – Highway 1 project, because travelling speeds have increased so much with the new facility that drivers may through caution to the wind.
    Ever notice how the westbound combination of steeply sloped Johnston Hill and the curve onto the bridge (old and new) resembles a toboggan run? They need their digital signs to flash “SLOW DOWN”.

  3. mezzanine permalink
    January 9, 2013 7:26 pm

    IIRC the cables of skytrain’s skybridge cross over the guideway.

    I have a good feeling that the ‘slush bomb’ problem will resolve, as with drivers not used to driving at highway speed over the new PMB on regular days, let alone sub-zero days.

    If you really wanted to see road infrastructure killing people with panache, look at boston’s ‘big-dig’. Or the crumbling autoroutes in montreal.

  4. Tim permalink
    January 10, 2013 5:47 pm

    Digital speed limit restrictions in icy weather! Easily done for conditions of bridge deck icing. Not much help for the cables though.

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