Flora Footbridge Opens With A Flourish

By John Dance

The official opening of the Flora Footbridge just preceded the 2019 Canada Day festivities; the new landmark linking OOE to the Glebe was definitely the “go-to” destination on July 1st. Photo by John Dance

By John Dance

It took 112 years, but the new bridge over the Canal was well worth the wait. In late June, the Flora Footbridge linking Clegg Street and Fifth Avenue opened four months earlier than scheduled, cost $2 million less than budgeted, generated greater use than forecast and, as a bonus, provided a glorious new public space overlooking the Rideau Canal.

On June 26, with some fanfare, politicians and young students from local schools cut the ribbon for the new bridge and two days later the bridge was quietly opened to the public. Subsequently, on July 20th, the three community associations, which had long lobbied for a bridge, held their own celebration of Flora.

As noted in the accompanying photo profiles below, the initial users of the footbridge seem delighted with the new safe, convenient, healthy and “green” linkage of the Old Ottawa East and Glebe communities. On Canada Day, crowds gathered on the bridge to catch spectacular views of the Snowbirds and then the Parliament Hill fireworks.

The desire for a bridge linking Clegg Street and Fifth Avenue goes back to 1907 when the terms of the annexation of the Village of Ottawa East by the City of Ottawa called for the construction of a bridge at the location. In the century that followed, several temporary bridges and a rowboat ferry provided cross-canal connections but, despite various proposals, nothing permanent was built.

Many parties deserve credit for getting the bridge approved and built. However, the efforts of community members were fundamental to its conception and progress. The Midtown Footbridge Group formed in 2008 with members from Old Ottawa East, Old Ottawa South and the Glebe, and it worked tirelessly to bring politicians and other parties on side.

In the end, nine community associations, five school councils, local businesses and various other parties ranging from the Glebe Little League to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre endorsed the idea of a new bridge across the Rideau Canal between the Bank Street and Pretoria bridges.

The City bought into the concept and included it in the cycling, pedestrian and transportation master plans. Money was then approved for an environmental assessment that was begun in 2011. Three public open houses followed and, in 2012, a bridge with an estimated cost of $17.5 million was recommended.

But without a source of funding the project was shelved. In the federal election campaign of 2015, Catherine McKenna pledged to make the bridge a priority. When elected, she followed through by securing $10.5 million from the new federal infrastructure program.

Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa Centre’s former provincial member of the legislative assembly, was one of the first politicians to endorse the bridge, and he secured $6.9 million from the Commuter Cycling Program, which was funded through the now-defunct “cap and trade” revenues.

Other politicians also worked hard for the bridge. Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar was a long-time advocate. Councillor Clive Doucet strongly supported the link in the recommendations of his 2001 “Connecting Communities” report. And through his eight years as councillor, David Chernushenko made the bridge a priority. As president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association in 2009, Shawn Menard spoke strongly for the bridge.

The city’s share of the bridge’s cost was about $3.6 million. Because the actual cost of the bridge was less than the $21 million that was budgeted, both the federal and provincial governments will receive refunds, reports Luc Marineau, the City’s acting manager of design and construction.

Preliminary unofficial estimates suggest that the new footbridge has had about 3,500 trips per day. This is substantially more than the 2,100 trips per day forecast in the environmental assessment. To put this usage in context, just four years ago the very popular Corktown Footbridge over the Canal at Somerset Street was averaging fewer than 3,000 daily trips.

Despite the initial euphoria, some residents continue to fear the footbridge will turn Old Ottawa East into a parking lot for Lansdowne Park, particularly when there are large events like Redblacks games. Others say that the additional parking will be no worse than what is experienced when the Rideau Canal Skateway is open.

And there remains the sore point of the massive structure on the Old Ottawa East side which has destroyed the Canal views of a number of residents along Echo Drive. The OOECA strongly objected to the opaque design of the east-side ramp, abutment and stairs but the City refused to use columns to support the structures even though a key design principle was that the bridge was to be “slender, light and transparent.”

Another concern is the brightness of the bridge’s night-time lighting. “The light intensity has not yet been finalized but will be determined by the National Capital Commission and the City when the final dimming components are installed,” says Marineau.

Pedestrian/cyclist safety issues have also been raised, including the sharp turn at the switchback on the Ottawa East side, the bollard in the middle of the Glebe ramp, and the merging of pedestrians and cyclists at the end of the ramps.

But these operational issues aside, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists are having their daily routines positively changed by virtue of the new footbridge. For many it’s a wonderful new route to work, school, shopping or socializing.

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Filed in: Community Groups, Environment, Features, FP, Front Page, News

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