'Exceeded expectations': Latest figures show Corktown, Adàwe bridges popular with pedestrians, cyclists

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Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

More than 185,000 people used the Corktown Footbridge to walk, jog or pedal over the Rideau Canal in a five-week span this spring, making it Ottawa’s most heavily-used pedestrian and cycling bridge.

Between May 10 and June 13, 186,333 people — an average of 5,324 per day — used the decade-old bridge to travel between Somerset Street West in Centretown and the street’s eastern portion in Sandy Hill, according to figures supplied by the city. The numbers don’t distinguish between pedestrians and cyclists.

July, meanwhile, was a record-breaking month for the Adàwe crossing between Somerset Street East in Sandy Hill and Overbrook’s Donald Street. Of the 117,659 people who crossed the bridge between Canada Day and July 31, 60,758 were on bicycles and another 56,901 were on foot.

That’s the highest monthly total recorded since the $9.2-million bridge opened in December 2015.

More than 114,000 people crossed the bridge in June, and on three previous occasions — July, August and September 2016 — monthly totals exceeded 90,000 crossings, according to the city’s figures. Adàwe was the least busy in December 2016, when 21,850 pedestrians and 4,823 cyclists crossed it.

“The high usage of the Adàwe crossing has exceeded my expectations and is a testament to the demand for safe, convenient and pleasant routes for walking and cycling,” said Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum.

He wants the city to build on the bridge’s success by ensuring infrastructure is in place to link these crossings to a wider grid of dedicated walking and cycling routes.

Monday’s nice weather coaxed Betsy Rigal out of the house for a walk, even though she’s had back trouble lately. “Everybody’s talking about it,” she said of the bridge. “It’s made a big difference.”

Getting across the Rideau River along this section previously meant a choice between the sidewalk or nerve-wracking bike lane on the Cummings Bridge, or else the bridge over Highway 417 near the University of Ottawa’s Lees campus.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said the goal was to create a safe corridor to connect the communities, but even he is surprised by the public’s enthusiasm for the bridge. “We couldn’t have imagined it would be this significant,” he said.

Three of the city’s footbridges have permanent counting stations that provide monthly totals: Adàwe, the Hickory Street Bridge in Little Italy and the Max Keeping Bridge, which spans the Queensway near the RCGT baseball stadium on Coventry Road.

The Hickory Street Bridge opened in 2015 and now connects Hickory and Adeline streets. Previously, both came to a dead end on opposite sides of the O-Train Trillium Line tracks.

Traffic on the bridge spiked in September, which coincided with the start of another school year and the opening of a new private student residence nearby. That month, 48,641 people crossed the bridge (the counter does not distinguish between pedestrians and cyclists). December, again, saw the fewest crossings with 27,451.

The Hickory Street Bridge is enjoying steady traffic in 2017, racking up more than 30,000 crossings per month, including July, which saw 34,114 people use the bridge.

Within earshot of the Trillium Line’s Carling station, the bridge also intersects a popular north-south multi-use pathway that runs between the Ottawa River and Carling Avenue.

The Max Keeping Bridge, a posthumous civic honour for the broadcaster and tireless charity booster, sees much less traffic. Just six cyclists, three pedestrians and one guy riding a long-board were seen by the Citizen in a 20-minute span Monday afternoon.

The September 2016 high of 7,158 crossings (5,301 pedestrians and 1,857 cyclists) was slightly more than double the December 2016 low of 3,050 crossings (2,916 pedestrians and 134 cyclists).

Although the Ottawa Champions baseball team played 15 home games in June, traffic on the bridge barely exceeded 6,000 crossings all month long.

The Max Keeping Bridge, next to RCGT Park, has been the least used of the city’s new pedestrian bridges. Photo: Darren Brown/Postmedia DARREN BROWN / POSTMEDIA
The bridge, which also opened in 2015, connects existing multi-use pathways on Coventry and Tremblay roads, and provides a way for people to safely get to the stadium, the Ottawa Train Station and the future site of the Tremblay LRT station.

The city’s hope, of course, is that the $12-million bridge is an investment in the future, and will grow in popularity once the Confederation Line opens next year.

The southern part of Nussbaum’s ward includes the bridge. He said he’s “hopeful the relatively small numbers” for the Max Keeping Bridge will increase once the LRT is operating, giving Overbrook residents direct walking and cycling access.

The city also provided the Citizen with stats for five other bridges that aren’t equipped with permanent counters, including the Corktown Footbridge. The figures don’t differentiate between pedestrians and cyclists.

The Highway 417 pedestrian and cycling overpass at Harmer Avenue saw 3,578 crossings between June 16 and 22, while the Airport Parkway Bridge saw 4,255 people cross it between June 24 and 30.

During one-week spans in the summer of 2015, the Highway 174 overpass that connects to Blair station saw 9,262 crossings, while the Highway 417 overpass in Kanata saw 4,863 crossings.

The Corktown Footbridge has surged in popularity since it was last counted in 2015.

That year, it was crossed 50,290 times on foot or bike between June 1 and 17 — a daily average of 2,958 people.

Ottawa’s penchant for pedestrian and cycling bridges actually owes much to the Corktown, the namesake of a 19th-century shantytown where Irish workers who toiled on the canal lived in squalor.

It was approved by the slimmest margin of victory at council in 2005 — one vote. But since it opened in 2006, thousands of Ottawans have been voting with their feet.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that bridge with nobody on it,” former Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes told the Citizen in 2014.

The numbers could bode well for the city’s next major footbridge project – a span over the Rideau Canal between Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East.

The city wants to build the crossing so people can move between the neighbourhoods and Lansdowne Park much easier. The next closest bridges are the Pretoria Bridge and the Bank Street bridge.

The $20.5-million project has received funding from both the federal and provincial governments. Construction is to begin in September and be done by 2019.

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