As part of an ongoing effort by builders and planners to keep pedestrians safe and away from traffic, developers are looking up – way up – to bridge the gap.
Maestria Condominiums is a mixed-use project with 58- and 61-storey towers that will be among the largest twin buildings in North America when completed in fall 2024. The $750-million project, which overlooks Montreal’s downtown Place des Festivals (Festival Square) will include 45,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, primarily serving its 1,000 condos and 700 rental apartments.
Its developers wax eloquently on their website about how the project’s architecture evokes the Renaissance. Maybe so, but an even more striking feature evokes The Jetsons – a 110-foot-long, 125,000-lb. (57,000-kg.) pedestrian walkway in the sky, between the 26th floors of the two buildings.
[In] Toronto, south of Union Station, there are now tens of thousands of people walking around every day, with cars and trucks at the edge. It’s a design issue that needs a solution.— Ken Greenberg, principal of Greenberg Consultants Inc.
“The bridge makes it easier to go between the two towers to use the amenities in either of the buildings,” says Marco Fontaine, vice-president of residential development and marketing for Groupe Devimco of Montreal, one of the development partners (the others are Fonds Immobilier Solidarite and Fiera Real Estate).
Built by Édyfic Construction, a division of Devimco, the bridge is one of the highest between buildings in North America, similar in length to the bridge in Toronto between the Eaton Centre and Hudson’s Bay Company on Queen St. W., only 24 storeys higher.
“It’s a project that has a lot of services for the people who will live here, and it’s close to a lot [of services] that are nearby. The skybridge makes it easier for people to walk from place to place.”
Installed in April after two years of complicated planning, the bridge is the latest example of how building design has been evolving to make projects more pedestrian friendly and cater less to cars.
Pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use projects include The Well at King Street West and Spadina Avenue in Toronto, with four levels of retail over more than 420,000 square feet of retail/commercial space (nearly 10 times as much as the Montreal project), accessible by three north-south pedestrian streets.
There’s also a smaller pedestrian bridge between buildings at Burrard Street Offices in Vancouver.
“There are pedestrian bridges in other buildings in North America, but the inspiration for our bridge came from a trip to Copenhagen,” Mr. Fontaine says. The developers and architectural firm, Lemay, were impressed with how the needs of people on foot are incorporated into design there, he says. “Putting good design into architecture can be so powerful.”
Designing projects to be more pedestrian oriented fits in with marketing trends and the need to cut down on traffic accidents, says Ken Greenberg, principal of Greenberg Consultants Inc., a Toronto-based urban planning firm.
“If you look at an area like Toronto, south of Union Station, there are now tens of thousands of people walking around every day, with cars and trucks at the edge,” he says. “It’s a design issue that needs a solution.”
Toronto is among many cities that have launched pedestrian safety plans, which, in many cases, have so far failed to reduce pedestrian traffic deaths and injuries significantly.
According to the city’s Vision Zero report, in 2021, 58 people were killed on the city’s roads and 183 were injured seriously, with 27 pedestrian deaths, a small drop from a 10-year high of 78 total traffic fatalities in 2016. While most serious pedestrian accidents take place on busy arterial roads, denser commercial areas are not immune.
Pedestrian safety is emerging only slowly as a design concern in commercial and retail projects, says John Duda, president of real estate management services, Canada at Colliers. People are showing preference for more walkable developments for other reasons, he says.
“The first is convenience – people want to be able to get to the office and back, without too much stress and with services nearby. Owners who satisfy these needs are going to be ahead of others,” Mr. Duda says.
“People also want to live, work and shop in buildings that promote wellness, and they want to be in places where there’s a sense of community,” he adds. A development where it’s easy to get around on foot will tend to have these characteristics and be more attractive – and likely more valuable for owners, he explains.
The idea of people relying less on cars and more on putting their best foot (or feet) forward has been growing for some time.
“In the near future, the car will no longer be the primary form-giver of commercial office development. It’s high time we got the memo,” wrote Joe Probiner, master planner and urban designer with Dallas, Tex. planning firm Gensler in the company’s online newsletter GenslerOn in 2015.
“The next-generation work force appears to not have much interest in car ownership,” he added. “They want more than a desk and a place to park. They want environments that provide access to retail, dining, recreation and child care amenities. They want places to grab lunch and run a few errands. And they would like to be close enough to home to check in with pets and family.”
Making buildings walk-friendly in interesting ways can be challenging and costly, though. The Montreal skybridge cost $2.5-million and could be installed only when the prevailing winds were less than 25 kilometres an hour, Mr. Fontaine says.
“They’re still enclosing it in glass, so I haven’t been across yet, but I have been at the edge of the bridge, and the view is already incredible,” he says.