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Saturday, September 26, 2015

A sky walker's guide to the aerial walkways of Toronto

aerial walkways torontoToronto never really embraced the aerial walkway. In fact, it's been official city policy for decades to discourage and even suggest the dismantling of such structures.

While Calgary developed the world's largest network of overhead pedestrian bridges, a kind of aerial version of Toronto's PATH network, this city for the most part kept its feet on the ground.

That said, the city did briefly flirt with the idea of vertically separated streets as evidenced by the walkway around the edge of Nathan Phillips Square. In the 1960s, urban planners generally thought that cars, pedestrians, and public transit should be kept apart, and complex networks of bridges and tunnels were planned in urban centres across the continent.

That thinking changed in the 1970s and 1980s when it became clear mixed use streets--ones that allow a variety of uses--tended to be the most desirable. "The more you treat the environment as hostile, the more hostile it will become," said Marc Baroness, the city's director of architecture and urban design in 1990. "What's wrong with crossing at grade?"

Despite the city's plans, Toronto has allowed at numerous pedestrian walkways to be built.

These are my favourite ones scattered around Toronto.

St. Michael's Hospital
Another recent addition to Toronto's aerial footpath scene connects the main St. Michael's Hospital building and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute on the opposite side of Shuter St. The bridge is about 18 metres long and four metres in diameter and was made in Germany by Gartner Steel and Glass, shipped to New York, and trucked to Toronto before being hoisted in place on October 23, 2010.

Canada Life
toronto aerial walkwayHidden down the back of the Canada Life building on University, a two-tier bridge over Simcoe St. connects the insurance company's famous headquarters to a 10-storey addition that was completed in 1971 to designs by architectural firm Marani, Rounthwaite & Dick. The brutalist walkway is one of the city's oldest such structures.

toronto aerial walkwayEaton Centre
Built during construction of the second phase of the Eaton Centre, the walkway between Simpsons department store and Toronto's downtown mall is supported by two giant steel girders 95 and 110 feet long. It took about three hours to crane the frame of the structure into place in September, 1978. A major renovation is currently in the works.

toronto aerial walkwayYorkdale Shopping Centre
In an effort to keep pedestrians off nearby streets, in 1978 the city built a pedestrian walkway between the subway station and shopping centre at Yorkdale. Starting under the Allen, the structure passes over Yorkdale Rd. and enters the mall parking lot via the GO bus terminal.

toronto aerial walkwayThe SkyWalk
The aptly named pedestrian walkway was completed in 1989 in the hopes that it would discourage people from driving to the ball park. Plans to build rapid transit in that direction that never materialized, and the SkyWalk promised to help mitigate issues with crowd control. The most famous part of the structure, the barrel-vaulted passage that runs parallel to Station St., is due to be replaced as part of a planned office development.

toronto aerial walkwayRyerson University
The city was initially against the idea of an elevated pedestrian walkway here, claiming it would kill the street life on Church. In protest, a 1,000 Ryerson students crossed Church en masse to illustrate the crowd control issues that could arise if the bridge remained unbuilt. Eventually, it was concern over the safety of wheelchair users that turned the tide in favour of the bridge.

sick kids walkwaySickKids
The impressive walkway over Elizabeth St. was completed in 1993 to designs by the Zeidler Roberts Partnership, making it a kind of sibling to the Eaton Centre bridge. The design of the atrium represented a significant architectural departure for SickKids: the light-filled structure eschewed the standard institutional look of other hospitals for indoor fountains and trees.

path pedestrian bridgePATH Pedestrian Bridge
The most recent addition to this list might not have the sexiest name, but it sure has a cool view. The PATH extension from the Air Canada Centre down to Queens Quay actually features two bridges that span both the Gardiner and Lake Shore Blvd., allowing users to gaze down at the cars whizzing by below. The final section opened in October 2014.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Morris Lum (St. Mike's), Paul Howarth (Yorkdale), brian cameron (Ryerson), twurdemann (SkyWalk), Brian K YYZ (Canada Life), Roof Topper (Eaton Centre), Google Street View (SickKids), WZMH Architects (PATH pedestrian bridge).

by Chris Bateman via blogTO

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