University Proposes Nets Under Most Bridges Near Campus

May 31, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Jeff Stein

The University is proposing mesh nets underneath six bridges as suicide deterrents, rejecting previous plans to construct horizontal bars or vertical cable mesh at the bridge sites, according to an email from University Architect Gilbert Delgado obtained by The Sun.

At a seventh site, the Suspension Bridge, the University wants to place vertical tensile mesh on the sides of the bridge, according to the email, which was sent to members of the joint Cornell-City of Ithaca Bridge Barrier Committee.

Delgado confirmed the revised designs and said that the University will submit site plans for the bridge sites on Tuesday. He said the nets were chosen in part because they proved the “most non-visually obtrusive.”
“For the most part, [the nets] will be invisible from the standpoint of when you cross the bridge … when you look down you’ll see the mesh but it will be very porous,” he said.
The six bridges for which the University is proposing nets are the Stewart Avenue Cascadilla Bridge, Stewart Avenue Fall Creek Bridge, Thurston Avenue Bridge, Beebe Lake Bridge, Trolley Bridge and Stone Arch Bridge.

The University modified its earlier design proposals largely because of concerns voiced by the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board and members of the community about the barriers’ impact on scenic views from the bridges, according to Delgado’s email. Technical concerns raised by the Ithaca Fire Department and the University’s “structural and architectural consultants” also discouraged Cornell from pursuing the other bridge barrier options, the email stated.

“As it turned out, the structural thickness of the bar systems could not be as supple and delicate as had been anticipated during the pre-schematic design process,” Delgado wrote.

On Monday, Delgado stressed that the University’s architects did not decide to pursue one barrier system and then change their minds.

“The schemes we will be submitting [Tuesday] were all part of the mix undertaken during schematic design phase,” Delgado said. “As the designs matured and as we talked to more people, including the Planning Board, we refined our direction.”

Delgado said that cost was not a factor in the University’s decision to pursue nets, as they are roughly as expensive as the bars.

In the email, Delgado also stated that a discussion with engineers who built horizontal net systems in Switzerland contributed to the University’s decision.

“[These nets] provide unobstructed views and preserve the aesthetic character of the historic assets they are attached to,” Delgado wrote, adding that the systems are “undemanding in their maintenance requirements.”

Perhaps most importantly, there have been no suicides or “required rescues” at the sites in Switzerland since the nets were installed in 1999, according to Delgado.

Critics of the University have argued that although barriers like those in Switzerland may reduce deaths at the site where they are installed, the suicides may simply occur elsewhere — therefore, the barriers do not save lives. Since the barriers, critics have maintained, diminish the gorges’ natural beauty, they only hurt the community.

Delgado said he hopes the proposed nets underneath the bridges will satisfy critics who are concerned about maintaining the gorges’ aesthetics.

“It’s hard to predict because I believe there might be some people who don’t want anything done to the bridges,” he said. “But [the nets] preserve long views toward horizons, which i think is what most people appreciate.”