November 8, 2010

Bridge Barrier Designer Presents Initial Analysis

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The design firm Office dA — which was contracted by the University to design permanent suicide barriers on bridges on and around campus — presented its Site Analysis for seven bridges to city officials last week, marking the culmination of the project’s pre-design phase.This summer, Ithaca’s Common Council voted to allow temporary, black fences to remain in place until May 31 — the Council’s deadline for the University to propose permanent barriers. The fences were originally installed last March in response to a string of suicides off bridges near campus.Although the report is largely filled with photographs, diagrams and models describing the bridges, the Site Analysis also discusses how to create “means restrictions” — strategies for physically preventing suicides — without compromising the gorges’ aesthetic value. Many members of the community expressed concern when the University added temporary fences last spring, arguing that they detracted from the natural beauty of the gorges.The report’s Executive Summary says that, although “the tragedies cannot be pinpointed to one specific cause,” “the report … presents strong evidence to the effectiveness of means restriction on bridges.”To that end, it examines the “climb-ability” of the bridges, at one point saying that the guardrails on the Stewart Avenue bridge over the Cascadilla Gorge “provide an easy foothold to climb up and over.”“This bridge also features an open grate for sidewalk[,] almost encouraging the view downward,” the report said.Alongside its discussion of suicide prevention, the report also focuses on enhancing the “beauty, allure and uniqueness of these gorges.”“It is also significant that the gorges ‘appear’ to the unsuspecting eye as an excavation, an absolute surprise that is cut out of the relative tame fields of the quads,” the report says.City officials praised the architects’ respect for both suicide prevention and the preservation of the gorges’ aesthetic qualities.City of Ithaca Director of Planning and Development JoAnn Cornish said she was “really impressed” by the report, praising it particularly for not taking “a broad brush approach to all the bridges.”Cornish said she “really liked” how the report took into account “how sensitive this whole subject is, not just because it has to deal with suicide,” but how “so many members of our campus community and our community at large find solace in the amazing views, the beauty of the landscape.”Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) echoed Cornish’s praise of the report, saying the architects showed a “real understanding of the visual and cultural importance of each of the bridges.”Although admitting the report was “nothing too controversial,” Myrick said it “shows [the architects have] a real understanding of how important these bridges are.”The report records specific factual observations, such as the width span and railing heights of the bridges — which University architect Glibert Delgado said were broken down into three categories: vehicular bridges, pedestrian bridges, and stone-arch bridges.Delgado said the architects would “use the Site Analysis to develop different alternatives for the different bridge types,” adding that it was essential each bridge be tailored to meet its unique surroundings.With the end of the preliminary analysis period, the planners will enter into the “pre-schematic” stage of the planning process next week, Delgado said. In this stage, the architects will produce three types of designs for each of the three different types of bridges.The University will then have to choose between these models in the “schematic” stage of planning, Delgado said. The architects will present the proposed models “to the student and city community … to gather sentiments and feedback” before making a decision.If the University does not submit the finalized proposed designs before the May 31 deadline, the city could make Cornell take down its current fences.Since some of the bridges are owned by the city, the proposed barriers for these sites may have to go through both the city’s Board of Public Works and its Planning Board, though proposals for both city-owned and Cornell-owned property will have to be approved by at least the Planning Board.Planning Board Chair John Schroeder ’74, who is also the The Sun’s production manager, said it is difficult to guess how long it may take the Planning Board to approve the project. The time it would take the Planning Board to approve Office dA’s proposal “totally depends on what [the design] looks like,” including “what the identified environmental impacts are” or “whether there’s public controversy,” he said.The end of the report also examines at least eight “means restriction approaches,” such as the “Railing-Height deterrent,” the “Full Height Transparent Barrier” and the “Full Height Leaning Fence.”The report details the pros and cons of each approach, determined by the particular structure’s suicide-deterrence value and aesthetic restriction.The “Horizontal Net Suspended Below,” for instance, has the pro of “no added visual obstructions from on the bridge.” But the report points out that “Albeit very difficult, it is still feasible to jump.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein