October 6, 2011

Revised Bridge Net Plan Avoids Obstructing Views

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Cornell is awaiting approval from the Ithaca Planning and Development Board for a recently revised proposal for means restriction on seven bridges on and off campus. The revisions aimed to minimize the visibility of the nets and make the areas where the bridges meet the gorges safer, according to members of the group tasked with designing the barriers.

University Architect Gilbert Delgado ex­plained that the changes to the bridge net proposal mean that two types of means restrictions intended to prevent suicides will be used.

“It’s breaking up the means restriction into two families,” Delgado said. “One family being related to the man-made architecture of the bridge … The other family being much more a reflection of the condition of the natural landscape … an extension of the system that’s already there, which is the black chain link fence.”

The previous version of the barriers included vertical fencing at the abutments — where the bridge meets the side of the gorge — which was visually obstructive, according to Associate University Architect Andrew Magré ’91. The new design will still include vertical fencing, but in fewer locations.

“The focus of these refinements was reducing as much vertical fencing at the abutments as possible,” Magré said. “[The changes include] moving the means restriction down below the deck level of the bridges to protect the abutments in strategic areas so as not to block views.”

The majority of the fences will be installed beneath the rim of the gorge, where they will not be visible from the bridge.

“At this stage, we are not blocking views from bridges out to the landscape,” Magré said. “Any remnants of the existing temporary fencing will be removed when the new nets are installed and you won’t see any fences at the bridges.”

The ability to view the gorges was one of the concerns raised by members of the Planning and Development Board when the original plan was presented. The new plan attempts to address this concern.

“Right now, the proposal, in terms of visible impact, has gotten better and better and better for the last several months,” said John Schroeder ’74, the chair of the Planning and Development Board and The Sun’s production manager. “The concern I had initially, when they were talking about bars or vertical fences, has been allayed.”

In addition to reducing the visibility of the fences, moving them beneath the rim of the gorges will make them more effective, Delgado said.

“There was the concern of how to protect the areas where the bridge meets the gorge at the abutments,” he said. “Even if you’re technically not on the bridge there is the chance for a dangerous fall … It’s not the same for every bridge.”

“We concluded that perhaps the best response in those situations… was to extend [the fences],” Delgado said.

Magré said fencing at street-level will be removed from the area near Thurston Avenue Bridge.

“Before we refined the design, there were some fences that ran along stone walls to protect those areas,” he said. “After reviewing them… we were able to determine we didn’t need the vertical fences at the stone walls … We could provide more effective means restriction below eye-level.”

In addition to changes in the fencing, the new design reflects modifications in the proposed nets underneath the bridges to reduce visibility and maximize protection.

“[The revisions] have to do with focusing the location of the nets in the areas that have higher risks,” Delgado said. “We try to focus the nets on areas that actually do present a danger to people crossing the bridge.”

Schroeder echoed Delgado’s sentiment.

“[The new plan] also fine-tuned the nets under the bridges, so they’re only being located where they’re really needed,” Schroeder said.

Magré said the nets will actually be smaller than originally proposed under certain bridges.

“In some areas we actually reduced the length of the netting — the area of cover — to reduce visibility,” he said.

Schroeder added that smaller nets will also result in reduced costs for the project.

Magré said the revised plans were inspired by a trip to Switzerland that members of the means restriction project group took to study other sites where means restriction has been successfully implemented.

“We toured five different sites in Switzerland that have these net systems in place — some of them have been in place since 1999 — and they’ve been very effective in these locations, and they have a lot of community support for these net systems,” Magré said.

By studying the sites in Switzerland, the group learned how to improve technical aspects of the net system, including what to do at the abutments, according to Magré.

Delgado said the group knew it needed to focus on the issue of the abutments at the beginning of the project.

“We always understood that we had to do something at the abutments, and the solutions that we have are actually quite cost effective, and we believe the right aesthetic effect,” Delgado said.

The revisions to the plan are a natural part of designing the barriers, Magré said.

“There really aren’t changes,” he said. “Like any design project, as you get further into the development of the design you start to refine your design more.”

To further reduce the visibility of the nets, the new plan includes changes to the color of the struts that support the nets.

“We’re actually matching the color [of the struts to the color] of the bridge,” Magré said. “The nets are going to be painted black to reduce their visibility.”

The new plan will need to be approved by the Planning and Development Board. Members of the board will be visiting the sites this week and next week before making a determination, Schroeder said.

“We’ll have the drawings on hand at those times, so we can really understand what is being proposed,” he said.

Before final approval is given, an environmental study must be completed, Schroeder said. Means restriction for bridges on City of Ithaca property must also receive approval from the Ithaca Common Council.

The plan has already received approval from the University, according to Delgado. It is estimated that the plan will cost $7 million, he said.

Magré said that if the final approval is received, the systems will be installed on “one or two bridges at a time” starting in the spring.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky