The Elbow River Traverse Bridge, commissioned by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), is a key river crossing at a historically important site. The bridge is part of CMLC’s revitalization plan for Calgary’s East Village neighbourhood: a historically overlooked and marginalized area of downtown. Crossing the Elbow River near its confluence with the Bow, the Elbow River Traverse provides not only continuity to a refurbished section of regional pathway, but a vantage point on the confluence of the two rivers, the birthplace of Calgary in 1875.
RJC’s imperative was to provide an elegant design that respected its surroundings and didn’t compete for attention. Two slender weathering steel arches were chosen for the primary structure of the bridge due to their structural efficiency and minimal visual obstruction to the views from Fort Calgary. The steel arches were made composite with a reinforced concrete deck to take advantage of concrete’s strength in compression and further reduce the overall depth of the bridge. In order to manage the deflection of the arches over the course of construction, RJC analysed the performance of the bridge at each stage of construction using finite element modelling software and adjusted the steel geometry in reaction to temperature changes, movements, and concrete shrinkage.
Lighting for the bridge, guardrails, and furniture were each designed to minimize their size and presence. A handrail with LED lighting incorporated into its underside provides illumination to the bridge deck without the need for large light poles – guardrails with thin pickets and few horizontal elements are connected outside the deck to minimize their impact – and all elements above the steel arches are lightly coloured to further increase the sense of levity. In its finished form the Elbow River Traverse is a graceful combination of simple materials and elegant lines; it sits lightly on the site and becomes a non-invasive part of the overall landscape.