Today’s Solutions: March 01, 2024

Like other transportation infrastructure in the country, American bridges have been designed with a car-centric mentality, meaning that many of these structures lack designated paths for cyclists or pedestrians. This is the case for a long bridge in Rhode Island that connects the towns of Jamestown and Newport.

While the bridge is often packed with traffic, nearby college students devised a new conceptual design that could enable civil engineers to retrofit the car-only bridge to include bike and pedestrian paths underneath.

“It’s not super easy to get to Newport unless you have a car,” says Liliane Wong, a professor of interior architecture at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) who led a class in adaptive reuse that considered how it might be possible to redesign the bridge. While some cities have added bike paths on major bridges by taking away a car lane, that can’t be done on the bridge to Newport, called Pell Bridge, because of heavy traffic.

Adding another deck to an aging piece of infrastructure is also not a good idea. The bridge is more than 50 years old and can’t support much additional weight. But a team in Wong’s class proposed 3D printing the new bike path from carbon fiber wrapped with a composite material that’s both lightweight and durable. As reported by Fast Company, the deck would attach to the bridge’s existing columns.

At 2.1 miles in length, the Pell Bridge is unusually long, so the designers also considered how to make it comfortable to walk or ride across, so the design also envisions sheltered spaces for restaurants, small shops, dog parks, and other activities. “We wanted to make a reason to go there, not just a one-way street,” says Sofia Paez, who collaborated on the design. The shelters are also designed to help protect pedestrians and cyclists from high wind speeds.

Though the design is conceptual and there are no plans to build it, Wong says the project garnered local interest, and that it could eventually inspire other ideas to be used anywhere a bridge needs to accommodate pedestrians and bikers. “These are adaptive reuse strategies that actually would work on any existing bridge,” she says.

Image source: RISD

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