World's Most Spectacular Pedestrian Bridges
Stroll the 1.3-mile Hudson River Walkway in Poughkeepsie, NY—taking in the exhilarating view of water, treetops, and sky—and you could almost forget that we live in a world designed for the automobile. Here, the environment belongs not to those who roar by at 70 mph, but to pedestrians like you.
The concept of pedestrian bridges isn't new—Venice's Rialto Bridge dates back to 1588, and even the Brooklyn Bridge architects made room for walkways alongside the car lanes. But just recently, since around the turn of the millennium, we've rediscovered the notion that regular people are important enough to deserve some spectacular feats of engineering.
This latest generation of newly constructed or retrofitted pedestrian bridges—where cars are strictly off-limits—takes a number of forms. Some exist primarily to thrill tourists. You have to take a harrowing cable car ride up a lush Malaysian mountain just to get to the aptly named Langkawi Sky Bridge. It's a curved bridge to nowhere that dangles 2,300 feet above the dazzling Andaman Sea.
Other pedestrian bridges elevate the everyday business of getting from point A to point B. From Buenos Aires to Bilbao, routine errands are imbued with grandeur thanks to Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's dramatically sculptural footbridges.
The most successful fall somewhere between spectacle and conduit because they blaze a path where no one felt the need for one before. The newly built Bob Kerrey Bridge linking Omaha, NE, to Council Bluffs, IA, surely attracts tourists, but it has also changed life for the locals. Footbridges encourage new patterns of development geared toward human-powered pace, especially along the nearby waterfronts.
That's been the case in upstate New York, where a 17-year grassroots effort to repurpose an industrial railroad bridge as the Hudson River Walkway is now reaping rewards. Since its October 2009 opening, the walkway has spurred a neighborhood revival and attracted more than 750,000 tourists—three times the expected amount.
Sure, these pedestrian bridges make a big impression with sweeping views and innovative features like solar-powered LED lighting or the ability to levitate and roll upwards into a wheel. But above all, they reward us for traveling, whether on foot or two wheels, with our own muscle power.
Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver, British Columbia
Come face-to-face with wildlife in Vancouver's lush treetop ecosystem while strolling this skinny 450-foot-long canopy bridge that floats 230 feet above the Capilano River. Just 10 miles from downtown, the bridge dates back to 1889, when a Scottish civil engineer strung a hemp rope and cedar plank to his isolated cabin.
A Growing Trend: The Capilano forest also features a new 650-foot-long network of bridges and viewing platforms connecting several of the towering Douglas fir trees. And the concept has taken hold—canopy walks have lately been built in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and Borneo's Danum Valley.
Langkawi Sky Bridge, Malaysia
More like an observation deck, this bridge to nowhere dangles spectacularly about 2,300 feet above sea level in Langkawi, an archipelago on Malaysia's west coast. It's reached by a harrowing cable car ride up Mount Mat Cincang, and the bridge's gently curving promenade provides tourists with dazzling views of the Andaman Sea far below. Every posted description of the bridge includes the not-entirely-reassuring phrase: "Langkawi sky-bridge is safe."
Spine Tingling: The view is impressive and so is the engineering: the bridge is suspended from a single mast that sticks up from the mountain below like a construction crane.
BP Bridge, Millennium Park, Chicago
Get an overview of Chicago's most impressive architecture, not to mention Lake Michigan, when you set out from the brushed-steel Jay Pritzker Pavilion and amble along Frank Gehry's 925-foot-long bridge above Columbus Drive. Clad in shiny lizard-skin-patterned steel and paid for by its oil-company namesake, the overpass's only shortcoming is that it doesn't make it all the way to the water's edge—you're left to fend for yourself on traffic-filled Lakeshore Drive.
Companion Bridge: An ultra-skinny minimalist footbridge, designed by Renzo Piano, leads from Millennium Park to the architect's new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Puente de la Mujer, Buenos Aires
Architect Santiago Calatrava's "Woman's Bridge" on the Rio de la Plata is female by association; the surrounding streets are named for noteworthy women such as human rights activist Alicia Moreau de Justo. The bridge faces a new crop of trendy hotels, restaurants, and condos in Puerto Madero—and can take some credit for inspiring the neighborhood's redevelopment.
Fancy Footwork: With a single mast pointing skyward at a 45-degree angle, the bridge sometimes gets compared to a couple doing the tango. We don't quite see it, but in Buenos Aires, tango dancers are never far away, especially on the streets of San Telmo.
Walkway over the Hudson, Poughkeepsie, NY
It feels like you're walking in the sky. This former railroad bridge is suspended 220 feet above a wide, unusually straight stretch of the Hudson that Dutch seafarers once called "Lange Rack" or Long Reach. That means you can see up and down the river for miles—without any overhead structure to obscure the view.
Conflicting Claims: The official website states that, at 6,767 feet long, it's the world's longest pedestrian bridge. One not-so-small problem: the Anping Bridge in Fujian China, a stone pedestrian bridge dating from the 12th century, is 526 feet longer.
Henderson Waves Bridge, Singapore
You can see why Singapore is nicknamed the Garden City. Crossing from one hilltop park to another, 118 feet above busy Henderson Road, its highest pedestrian bridge overlooks treetops, flowering bushes, the harbor, and the skyline. Cooler still is this bridge's resemblance to a Slinky toy. A sculptural wave of steel ribs follows the walkway, periodically curling up and over the edge to create little coves of sheltered seating.
Flora and Fauna: Singapore's Southern Ridges area is also home to the Canopy Bridge, where you'll find wild orchids, pitcher plants, and tons of birds.
Kurilpa Bridge, Brisbane, Australia
Masts attached to cables jut out from this bridge in all directions—as if trying to distract your attention from the impressive cluster of skyscrapers lining the Brisbane River. Powered by 84 solar panels, Kurilpa looks its finest when the LED lighting system puts on dazzling shows.
Push and Pull: It may appear to be a crazy jumble, but the positions and the strength of the mast connections are the product of sophisticated calculation; this is the first major bridge built according to the principles of tensegrity.
Rolling Bridge, London
The payoff for pedestrians is usually the view from on high, but here the bridge itself is the sight to see. Each Friday at noon, genius architect Thomas Heatherwick's Rolling Bridge allows a single boat to pass in or out of its moorage. You'll be transfixed as the bridge, powered by hydraulic rams, levitates upward as a unit, and then curls backward, allowing its eight triangular hinged sections to roll into a wheel.
Neighborhood Facelift: The Rolling Bridge is one small element in a major redevelopment of the area around Paddington Station. Other novel canal crossings include the Helix Bridge, which screws and unscrews to allow boats to pass.
Infinity Bridge, Stockton on Tees, England
Opened in 2009, this long bowstring bridge is named for the infinity symbol formed by its dramatic double curve and reflection in the River Tees. The main arch is almost 400 feet tall and the span is nearly 900 feet, creating a flamboyant wave. Special nighttime lighting enhances the infinity effect, and LEDs built into the handrails and footpath are programmed to change color as pedestrians and bicyclists pass by.
Be Transported: Another landmark Tees crossing, the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, completed in 1911, carries cars and pedestrians across the river in a suspended gondola, 90 seconds each way.
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, Omaha, NE, to Council Bluffs, IA
The first purpose-built pedestrian bridge to link two states extends for 3,000 feet over the bucolic Missouri and traces a gentle S-curve around its two supporting towers—a plaque marks the spot where you can have one foot in Nebraska and the other in Iowa. Opened in 2008 and illuminated at night, the bridge has become a teen hangout and has energized the waterfronts of two cities that haven't always been so hospitable to pedestrians.
On the Waterfront: On the Omaha side, the bridge syncs up with a riverfront trail, part of a 1990s redevelopment.
Hot Metal Bridge, Pittsburgh
Gazing at the Golden Triangle—the city's gleaming downtown at the confluence of two rivers—it's hard to imagine that the view used to be disrupted by the noise and fumes of ladle cars loaded with molten iron. They once chugged along this steel truss bridge to processing mills on the other side. Pittsburgh was, as James Parton said in 1868, "hell with the lid off." The bridge was reborn in 2007 with a smooth new roadway, decorative railings, and an eye-catching LED installation at either end.
Keep Riding: Ambitious cyclists, take note: this bridge is a pivotal piece in the 316-mile bike route that runs from Pittsburgh to D.C.
This suspension bridge connects IJburg, a new district on reclaimed land, to central Amsterdam and a lovely waterfront park. Despite its no-cars policy, Nesciobrug functions as a key component of the city's transportation system. Stretching 2,559 feet over the Amsterdam Rhine Canal, it splits in two at each leafy bank; the forks add structural stiffness and create separate approach paths for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Quick Fix: The main span of the bridge was dropped in place by a crane and installed within 12 hours; the Amsterdam Rhine canal, an important shipping artery, couldn't be closed for any longer.
The High Line, New York, NY
Originally built in the 1930s as an elevated freight train bridge, the High Line reopened in 2009 as a pedestrian-only “floating park” above Manhattan, stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 30th Street. Eventually the park will extend all the way to 34th Street.
Cool Summer: The High Line is a prime street-food spot. Artisanal ice-pop makers People’s Pops and La Newyorkina, for instance, dish out their icy treats in flavors such as mango-chili and hibiscus during Summer 2011.
GatesheadMillennium Bridge, Gateshead, England
Sure, this bridge is popular with pedestrians and bicyclists, who use it to cross between the cities of Gateshead and Newcastle. But it also draws crowds of onlookers who want to witness its ingenious design: the bridge tilts upward when boats pass underneath on the River Tyne.
One of a Kind: The Gateshead is the first and only tilting bridge, so far, in the world.
Valleyof the Giants Tree Top Walk, Walpole-NornalupNational Park, Australia
This lightweight but sturdy metal bridge lets those who aren’t scared of heights explore the canopy of giant tingle trees from 130 feet above the forest floor. It’s within the Walpole-Nornalup National Park, a four-and-a-half-hour drive south of Perth.
Only Here: Tingle trees are some of the world’s largest trees and unique to this corner of Australia.
Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, New Plymouth, NZ
Opened in 2010, in a corner of the North Island of New Zealand, this bridge crosses the Waiwhakaiho River and brings to mind both a large white wave and a bleached whale skeleton. The bridge provides easier access to the northern riverbank for fishers and surfers.
Picture Perfect: The bridge is aligned to perfectly frame Mount Taranaki, a nearby volcano, within its whalebone-like arches.
LibertyBridge in Falls Park,Greenville, SC
A travelandleisure.com reader’s comment drew our attention to this bridge, which has futuristic curves and a support system that are unusual for the U.S. A single suspension cable and two 90-foot-tall masts that lean away from the curved footpath at a 15-degree angle support this 345-foot-long lightweight bridge, making it appear to float on air.
View of the Falls: Enjoy the expansive view of the Reedy River Falls, where Greenville’s first European settler, Richard Pearis, set up his trading post in the 18th century.
The Bridge of Peace, Tbilisi, Georgia
Italian architect Michel De Lucchi and French lighting director Philippe Martinaud joined forces to create this futuristic bridge, opened in 2010. This structure is topped by an undulating weblike canopy of glass and iron and was commissioned by the government of Tbilisi to add a contemporary landmark to their city.
Old Meets New: The Bridge of Peace spans the Mtkvari River, connecting the historic district of Old Tbilisi with an up-and-coming district.
Pedro e Inês Bridge, Coimbra, Portugal
From the banks of the Rio Mondego, it appears that the bridge snapped in half at the middle and is in a precarious position. Designed by engineer Cecil Balmond, the bridge is actually made up of two cantilevered walkways joined in the middle by a zigzagging platform.
Sweet Sorrow: The bridge is named for Pedro and Inês, two star-crossed 14th-century lovers whose affair ended tragically.
Seonimgyo Bridge, Jeju Island, South Korea
Seven white nymphs playing musical instruments decorate each side of this bright red bridge over a waterfall on Jeju Island. They’ve earned the bridge its nickname, “Chilseonyeogyo,” meaning “seven nymphs.”
Legend of the Falls: Legend has it that these seven nymphs descended from heaven at night to take a dip in the waterfall.
EsplanadeRiel, Winnipeg, Manitoba
This cable-stayed pedestrian bridge over the Red River, connecting the neighborhoods of The Forks and St. Boniface, is most notable for the Salisbury House restaurant, part of a chain of local diners, which sits smack in the middle of it.
Diner Food: Signature dishes at the Salisbury House include Nip, its version of a hamburger, and grilled hot dogs called Winni Dogs. But surely the unobstructed views of the river and downtown Winnipeg will be more memorable than the food.
Tree Top CanopyWalk, Sabah, Borneo
Strung between five enormous trees in the rainforest, this suspension bridge spans nearly 1,000 feet and stands about 85 feet at its highest point. Admire the beautiful green canopy of the 130-million-year-old jungle from the large viewing platforms situated about halfway up the trunks of these massive trees.
Tree Huggers: In order to protect the trees, the walkway was designed so that steel cables didn’t have to be rigged directly into the trunks.