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What is a Pedestrian Bridge?

By Kathy R
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pedestrian bridge, also called a footbridge, is simply a bridge, whether over land or water, that is designed for foot traffic as opposed to vehicle traffic. Often, footbridges are constructed to give pedestrians a safe way to cross from one side of a busy road to the other. There are also pedestrian bridges built over railroad tracks, rivers, parking lots, canyons and other areas where walking could be perilous or even impossible.

People have been constructing variations of the pedestrian bridge for centuries. The ancient Romans built pedestrian bridges out of stone as early as 142 BC to enable people to cross the Tiber River. The arch shape was incorporated into these pedestrian overpasses to give them durability and strength. Many of these footbridges still exist today, including the Ponte Fabricio bridge in Rome, which is a two-arch bridge that was completed in 62 BC and still contains all of its original materials.

With the advent of vehicular transportation, society began to switch its focus to building bridges strong enough to support more than just people on foot. First came bridges built for horse-driven vehicles, and then those that could accommodate trains or automobiles. The pedestrian bridge remained important though, especially for people who could not afford to give up traveling on foot.

Today’s pedestrian bridge can be made from wood, rope, metal or even plastic. It can serve both a utilitarian purpose and a decorative one. Many use these bridges to add character to their gardens or backyards. For example, a gardener may put a pedestrian bridge over a small pond or creek. These bridges are also popular as overpasses near shopping malls and subway stations.

Architects continue to update the design of pedestrian bridges, both for structural and artistic reasons. One interesting design is that of the round pedestrian bridge. Examples of this style can be found in Australia, over the Craigieburn Bypass Freeway, and in Aveiro, Portugal. Another notable design is the curved bridge, and two U.S. examples of it are the Seminole Trail Bridge in Longwood, Florida, and the Bob Kerry Bridge near Omaha, Nebraska.

Some pedestrian bridges have lights, Plexiglas® walls, chain-link ceilings and other safety features. These enhancements protect both the people walking across and, in the case of bridges over roadways, the people driving vehicles below. One hazard of having such walkways above roads is that people can drop objects, accidentally or purposely. This can be a threat to motorists’ safety.

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Discussion Comments
By snickerish — On Sep 01, 2011

As part of one of my classes in high school we had to make model bridge buildings. It was not easy, so I felt a little lame when I read in this article that bridges have been built since the B.C. times!

Though I must say in my defense that I was supposed to be building more than just a pedestrian bridge.

But since I did that project I am always appreciative of bridges, and when I looked back on bridges since then, I have always been amazed at how well built they are for the kind of support they need to provide.

By BoniJ — On Sep 01, 2011

A visit to a park in British Columbia in Canada takes one to a challenging footbridge. It is a suspension bridge spanning a deep canyon with a river below.

It is known to be well constructed and safe. With some hesitation, but also full of excitement, my family decided, "let's do it"

As we gingerly walked along the bridge, we hung on tight to both sides, as the bridge swung to and fro. I looked straight ahead and only looked down once.

Finally, we came to the end of the bridge and stepped back onto solid ground. It was a thrilling experience, but I don't think I would do it again.

By OceanSwimmer — On Aug 31, 2011

I live in a city where there is a highly regarded school to accommodate the blind and deaf. It is called Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. This leads to a high population of people with hearing or visual impairments.

The city council voted and approved to build a pedestrian bridge in one of the high traffic areas in the city. This was a great way to assist the people who normally had a very hard time crossing the road. They also installed audio signals that tells a pedestrian when it is safe to cross.

By live2shop — On Aug 31, 2011

One type of pedestrian bridge that I saw in Germany were actually constructed for "animal" pedestrians. These bridges spanned the autobahns at fairly frequent intervals.

They had brush and small trees planted on them. Their purpose was to give animals a safe passage across the treacherous autobahns, where cars often go at least 100 miles per hour. They wouldn't have a chance trying to dart across the highway.

It must have been costly to build all those bridges, but it shows the value that Germany places on the livelihood of their wild animals.

By Perdido — On Aug 30, 2011

I once visited a beautiful state park with hills, large boulders, and a rope bridge for pedestrians that crossed over a creek. I was a child at the time, and I decided to try and walk across the bridge with my mother.

Even though the creek was very shallow, the bridge intimidated me. I wasn’t so much afraid of falling in the water as I was disturbed by the unstable area beneath my feet. I’m used to solid ground, and this was like walking during an earthquake.

Perhaps my fear was increased by the panic of my mother. She made it a few steps across before crawling back. We decided to leave the rope bridge to the adventurous.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 30, 2011

A park near my home has an arched timber pedestrian bridge that allows people to walk across the river that runs through it. The wood is old, and in places, it has splintered off, giving you a view of the water below.

Even during dry spells, you can see the current. Walking across after a big rain is scary, because the water rushes across not far beneath you. It sounds like a waterfall, and you can see whirlpools and rapids, and in places, the bridge doesn’t feel too sturdy.

The design of the bridge is such that it can be swung to and fro somewhat. Kids like to do this to other people on the bridge who freak out when it moves, particularly when the river is full.

By shell4life — On Aug 29, 2011

I live in a university town that is really too small for its growing student population. We have tons of traffic, but many of our roads have only two lanes. It can be dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians.

That is why they built the pedestrian bridge as part of the new walking trail. It goes across one of our larger roads near the college that sees near constant traffic.

Though it is called a pedestrian bridge, cyclists are allowed to use it as well. In fact, they are encouraged to ride across it, because a single cyclist can hold up traffic for quite a distance on the roads.

By cloudel — On Aug 28, 2011

At one of my favorite coastal vacation spots, there is a pedestrian bridge that spans a section of the ocean. It shares a bridge with the highway, as it runs alongside of it. It is totally separate, and it is safe from traffic.

The bridge is secure, and I can’t see through the bottom down to the water. If I could, then I probably wouldn’t be able to walk across it. It has high rails on both sides, so I can’t suddenly slip and fall either into traffic or into the ocean.

It is a high and an adrenaline rush to know that you are standing over a vast sea with just concrete and metal between you and it. It is such a beautiful experience, especially on a moonlit night when the water reflects the light.

By JessicaLynn — On Aug 27, 2011

@sunnySkys - That sounds nice. I live in the suburbs, so the only pedestrian bridges I ever see are on bike paths and things like that.

I have a few bike paths and walking trails near my house. There are a few streams and stuff around too, so the trails have nice wooden bridges that go over the streams. They are very sturdy, and quite nice looking too!

By sunnySkys — On Aug 27, 2011

I used to live downtown in a city and there were a few pedestrian bridges that made walking around extremely convenient. There was actually one that went from right near my apartment right into a shopping center. It then picked back up on the other side and went to a few other places!

I would say this was almost a network of pedestrian bridges. It was really great though, because you didn't have to worry about stopping at traffic lights or anything like that.

By angelBraids — On Aug 26, 2011

I totally love the Pfluger pedestrian bridge here in Austin, Texas. As well as having the most amazing views of the sunset you can bike over it, safe from traffic fumes and other dangers.

Last I heard there were over five thousand people using it a day, on foot or on two wheels. Don't be put off by the numbers though, it's not so crowded you'd feel uncomfortable.

By Bakersdozen — On Aug 25, 2011

@yumdelish - I'm sorry to hear about your fear. You're not alone in feeling that way, but I can promise you that you're safe. The bridge will be inspected regularly, and there's no way anyone would be allowed to cross if there was any danger.

If you feel ready to try to overcome this fear I suggest you try some exposure therapy. Visiting something like a steel pedestrian bridge would help, as you can see that the materials are more durable than wood. You could always try something that's not terribly high off the ground.

My sister had a similar problem, it was so bad that she couldn't even cross a suspension bridge when in a vehicle. She got some help from a support group and she manages okay now. I doubt she'd ever seek this situation out, but she's able to get across without breaking down.

By yumdelish — On Aug 25, 2011

Because I'm scared of heights I sometimes find it difficult to walk over bridges. I like the sound of those which are covered, as that would make me feel much more secure.

There's a lovely quiet park a few blocks from my house, but I rarely go there. You have to cross a rickety old wooden pedestrian bridge, unless you fancy walking an extra mile to avoid crossing the highway.

I swear it feels like the whole thing is rotting away beneath my feet. I did try to use it once, but the fear that the boards would give way as I was halfway across gave me a panic attack.

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