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Lagoon Bridge Designed with Environment in Mind

DESIGN: Arched Span is First of its Kind in SoCal

Bridges are something that might not normally be associated with protecting the environment but, that’s exactly what a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge does for the San Elijo Lagoon.

Designed by Mission Hills-based Safdie Rabines Architects and built by TyLin Group and Caltrans, the 350-foot-long, 14 1/2-foot wide bridge is the first of its kind in Southern California, according to Ricardo Rabines, co-founder of Safdie Rabines.

Taal Safdie
Co-founder
Safdie Rabines Architects

“It’s all about the restoration of land there and the whole lagoon getting public access without disturbing the lagoon so people could have access to it without destroying it,” said Taal Safdie, co-founder of Safdie Rabines. “It’s something that is in response to appreciating the natural environment. It’s a project that’s all about letting people enjoy the natural environment.”

As described by Safdie Rabines, by bringing cyclists and hikers closer to the water, protected from the drone of tires on the highway, the pedestrian bridge is meant to invite the community to celebrate the ebb and flow of water, plant life and wildlife of the marine estuary of the lagoon as the tidal flow creates a constant changing environment.

The concrete pedestrian bridge is unlike a typical bridge because it hangs by steel wires from an Interstate 5  freeway overpass. “We never really considered something else. We thought this was the way to do it,” Rabines said.

Typically, bridges like this would be built on concrete pilings sunk into the ground or riverbed. “The (freeway) bridge becomes the structure for both the cars and the people below,” Rabines said. “We don’t have any columns to support the (pedestrian) bridge. We were trying to avoid putting more columns into the water. The idea was to let the water flow, opening the lagoon out.”

A Model

The overpass itself was designed with the lagoon in mind, with the underside forming a curved arch to allow clearer vantage points from pathways along the lagoon approaching the bridge.

“This one was very special. This is part of a bigger park and open space connection,” Rabines said. “It has opened another place to explore an historic lagoon.”

The bridge is part of  the $6 billion Caltrans Interstate 5 North Coast Corridor Project that includes new walking and biking trails connecting Encinitas and Solana Beach, and a 1.5-mile double-track rail.

The pedestrian bridge won a 2023 award from the American Association of Civil Engineers. Safdie Rabines also designed the recently opened West Mission Bay Drive bridges, which won an award from the American Public Works Association.

The $150 million Mission Bay bridge project  opened in early April, replacing a 1950 single-lane bridge across the San Diego River between Ocean Beach and Mission Bay with a dual bridge that has four lanes.

Designed with curved exterior overhangs, the replacement includes two parallel bridges with three lanes in each direction, bike paths on both bridges, and a  12-foot-wide shared path for pedestrians, bicyclists and people riding scooters.

The new bridges also have overlooks and benches to take advantage of the view of the San Diego River and Mission Bay.

The inside shoulders of the bridges have low-level lighting to reduce light pollution into the river.

Safdie Rabines Architects

Founded: 1993
Partners: Taal Safdie, Ricardo Rabines, Eric Lindebak,  Brett Milkovich
Founding partners: Taal Safdie and Ricardo Rabines
Headquarters: Mission Hills
Business:  Architecture, interior design and urban design
Employees: 45+
Website:  www.safdierabines.com
Contact:  619-297-6153
Notable: Safdie Rabines Architects designed one of the University of California San Diego’s largest and most ambitious projects – the North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood,  LEED Platinum,  in collaboration with HKS.

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