A new bridge over the Foss: Notes from the Workshop, 20th March

As captured by the bridge engineers Witteveen+Bos.

On 20th March a public workshop was held with the bridge engineers Witteveen+Bos appointed by the council to work with architects from BDP on the design of the new bridge over the Foss.

My Castle Gateway Brief

The idea of a new route up the Foss and into the centre of York was a key theme of the conversations that happened during the first phase My Castle Gateway and featured strongly in the My Castle Gateway public and community brief.

The new bridge over the Foss in the masterplan and in the current plans

The plan for the bridge in the masterplan has two prongs to it – in order to create connections around a narrow piece of land at the corner of the Female Prison building

The plans we’re sharing now have had to change to be one bridge, and further south.

Why did the bridge change?

The idea of the “kissing” bridge in the masterplan idea was to avoid the tight riverside space at the corner of the museum/Female Prison building and enable pedestrian and cycling connectivity up and into the new public space on Castle Car Park. It was going to land between Ryedale House and the new Castle Mills Apartments.

However, the design of the new Castle Mills Apartments has had to change because there is a large sewer that runs through the site and cannot be built over. As a result the apartments have been split into two separate buildings with a new public space inbetween (above the sewer) and the bridge will land into this space.

On the west side, the pedestrian/cycle bridge would land in the green space between the Castle Museum and the Foss, and the current plans include an ongoing walking route between the Foss and the Female Prison. Whether it should also be a cycle route is still an open question, but the additional width would require more complex engineering and would require trees to be felled.

Technical challenges: height and changes in level

There are two main technical challenges. There is the need for the bridge to be a certain height above the river as the Foss is a navigation and boats need to be able to use it. The height needs to be 10.7m above ordnance datum, at least in the navigation box, and there needs to be a 6.2m metre channel that allows boats to pass. This creates a challenge in getting down to the footway level of Piccadilly without the ramping being too steep.

The changes in level are between 11.7m on the Castle side and 9.50m on Piccadilly side.

Because the underside of the bridge has to be at a certain height, but the upper surface need to be as low as possible, bridge depth is crucial. This might be solved by using light weight materials, or by using a ‘throughbridge’ – where the parapets of the bridge are structural meaning the deck is thinner.

A place or just a function for movement?

A key question posed by Jess was: Is the bridge a place or is it for movement?

Movement was seen by those present as definitely key. Walking routes from Piccadilly were discussed by people who were residents of that area. The route up the side of the Female Prison should then connect into the Coppergate Centre routes. The route should connect up as much as possible with other routes. Jess introduced the idea of figure of 8 connectedness. The idea there might be a direct way through the museum walls into the Eye of York as part of the Castle Museum’s future proposals was welcomed. For this, the bridge would need to land at the right height for an easy connection through a new opening into the Eye of York.

It was noted that there is a risk that the ends of the bridges have sharp corners and might create bike-pedestrian conflicts. It was asked whether on Piccadilly there could be a change in carriageway at that point to be alternate one way to limit conflicts between cyclists and traffic. Alternatively it was suggested to have a traffic table (as an extension out from the square). This links nicely to the open public and community brief for Piccadilly.

How to deal with the interactions between walking and cycling? Jess asked, should it be a pedestrian environment with permitted cycling (an approach taken in the Netherlands).

Or have clearly delineated cycle path? There were mixed views on this. Some people felt that people should be courteous. Others that it was more realistic to segregate. We noted that if it was mixed use we’d need to look at how you might “design in” courtesy.

But is the bridge also a place?

As part of exploring the interaction between movement and place we asked the following question: How to deal with tourists and locals who are nipping and in a rush? This led to a discussion over the extent to which the bridge would become a place to linger.

Key question: ‘Is the bridge the focus of the public realm or the function that links two new areas of public realm?’

‘The opportunity is both – that’s what makes it exciting’.

‘Pedestrians will want to look up the river towards town – we need to think about where the views are?’

We then explored whether there should be seating on the bridge.

‘The river is the most attractive part – but there is seating in the spaces on both sides, do we need to sit on the bridge?’

‘Do people want to sit or stand and look? Could we build in view points and lingering points?’

‘Even you don’t provide seats people will stop?’

‘If people stop on the bridge is it not safer to have seating?’

‘Social seating – space for someone with a push chair’.

‘Spaces that are safe for people to stop and take pictures’


‘Could the parapets be used for seating’

‘Could this bridge become a destination in and of itself?’

‘If the bridge is a place then it will calm the cycle traffic’.

We ended the session with Jess asking: What would make the bridge a success?


  • A well-used route. As open as you can manage it, spacious, a major pedestrian cycle thoroughfare.
  • Where users are courteous to each other


  • Memorable and loved part of the city that people use to navigate by
  • It feeling a bit special. It’s a bit like another snickleway

Open the place up:

  • Enhance the place and opens up the place to new uses and new views
  • That it is surrounded by green. There will be new residents for whom this will be their new green space
  • Bridge to be enjoyed – to be used and enjoyed for the views from it and should be a landmark


  • Ownership over it: a bridge that belongs to the people.
  • It gives the new community something to build around
  • Lighting – subtle light and dealing with noise from the gyratory. It needs to feel good, not just look good.

But this is not a closed question and we are still gathering ideas: What would make the bridge a success for you?

Postscript! During the session the bridge engineers showed an example of a foot/cycle bridge built using bio-composites (balsa wood, flax, resin and hardener) and they kindly sent through a link providing more detail on this:- https://www.witteveenbos.com/projects/bio-based-bicycle-bridge/

Leave a comment