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Green Bridges and Landscaping

I have written a few posts about adding landscaping to bridges and I think you will see this type of design becoming more prevalent. Some have already been built and I see it often in design concepts, the concept of livable bridges. The positives are obvious, flowering plants and green trees add to any bridge experience. But a bridge, carrying its loads on small supports, is very expensive real estate and a designer has to be careful what they put on the deck.

The downside is often pointed out by engineers. You need special design details for planters on a bridge. How do you protect the planter from freeze/thaw, how do you drain the water, how do you handle the extra weight, how do you handle debris, how do, well you get the idea…..

Still they do look good….


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ACI concrete moment coefficients vs STAAD

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that I forgot to put dead load on the adjacent spans for my STAAD analysis. oops, but I still think the analysis is even more conservative without the dead load on the other spans, since the DL on the other spans would reduce the moments on the spans I loaded. Or so I think…

ACI concrete code moments and shear coefficients are really old, (Section 8.3) and I can not find the background material showing how they were developed. I usually give my students a homework problem asking them to compare the ACI coefficients to a STAAD analysis. Sometimes STAAD is more conservative and sometimes the ACI coefficients. Go figure.

The students asked for a little help, so I made the following videos, very quickly. Get that, quickly, so they are really rough. (and how is that different from my other videos you ask in a snarky Peewee Herman voice..)

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Illinois transportation agencies launch I-LAST manual

I-Last manual here:

The manual divides sustainable practices into eight categories:  planning, design, environmental, water quality, transportation, lighting, materials, and innovation.

In the materials category, for instance, if a contractor recycles on-site during a project, instead of hauling material off and back on again, the project is awarded points. In the design category, if a project minimizes earthwork by aligning grades as closely as possible, the project is awarded points. Several aspects of the design and construction processes and materials are considered.

Illinois is now one of only three states to provide this kind of framework for recognizing and promoting green practices across all key areas in road and transportation building.”

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Art in Engineering

I have a lunch meeting coming up with the local University Museum Director to talk about doing something with “Art in Engineering”.

I am not sure exactly what yet but maybe a seminar or an exhibit. But what should it cover? What do you think about when you hear “Art in Engineering”? Suggestions?

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Name a Bridge Engineer


I asked my concrete design students if they could name a bridge engineer. (queue crickets)

So I pointed them to The Happy Pontist, who has done a great job of reviewing books and the works of bridge designers.

How do we foster the same respect of our engineering ancestors as architects? Is it possible? Is it a good idea?

I think the answer is not a chance because engineers typically just look to design codes and not to previous structures.

(Design codes have multiply fathers/mothers and they often cannot be attributed to a single engineer.)

Architects learn by looking at the work of their architectural forebearers (is that a word) and building on or juxtaposing their work with the past.

But maybe forgetting our past is a good thing. Maybe we need to go in new directions, like The Graduate, think “Composites“. (I know its plastics..)

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Green Bridge Design – does it always cost more?

Sitting here having my coffee and looking around the web for something interesting, I ran across a number of articles claiming that “Green” design is cheaper over the long run. I’m not sure that is true but I do know that most bridge costs are evaluated as first costs. Meaning what does it cost now?

Every engineer I know asks that question first, “Oh ya green design is great but it always costs more, go hug a tree.” (I added the tree part..)

I mentioned you can save money now by using higher strength materials and removing a beam line. But it is difficult to change the geometry of a standard bridge. For example, say all I need for a design is a 28″ concrete column, typical formwork only comes in even 1/2 foot dimensions. So I design a 30″ column. Is the extra concrete wasted? I could reduce the amount of steel but I will probably leave it in (need my 1% min.) and have a stronger bridge. (Way strong is what us structural engineers like…Hey we have to sign it)

Can a green bridge design cost less than a traditional bridge right out of the box? Or is only after decades will we see the savings?

On another note, I have to design an impractical bridge concept so impossible that I will get tons of internet buzz. Like this one, and this one.

Good quotes:

Bridges are engineered to be three times stronger than needed, so the additional 23 pounds per square foot of load will be absorbed on the base structure with no additional load cost.

Why do we design it so strong? Stupid engineers…

“The project combines the esthetical, the functional, and the business minded. This winning proposal is architecture in high, high class.”


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Groundbreaking Bridge Engineer – Kathleen Lynch

A reader, Kitty Snow, sent me some newspaper clippings which describe how her aunt Kathleen Lynch become the first bridge engineer in Virginia. The clippings are a little hard to read but I will post as many as I can.

It is amazing how Ms. Lynch learned mechanical engineering during the second world war by designing artillery and then after the war moved into bridge design.

(That is a slide rule she is holding, for the younger crowd. Think pre-pre-calculator…)

Continue reading Groundbreaking Bridge Engineer – Kathleen Lynch

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Wristwatch Bridge Concept

I was thinking at lunch that I need to concept some fun bridges. (well fun to me)

So channeling a designer trying to sell you a concept, may I present the Wristwatch Bridge!

It has narrow pathways to an open center.

The narrow pathways represent the struggle people face everyday, fighting through crowds, meetings and life in general to get to a center of calm. The middle of the bridge is a large open circle where you can meet your friends, relax and enjoy the view.

Continue reading Wristwatch Bridge Concept

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Incremental Change = Frustration in bridge design

Freezing rain in January, gotta love it.

I was thinking about how the world of engineering moves and from what I see it moves really slow. So how do you speed things up? No really, how do you do it?

When I speak to other engineers they often agree that things should change but they don’t actually want to change.  So incremental change is the order of the day but I hate it! (Maybe I am wishing for the moon.)

Oh well, any tips?

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Green Bridge Design

I wrote in an earlier post about how you can save money by removing a beam line when you design a bridge. That is an example of what a structural engineer can do after a bridge concept is finalized….

The biggest savings come when you first concept a bridge and the early decisions are typically made by someone other than the final design engineer.

The decisions made about materials, size and structure type are huge and will determine if your final design is a sustainability success.

One of the tools you can use when you start a bridge concept is a simple benefit/cost analysis. The New York State DOT has a worksheet that helps a designer narrow down the cost and type of structure required for a location. (Click on the image below to see a sample of the worksheet.)

Continue reading Green Bridge Design