19 April 2018

Yorkshire Bridges: 21. Knostrop Footbridge, Leeds

This is the newest of all the structures I saw on my trip to Leeds, having only opened to the public in October 2017. It carries a branch of the Trans Pennine Trail cycle/footpath across the River Aire, and it was installed as part of works for the first phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme. The bridge was designed by Knight Architects and Mott MacDonald, and built by contractor BAM Nuttall.

Approaching this along the path from the nearby Thwaite Mills, my first thought is what a real oddity this bridge is. It feels a little like a space-age intruder in a semi-urban wilderness: super-sleek architectural design, the sort of thing that would feel right at a visitor "destination" but feels much more of a surprise on this out-of-the-way pathway. I found it disconcerting, at least to begin with.

The 70m long bridge spans across the new Knostrop weir, a series of three inflatable weir structures intended to be adjustable in times of flood. The weirs (and associated fish passes) are staggered in plan and are separated by slender concrete walls, which also form the supports for the bridge.

There seems to be nothing technical published online about the bridge design, but there are some images of construction at the website of steelwork contractor SH Structures, which provide a little illumination.

The YouTube video above is worth a look first, as the early sequences include some overhead views of the bridge layout.

The bridge crosses the river at what looks like roughly a 45-degree skew, and sits on a series of support legs which run parallel to the river (hence at 45 degrees to the bridge), plus a square abutment at one end. The bridge is straight in plan, but widens out with curved standing areas above each support position.

In cross-section, the bridge is a shallow multi-cellular steel box girder, with a smoothly curved soffit plate. The intersection of the plan geometry with the curved underside leads to a distinctive "scalloped" profile along both edges of the bridge.

The bridge legs are formed from simple steel plates, each only 50mm thick, which must be amongst the most slender footbridge supports anywhere in the UK. It's not quite down to Ney and Partners standards, but it's quite remarkable nonetheless. The legs are attractively shaped as well, holding the bridge delicately to one side of the weir so that bridge users get a good view of the site's main attraction.

The construction photos indicate that the pier legs also form diaphragm plates within the box girders, and that each box span is bolted through the diaphragm. I guess a cover plate was then welded across the finished joints.

Presumably the "leaf" piers are thin enough simply to flex under thermal expansion and contraction, although I think the effects must be complex due to the high skew. They must also be short enough to be safe against buckling against vertical load, so a careful balance of stiffness is required.

The parapets comprise stainless steel ribs with timber leaning rails. I like the simplicity of the main parapet section, but the upper rail, presumably to provide standard cycle parapet height, looks a little like an afterthought.

Nonetheless, this is a very high-quality bridge to find in such an unexpected place.

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