UC Santa Cruz Pedestrian Bridge: A Bridge Strong in 3 Directions

Figure 1: UC Santa Cruz Pedestrian Bridge

How do you build a 200 ft long wooden bridge over a ravine just 10 miles from the San Andreas fault? This #seismicsaturday we feature a beautiful glu-laminated wooden pedestrian bridge at UC Santa Cruz.

The bridge deck is supported by three thick glu-laminated beams (fig. 2). These “glu-lam” beams are made by gluing many strips of wood together, and can be used to create continuous beams that are to large to be cut from one tree.

The bridge is supported by two large columns which are braced diagonally to provide lateral strength in side to side shaking from an earthquake. One mystery strucuture is circled in pink. Anyone know what this is?

UC Santa Cruz is less than 10 miles from major fault lines (fig. 3, USGS).

A structure that is this close to a fault experiences not just sideways shaking, but also violent up-and-down acceleration. Research conducted following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake showed that vertical acceleration is typically around 2/3 of horizontal acceleration for structures near an earthquake epicenter (Borzogonia etc. al. 1996). We can think of the effect of this vertical acceleration with two scenarios. First, when a vertical acceleration of “1 g” works with gravity, the weight of the structure can double. Alternatively, in tbe second scenario, when the “1 g”works against gravity, a structure can, for that instant, essentially become weightless. The momentary weightlessness reduces the friction between a bridge (or a house) and its foundation and can, when combined with side to side shaking, throw beams off columns and columns off foundations. The UC Santa Cruz Bridge is designed ingeniously to resist these upward forces, as well as normal downward, and lateral (sideways) loads. Check out how the different components in tbe bridge work together to resist these three distinct loads in figure 4.

Figure 4: Load paths in tbe downward, upward and sideways loading scenarios

Diagonal pieces of steel are hidden underneath the deck (fig. 5). Called “bridging,” these diagonals tie the deck beams (or stringers) to the beams, preventing them from toppling over sideways in an earthquake.

Figure 5: Lateral bracing, called “bridging” is skillfully hidden under the bridge to prevent the decks beams from toppling over in a quake.

Sometimes, earthquake-resting mechanisms (like huge “in your face” steel diagonal bracing) can take away from a structure’s aesthetic. However, the primarily wooden and minimally steel components blend in with the UC Santa Cruz redwood forest, making the bridge both aesthetically pleasing and earthquake safe.


US Geological Survey. “Earthquake Probabilities in the San Francisco Bay Region: 2000 to 2030. A Summary of Findings By the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities.” USGS Open-File Report 99-517. 1999.

Bozorgnia, Y. Mansour, N. Campbell, K. “Relation Between Vertical and Horizontal Response Spectra for the Northridge Earthquake.” Eleventh World Conference on Earthquake Engineering. 1996. https://www.iitk.ac.in/nicee/wcee/article/11_893.PDF

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