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What Is a Skyway?

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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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A skyway is an elevated pedestrian walkway that connects two or more buildings. They are typically enclosed and climate controlled in order to provide protection from the elements. Skyway systems are most common in large metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada, where they typically serve to connect networks of commercial, residential, and service buildings.

Typical skyway bridges connect large structures in the dense central areas of major cities, most often, one or two stories above ground level. Skyway walkways generally consist of broad pedestrian corridors, which may slope between buildings in cities where they were added to existing structures. In some cases, these bridges may be lined with shops, but a majority feature picture windows that offer pedestrians a panoramic view of the city below. These structures are most often maintained by the owners of the commercial buildings that they interconnect, although exceptions to this rule do exist.

The primary advantage that skyway systems offer is protection from the elements, which, in particularly hot, cold, or moist climates, makes the life of urban workers much less difficult. Inhabitants of Minneapolis, Minnesota, or Calgary, Alberta, can go about their lives without stepping outside, if they so choose, as extensive skyway networks connect commercial, residential, and entertainment facilities, including full-size urban shopping centers and food markets.

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In addition to protection from the elements, skyways offer other benefits. They provide a much safer way for pedestrians to navigate crowded urban areas. This type of pedestrian structure allows city planners new options when attempting to provide access to busy train or bus stations, and many cities employ short skyway networks to feed commuters into and out of busy stations.

Early advocates of skyways and other shielded pedestrian spaces, such as the American author Edward Bellamy, assumed that protection from the elements was an improvement. His vision of pedestrians protected from the rain by vast canopies that deployed during inclement weather foreshadowed the development of skyways. Other examples of this sort of protected pedestrian space in fiction are much more ambivalent about their virtues, however.

The independent Canadian film, Waydowntown, expresses a darkly comic concern for the impact of skyways on humanity. It is set entirely within the skyway system in Alberta. The characters in the film bet to see who can go for the longest period of time without stepping outside but are all driven gradually mad by their isolation from the real world. The film is not meant to be taken at face value but should, perhaps, serve as a reminder for the pedestrians who use skyway systems to step out onto the streets from time to time.

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