The lower deck of Center Street Bridge will reopen to Calgary motorists

Cars will be back on the road starting this Tuesday, a disappointing move for cyclists who say the bridge has become a much-used part of the city’s active transportation network

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The City of Calgary is reopening the lower deck of the Center Street Bridge to vehicles this week, much to the chagrin of cyclists and other active carriers who have made the downtown area a regular part of their commute in recent years.

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In addition to periodic closures for construction work, the bridge has primarily served as a pedestrian connection from Sunnyside to downtown for the past two years since the city closed the roadway in 2020 for construction work and to allow for better distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 106-year-old bridge has become a well-used corridor for cyclists and pedestrians and a popular spot for photo shoots.

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“It’s just a really nice, kind of casual public meeting space,” said local active transportation advocate Brett Bergie. “I think there’s an opportunity to keep it at that, because people used it in a way that motorists can’t — stop and take pictures, enjoy the space, not get in anyone’s way.”

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Department 7 count. Terry Wong says cars will be back on the roadway from this Tuesday, when the path is too close to pedestrians. With construction on the north and south sides of the bridge halted until summer, he said there is no need to leave the roadway closed and noted that it provides an important connection to Chinatown and downtown businesses.

“At the beginning of COVID, when we closed that bridge, a lot of businesses in Chinatown were dying of starvation,” said Wong, who was executive director of the Chinatown BIA at the time.

In addition to people going to Chinatown businesses in person, Wong said many food delivery drivers depend on the route, and restaurants saw a marked drop in orders due to longer wait times as drivers rounded the Edmonton Trail or 10th Street intersections. .

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“They lost a lot of business because people said we can’t wait for the driver to take that long,” he said.

Councilor Terry Wong of Ward 7.
Councilor Terry Wong of Ward 7. Dean Pilling/Postmedia

While there are pedestrian walkways on the bridge’s upper deck—accessible on the south side from the River Walk—they connect to the city’s road network on Center Street farther north than Memorial Drive and the Bow River Pathway-connected lower deck. Cyclists from communities north of the river now have to go through Prince’s Island Park or the Reconciliation Bridge to cross to the south.

“I found (the lower deck) the most direct connection from Sunnyside to downtown in recent years,” said cyclist Matthew Hicks. “It’s such a nice connection because it’s flat and there aren’t really any conflict issues. It is covered with snow and you have a great view of the city.”

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Bergie and Hicks both question the city’s commitment to declare a climate emergency in 2021, saying that allowing cars to re-enter the roadway violates that commitment.

“There’s no problem in Calgary for which more cars are the solution,” Bergie said. “When you think about modes like walking and cycling, direct routes become critical. And here the city takes one away.

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“We need to start thinking about how we can make it easier for people to switch modes of transportation, and taking away such a piece of infrastructure won’t get us there.”

Brett Bergie poses near Center St. and Riverfront Ave.  SE in Calgary on Sunday, December 4, 2022. The opening of the lower part of the bridge is scheduled for the near future.
Brett Bergie poses near Center St. and Riverfront Ave. SE in Calgary on Sunday, December 4, 2022. The opening of the lower part of the bridge is scheduled for the near future. Jim Wells/Postmedia

count. Wong said keeping the bridge closed would likely result in cars taking longer journeys to reach the downtown area. He said during recent budget deliberations that the council has pledged a total of $40 million for continued improvements to the active transportation network. Wong also hopes that the Green Line project — while still years away — will provide a crosswalk that negates the need for pedestrian access to the Center Street Bridge’s lower deck.

“When we talk about a climate emergency, we have to strike a balance between social needs, economic needs and environmental needs. There isn’t always one size that fits all and I think most people appreciate that.”

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Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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