Calgary drivers will be able to drive over the lower deck of the Center Street Bridge again on Tuesday, but its reopening is being met with disappointment from cyclists and walkers who use the route.
The road was originally closed to vehicular traffic in 2020 as part of the city’s adaptive road program – an effort to give pedestrians and cyclists more space.
In addition to some closures due to work on the bridge itself, it remained open to pedestrians and cyclists only amid ongoing construction work on flood mitigation and road projects in the area.
“It was a very important link,” cyclist Matthew Hicks told Global News. “Many of us have become very accustomed to using it because it is an easy link to use. It’s so convenient. It is basically at river level. So you don’t have to worry about climbing a flight of stairs or a ramp to get over it. It’s always clear in the winter because there’s a bridge over it.”
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According to Brett Bergie, an active transportation advocate in the city, it was always understood the bridge would eventually return to vehicular traffic, but it has become a well-used space for biking, walking, photos and gathering.
“We are losing a direct link that goes over the river just to accommodate motorists’ convenience,” said Bergie. “I’m not sure it’s a compelling reason in this particular period, in the context of a climate emergency, in the context of a city center strategy that’s trying to inspire a mode shift from private cars to public transport and active modes.”
Ward 7 gr. Terry Wong said the road could open to cars starting Tuesday because flood mitigation work on both sides of the bridge is nearly complete, with some of the work not able to be completed until the spring.
Wong said his office has heard from people concerned about the lower deck reopening to motorists.
“A lot of people have said that it’s a convenient way to get downtown, to East Village, to Chinatown and everywhere else, both from the pedestrian and cycling community,” Wong told Global News. “But we have to remember that this is a road that was well used before the pandemic, and it’s a road that serves downtown, Chinatown as well as MacLeod Route south.”
Downtown vehicular access is one of the main reasons city officials said it is opening the lower deck ahead of schedule.
According to the city, the reopened portion of the bridge will help ease congestion in the core, especially with holiday shopping in full swing.
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It’s a view shared by the Calgary Downtown Association, which said there are several road closures affecting traffic in the core for the Green Line as well as Enmax upgrades.
“This is the time when you’re trying to catch up on some of the construction work that wasn’t done in the summer or the fall,” said Mark Garner, downtown president of the association. “Having access like that, especially during the holidays when it’s so important to the economy and retail sales.”
Brian Wong of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area agreed. He said traffic in the community is in “deficit mode” during the winter months and access for customers of Chinatown businesses is important to their success.
“Still, many people choose to drive around, especially in the winter time,” Wong said. “Connectivity and access to Chinatown and other downtown communities is essential.”
Meanwhile, the riverwalk under the Center Street bridge will temporarily open to pedestrians and cyclists during the winter.
However, vehicular traffic on the lower deck of the bridge will be temporary.
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According to city officials, the lower deck will close to vehicular access in the spring to finish work on the riverwalk under the Center Street Bridge.
“It’s a very unique space because of the structure of the bridge overhead and the structural pillars around it,” Bergie told Global News. “It’s visually interesting, visually engaging. It really invites people into the space and I think creative programming can really help activate the space.”
Shovel. Wong said he has heard from several Calgarians about other uses for the lower deck of the bridge and he encourages people with ideas to reach out to his office.
“There are opportunities to do road closures for festivals and events,” Wong said. “So as someone said to me earlier, they wish they had taken the opportunity to do a concert on the bridge. It is definitely a viable opportunity.”
According to the City of Calgary, vehicular access to the lower deck of the Center Street Bridge will begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
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