Calgary plans two bridges – but not for cars

 

Vehicle taillights poke through the mist and icy fog rising off the Bow River under the lower deck of the Centre Street bridge. City planners are calling for two new bridges over Calgary area rivers - neither of which intended for general vehicle traffic.Photograph by: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald

Vehicle taillights poke through the mist and icy fog rising off the Bow River under the lower deck of the Centre Street bridge. City planners are calling for two new bridges over Calgary area rivers - neither of which intended for general vehicle traffic.Photograph by: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald

By Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald, February 23, 2009  

A major Calgary blueprint will revive calls for river crossings at 50th Avenue S. W. and Shaganappi Trail — only this time, they won’t be for cars.

The draft version of Plan It Calgary, to be released next month, envisions the bridges to allow only mass transit, pedestrians, cyclists and emergency vehicles. It’s one of many recommendations the city’s new master plan and transportation plan will include to give preference to transit over the automobile.

It comes 15 years after environmental and community groups forced car-friendly Bow and Elbow River crossings out of initial drafts of the Go Plan — Plan It’s predecessor — and those parties are mixed on whether the new proposal helps mute their concerns about the old one.

“I don’t think a cyclist would be more pleased it was a bus instead of a car going 30 kilometres per hour up the coulee trail as he was going downhill,” said Fred Fenwick, president of the Edworthy Park Heritage Society.

The draft plan envisions that in the next 15 years or more, the crossing will be needed to link Shaganappi Trail with the south shore of the Bow River, cutting through Edworthy Park. The 50th Avenue link would connect Altadore and Windsor Park in the east to Mount Royal College in the west, cutting across Sandy Beach and the Elbow River.

In both cases, the bridges would help create crosstown bus routes that get people to and from MRC and University of Calgary without filing them through downtown.

“To make transit more attractive, it has to have some way to compete against the cars,” said Plan It manager Pat Gordon, explaining why the bridges would be off-limits to private vehicles. The city would also extensively study how to create such crossings with the least environmental impact on the parks and watersheds, she added.

Robin McLeod, a veteran of the 1994 Go Plan debate, founded a park-preservation society six years ago that could resist any new attempts to build a high-volume crossing on 50th. She fears the slippery-slope scenario–a bridge that begins allowing carpool vehicles and then more.

“If it stays as a transit bridge, that puts a different spin on it,”McLeod said. “If it becomes more, we’re back to the same debate.”

With Sandy Beach already undergoing a “riverbank rescue” (co-sponsored by the Herald), McLeod also worries a bridge would put even more pressure on a fragile area.

And, as an Altadore resident on 50th, she said a stream of buses could make her street more pedestrian friendly or less, depending on how the system is planned.

Much of Plan It will focus on alternatives to car travel, urging that all development and land-use planning be linked to transit, and further encourage the intensification of development around light-rail stations like Brentwood, Anderson, and the future Westbrook stop.

It will also sketch out a cycling network designed for the scores of two-wheeled work commuters, rather than recreational riders, Gordon said.

The homebuilding and development sectors have been given more input on Plan It in recent months, as part of an advisory committee.

Gordon said city planners have listened and will soften their targets for how much new residential development may occur in new outskirt lands and how much should happen in existing parts of Calgary over the next 60 years.

The city had proposed that only 30 per cent of new homes would be in new subdivisions, and 70 per cent in multi-family or denser configurations within Calgary’s current neighbourhoods.

Industry recommended the inverse ratio.

A 50-50 mix wouldn’t work either, industry spokesman Dennis Little said.

“I’m sure we’re going to comment back and say we still believe that will be a realistic target in terms of people and what they’re looking for,” he said.

Glen Radway, leading the land-use component of Plan It, said the densification proposals will encourage such new development in “underused” areas along major corridors, rather than demolish rows of homes.

Plan It’s advisory committee also includes members from other groups like Sustainable Calgary and Federation of Calgary Communities, which have largely been supportive of the sweeping blueprint for future growth.

“You look at the last 15 or 20 years, the existing way that we’re growing will lead to some fiscal sustainability challenges, particularly with respect to infrastructure,” said another member, Ben Brunner of the chamber of commerce.

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2 comments

  1. Adam Zendel · February 23, 2009

    Very cool idea, I agree that having ‘transit’ only routes is good, but I can easily see some lobby demand it be a carpool friendly route, and not before too long cars…

  2. Drew Gale · February 24, 2009

    Naw, I don’t think that fending off any carpool lobby would be too difficult. Nobody has tried to get concessions on any of the existing bus-only connections in the city, some of which would definitely make appealing short-cuts for cars. Getting the parks societies on board with this is going to be key though, I really hope the City is proactive on that front.

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