Calgary drivers will once again be able to drive cross the lower deck of the Centre Street bridge on Tuesday, but its reopening is being met with disappointment from cyclists and walkers who use the route.
The roadway was originally closed to vehicle traffic in 2020 as part of the city’s adaptive roadway program — an effort to give pedestrians and cyclists more space.
Besides 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 pathway projects in the area.
“It has been a very crucial link,” cyclist Matthew Hicks told Global News. “Many of us have gotten very used to using it because it’s an easy link to use. It’s so convenient. It’s at basically river level. So you don’t have to worry about getting up a staircase or a ramp to get over it. It’s always clear in winter because there’s a bridge above it.”
According to Brett Bergie, an active transportation advocate in the city, it was always understood the bridge was eventually going to return to vehicle traffic, but it became a well-used space for cycling, walking, photos and gathering.
“We’re losing a direct link that goes over the river just to accommodate motorists’ convenience,” Bergie said. “I’m not sure that’s a compelling reason in this particular period, in the context of a climate emergency, in the context of a downtown strategy that’s trying to inspire a mode shift from private automobiles to public transit and active modes.”
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said the road is able to open to cars starting on Tuesday because flood mitigation work on both sides of the bridge is nearly complete, with some of the work unable to be completed until the spring.
Wong said his office has heard from people concerned about the lower deck reopening to motorists.
“Many people were saying that this was a convenient way to get into the 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 roadway that was well used before the pandemic, and this is a roadway that serves the downtown, the Chinatown as well as MacLeod Trail south.”
Access to the downtown core for vehicles is one of the key reasons city officials said it was opening the lower deck ahead of schedule.
According to the city, the re-opened portion of the bridge will help ease congestion in the core, especially with holiday shopping in full swing.
It’s a view shared by the Calgary Downtown Association, which said there are several road closures that are impacting traffic in the core for the Green Line as well as Enmax upgrades.
“This is the time that you try and catch up on some of the construction work that wasn’t done in the summer or the fall,” downtown association president Mark Garner said. “So having access, especially in the holidays when it’s so important for economics 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 the access for clients of Chinatown businesses is important for their success.
“Still a lot of people select driving around, especially in the winter time,” Wong said. “Connectivity and access to Chinatown and other communities in the downtown is vital.”
In the meantime, the river pathway underneath the Centre Street bridge will temporarily open during the winter for pedestrians and cyclists.
However, vehicle traffic on the lower deck of the bridge will be temporary.
According to city officials, the lower deck will close to vehicle access in the spring to finish work on the river pathway under the Centre Street bridge.
“It’s a really unique space because of the structure of the bridge overhead and the structural pillars around,” Bergie told Global News. “It’s visually interesting, visually engaging. It really does invite people to the space and I think some creative programming could really help to activate the space.”
Coun. Wong said he’s heard from several Calgarians about other uses for the lower deck of the bridge and he’s encouraging people with ideas to reach out to his office.
“There’s opportunities to do road closures for festivals and events,” Wong said. “So as somebody said to me earlier, they wished they’d taken the opportunity to do a concert on the bridge. That is certainly a viable opportunity.”
According to the City of Calgary, vehicle access on the lower deck of the Centre Street bridge will start at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.