Friday, July 31, 2009

Sigh: Calgary's Bridge Debate

The city of Calgary has decided to go ahead with approval of a pedestrian bridge across the Bow River. The ongoing debate over the bridge, its expense and design have already exhausted the patience of many Calgarians has probably been exhausted by the drawn-out process that has gone on at City Hall. The caterwauling of many of the aldermen has helped make the issue a bit more opaque than it ought to be.

Expense: The current price tag on the bridge is $24.5 million. Several engineers and architects around the city, with the university, the city and other organizations have said that the project is reasonably priced. Some have even gone so far as to say that it is a bargain and it has been cited as cheaper than bridges recently built or about to be built in London, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Necessity: This is where things get a little muddied. Several people have said that the bridge is there to serve roller bladers, a pejorative spilling of ink into the debate that suggests that the expense is merely for recreational use rather than a part of the transportation system that the city uses. There is a large population living in the downtown area and there are a large number of commuters who would use the bridge on a regular basis. There are two other pedestrian bridges in the immediate area: one connecting Prince's Park Island to Memorial Drive, another under the LRT bridge parallel to 10th St. For argument sake a third bridge could be noted running under Crowchild. All three of these bridges are relatively narrow and it is a struggle at time for cyclists, pedestrians and stroller pushers to negotiate the space on any of these. The current bridges are at capacity.

Calgary needs infrastructure, but that does not require infrastructure to be limited to highway construction. The expense of the pedestrian bridge would easily be dwarfed by the expense of the ringroad, if not a budget overrun on the ringroad. It will be pretty easy for the people using it to have a front row seat to the bridge's progress

Design: A valid point of contention. There is a risk in the design of the bridge as many city in North America have fallen over themselves to sign up a starchitect to use their city's landscape as a canvas for their faulty interpretation of how our environments should look and respond to us. The design does not impress me and architect Santiago Calatrava does seem to have the body of grandiose or impractical work that would brand him a starchitect. I'm sure there are architects in Calgary who could have provided compelling designs for the city to consider and silence one group of dissenters over the bridge. One thing that will certainly reignite the bridge debate would be the project going over budget. Calatrava's projects are notorious for this and while it may be a problem for project managers to take the blame for people in Dallas for instance are not so sure. If the city could be faulted for anything, it would be a lack of due diligence before signing on Mr. Calatrava. Wait, see and hope it turns out more solid a structure than London's Millennium Bridge.

The Name: A bridge by any other name... The name has become far too much of an issue and there is little about the actual visual design of the bridge that indicates an homage to fallen vets. Slapped on at this last minute, yes, but hardly reason to sustain the debate the way some Aldermen have attempted to do.

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