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New Deerfoot Trail, 17 Avenue SE bridge a first for Calgary commuters

The new Bow Bridge connecting the inner city with International Avenue is a “game changer” said Calgary’s cycling coordinator.

The project, which is being done as a part of phase 2 in the 17 Avenue SE BRT, is the city’s first car-free, multi-modal bridge over both the Bow River and Deerfoot Trail. It has the bus-only lanes, separated cycling lanes and pedestrian walkways.

“I think that’s going to be a real game changer in terms of connecting people from the inner city to the Southview, Forest Lawn and the Forest Heights communities,” said city cycling coordinator, Tom Thivener.

“Deerfoot’s been the single biggest barrier for cycling in those communities. It’s why hardly anyone is biking in those areas.”

The 17 Avenue SE Phase 2 project area. COURTESY CITY OF CALGARY

Alison Karim-McSwiney, executive director of the International Avenue BRZ, says they knew back as far as 1994 that a link across Deerfoot Trail was needed for people commuting via something other than car.

“We had to convince the city that this is something that was very warranted,” Karim-McSwiney said.

“It’s going to be an amazing bridge. It’s going to be so fabulous to cycle on. You’re going to be able to walk comfortably over Deerfoot and have access to the bus. It’s big. It’s going to be really big.”

Karim-McSwiney said a large number of patrons to the International Avenue strip are from the communities of Inglewood, Ramsey and the East Village, but the new link provides a safe stretch to get there.

“It provides a different mode of transport, which they would probably prefer to use in many cases,” she said.

One thing Karim-McSwiney pointed out what that once you get over the Bow Bridge there’s no dedicated cycle lanes along 17 Ave SE. With that said, new 10-foot wide sidewalks will provide a corridor shared by both cyclists and pedestrians. It’s the only place in Calgary where this use is permitted, Karim-McSwiney said.

“It’s been working for centuries in other countries around the world,” she noted.

The commuter link is also good news for the city’s cycling community. Agustin Louro, president of Bike Calgary, agreed that the Bow River and Deerfoot Trail are major impediments to the smooth flow of bike and pedestrian traffic in the area.

“This bridge will go a long way towards helping people to get across, so yeah, we’re very excited,” Louro said, adding that the current connection for people to navigate east-west across the Bow River can be dangerous with car/bike conflicts.

Still, the Bow Bridge link isn’t without its concern, Louro said. The current

This map shows the proposed Phase 2 map, with existing and proposed pathway connections. COURTESY CITY OF CALGARY

city maps show the connection point on the west side of the Bow is a proposed BRT station. But, he says there’s little connectivity with the existing bike infrastructure in the area.

City maps show that there’s a proposed multi-use pathway for the area that provides a connection, but aside from that, the nearest link up to the city cycling network forces riders to go back towards the Bow River along Blackfoot Trail underneath the bridge.

“The maps don’t show very good integration with existing on-street facilities, nor with pathways, in fact,” Louro said.

“We hope that as Inglewood grows and develops… that as they come into being that they will have strong connections to the bridge. The devil will be in the details as those connections will be important from day one.”

The project, budgeted at $85 million, is expected to be complete later this year, the city said.