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Calgary’s Beltline pushes back against proposed digital signs

No homeowner would want a digital billboard flashing light into their front window, and people living in the Beltline say that’s why they’re opposing a plan to install them downtown.

The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association is raising the alarm over plans by CP Rail to put digital billboards on multiple train overpasses in the area.

CP Rail has partnered with digital billboard specialists Van Horne in hopes of putting the signs on its overpasses located at 1 Street SE, 1 Street SW, 8 Street SW, 4 Street SW, and Macleod Trail.

The signs would be a way for the rail company to earn extra income from its prime real estate running through the downtown.

CP has static billboards in many of those locations already, but digital billboards emit bright light and flash as the ads change.

The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association’s president, Peter Oliver, says the signs would shine into multiple existing condo buildings, as well as many more that are just now under construction.

“In the land use bylaw – it actually prohibits digital billboards where they’re visible from a home,” said Oliver.

LiveWire Calgary reached out to CP Rail and Van Horne for this story. CP did not respond to the request. Van Horne declined to make anyone available for an interview, but did email a short statement saying the request is currently under review by the city.

“We are pleased to continue to participate in the review and furthering our close work with the city and other stakeholders as the city finalizes their review and report,” read the statement.

Oliver said the company is currently asking for signs that change every ten seconds, but those same sings are capable of video, which he worries could be even more distracting.

In the past few years, the City of Calgary has invested or committed to invest $24 million in upgrading the underpasses to make them more welcoming to pedestrians.

The 8th Street underpass features a piece of public art called Calgary Scroll, with snippets of century-old newspaper articles and advertisements scrolling along an LED screen.

However those upgrades have been to city property, and CP Rail is responsible for upkeep of its infrastructure on the bridges. In its application to the city, CP says it would take the opportunity to “improve the current dilapidated appearance of the bridges.”

Oliver wonders if the company is position itself to only make the bridge upgrades if they get approval for the signs.

“It begs the question, why have they not been maintaining them, and why have they not been acting as good neighbours here?”

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said he shares many of the concerns that he’s heard from residents in the Beltline.

He said the city approached CP when they started making plans to upgrade the underpasses, and they showed no interest in participating financially.

“Now after these big public investments, Van Horne is looking to develop these big digital signs that are autocentric? It’s obviously greatly concerning to me and the adjacent community,” said Woolley.

He confirmed that the signs don’t meet many of the land use bylaws regarding the signs being adjacent to residences, and would require serious relaxation to become legal.

The councillor said there may be room for the signs, but the onus is on CP and Van Horne to make a good case for them.

“Van Horne has a lot of work to do to show there’s no impact, and what is the public benefit to these signs that will need tons of relaxation to the rules we’ve set up. What is the public benefit of that?”