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4 Street SW underpass project brightens up ‘disgusting’ pedestrian corridor

Final checks were being done earlier this week as the much-anticipated 4 Street SW underpass brightens up an otherwise dark Beltline corridor into Calgary’s downtown.

The 4 Street SW underpass enhancement began in 2016 as council approved the $6.7 million project, which saw $4.5 million in approved funding and the final $2.2 million split between the developer-funded Beltline Community Investment Fund and Calgary’s public art fund.

This project is a part of a slate of downtown underpass improvement projects in corridors that see nearly 40,000 pedestrian trips daily.

Quick video of the 4 Street SW underpass lighting (DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY)

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said the corridor’s completion shows  area residents that important investment is going back into the downtown communities.

“The underpasses in the downtown were neglected for a long time; it was really frustrating,” Oliver said.

“They’re the busiest pedestrian corridors in the city and yet for many, many years they fell into a really poor state of repair.”

The interactive light project, developed by the Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative, including internationally-acclaimed artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, illuminates the area, shining light into the otherwise dark trek between 8 and 10 Avenues.

“It’s a really exciting, interactive art piece, but also, obviously, serves the basic function of improving safety and security though that corridor so everyone feels comfortable using it at all times of the day,” Oliver said.

“I think it also sends an important signal to potential visitors and newcomers to Calgary that Calgary is a beautiful city. It’s an exciting city where things are happening where you want to be and we’re not just some old, Eastern Soviet-bloc-looking city that designs utilitarian infrastructure.”

Calgary city councillor Evan Woolley called the state of the pre-installation corridor, “disgusting, embarrassing and unsafe.”

“But now it’s a focal point – a focal connection,” he said.

“We’ve basically created what was a point of embarrassment to a point of pride.”

South side entry of the 4 Street SW underpass. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Woolley also highlights the economic impact of sprucing up these corridors. He said he often heard from people who didn’t want to head into the downtown area after dark because of the prior state of the underpasses.

“Now we’ve created an important economic link between where residents live – there’s 25,000 people in the Beltline – and a lot of businesses, restaurants and services,” he said.

“Our downtown needs support and providing better, safer connections in and around and through is a top priority.

It’s expected there will be a soft launch of the new pedestrian portal by the City of Calgary, but the lighting is currently functional.

The Centre City Underpass Enhancement Program is working on cleaning and brightening up existing underpasses on 1 Street SW, 5 Street SW and 8 Street SW, along with the 4 Street SW project.

4 Street SW conceptual image. (CITY OF CALGARY)