Matthew Hicks it was a decision that caught he and other cyclists off guard.
But the City said that the reopening of the Centre Street Bridge lower deck to traffic was always planned. It just happened a little earlier than initially anticipated, they said. It will open Dec. 6.
The Centre Street lower deck has been closed on and off with ongoing flood mitigation and pathway underpass work in the area (detour for the Eau Claire Area Improvements Program). When Covid hit and the desire to create more open spaces increased, it stayed closed for pedestrian and cycling traffic.
Hicks said he bikes to work any day he can, and the Centre Street lower deck gave him an easy route into the downtown, Chinatown or the East Village from Sunnyside.
“Being able to access anything in that area that much more easily has been really great for me,” he said.
The city spent $1.5 million to upgrade the railings along the lower deck to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Previously, the city had put up bright orange traffic barricades along the route for protection.
It’s that expense, and the subsequent decision to reopen to vehicles, that most surprised Hicks. He knew other adaptive lane projects would be shut down, but the work that went into this to have it reopen to traffic seemed strange.
“Putting all this time and the money into all the upgrades they’ve done for that space over the past few months, and then turning around, literally months later, saying, ‘you know what, we don’t want this after all,’” he said.
Rehabilitation to the lower deck was to help make it safer for cyclists, the city said. Cyclists will still be able to use the roadway when it’s reopened.
“Yeah, that’s not a safe space,” Hicks said in response.
Open to vehicles for now
The City said Monday that the lower deck will be closed to vehicles again in the spring of 2023 when they continue work on the pathway underpass. In the interim, the pathway underpass will open over winter to make sure there’s space in the area to walk and wheel, they said.
“The closure was always temporary in nature,” the city said in an emailed statement.
“Several different projects over the years (Covid/Adaptative Lane closures, flood mitigation closures, bridge rehab etc) kept it closed to traffic but, as with all temporary closures, the intent was always to reopen it to traffic once the flood mitigation work was done.”
They said it was opened ahead of schedule this year to make it easier for vehicles to access the downtown over the holiday shopping season. With other planned closures in the downtown core, the Centre Street lower deck reopening will alleviate some congestion in the area.
The City said they’d communicated with Bike Calgary just prior to the deck reopening to traffic. They also said that the project page was being updated and social media communication would go out Monday.
“We typically don’t consult/engage the public when we put in or take out road detours – we just communicate the change,” they said.
‘Disappointed is exactly the word I’d use’: Hicks
Hicks said the city just declared a climate emergency. In the recent city budget, councillors added $40 million to the 5A network pathway network.
“Disappointed is exactly the word I’d use,” he said.
“The last thing we want to be doing is opening more routes to cars at the expense of active infrastructure.”
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said he’s aware users are frustrated by the temporary status of the lower deck system.
“It’s a reality right now that every time we open and close, they’re going to enjoy it and then lose it, enjoy it and then lose it,” he said.
As far as the city’s climate strategy and 5A network are concerned, Wong said they’re always taking into consideration the social, environmental and economic impacts of these decisions. If you keep the route closed to vehicles for fewer active mode users in winter, there’s an economic impact in the area. Plus, by limiting vehicle access you create congestion elsewhere because you’re not necessarily limiting the number of cars on the street, Wong said. They’re still going to try to access the downtown with cars, he said.
“It’s not mitigating the climate situation by opening the bridge up again,” he said.
Wong also said the user numbers didn’t necessarily support keeping it closed to vehicles. He said during the construction work there wasn’t a lot of pedestrian traffic for safety reasons.
“It wasn’t as prominent as people think,” he said.