News / Calgary

City’s eight ‘awful’ pedestrian bridges

No ramps, access points, fall short for communities

Calgarians are asking for more accessible pedestrian bridges.

Jennifer Friesen / for Metro

Calgarians are asking for more accessible pedestrian bridges.

With a toddler in hand, a medical condition stopping her from driving, and a baby in her stroller Gitte Julien literally had to take steps.

It was 2008 she decided to take a pedestrian bridge over Crowchild — one of the city’s eight bridges that don’t have ramps, but stairs instead.

“I completely took for granted these bridges and how awful they were,” Julien said explaining she was crossing Crowchild. “Taking my infant over to get vaccinated at North Hill, crossing that bridge, I’d have to make the toddler get out, clutching her hand for dear life, and bounce the stroller backward up the stairs.”

That day the snow hadn’t been cleared on the bridge. She slipped and fell about four or five steps. That’s when she lost her grip on the baby, strapped in a jogging stroller, who fell down the stairs.

Her baby was fine, and her family still uses those stairs ten years later.

“I would say seven times out of ten, when I walk my kids to school, they’re not cleared yet,” she said.

When Craig MacFarlane, senior engineer with structures & bridges, looks back on these bridges built before his time, that’s one he would have loved to retrofit because, as he put it, it’s a safety hazard.

“It kind of struck me, I really felt for that individual and I wish there was something we could have done, to make her life easier and put in ramps,” he said. “You’ve got a young mother trying to haul a stroller up, and another child in hand — it’s not a pleasant thing to do.”

But in that case the space for a ramp approach just didn’t exist because of site constraints.

Check out some details on the city's pedestrian bridges

The first of these bridges still standing was built in 1959, and they continued to be constructed through the ‘60s and ‘70s. The city doesn’t currently have an estimate for how much the original construction cost but said they spend an average of $2,000 to $3,000 a year per bridge maintaining them.

“Obviously in recent times accessibility has become a hot topic issue, designs are largely driven to accommodate accessibility,” MacFarlane said. “It wasn’t a priority at the time, but certainly these days it is.”

To retrofit the bridges the city estimated it would cost $3,000 to $5,000 per square metre to put in ramps. The city priced an example for a 50 metre long by 4 metre wide ramp — 200 metres squared — which would range in cost between $600,000 and $1,000,000.

But like the bridge across Crowchild, MacFarlane said in most cases, a retrofit isn’t possible. There simply isn’t space in the approaches to squeeze an accessible ramp in without messing with a roadway, or ending up on someone’s private property.

To replace them completely, the city estimates it would cost between $5 million and $8 million to build new bridges.

And although the access for pedestrians, and those with mobility issues is poor, MacFarlane said most of these bridges don’t have a nearby accessible crossings.

“Unfortunately, the detour is a long ways,” MacFarlane said. “It is quite a ways around. The alternate crossings aren’t all that close for even able-bodied people.”

Some of the bridges will come down. The Crowchild Trail project may knock out two or three of the bridges as the city makes improvements to that roadway — but that’s a medium and long term project and could take more than a decade before construction begins.

Another bridge in the northeast by 16 Avenue might also be replaced with a crossing as part of an overpass. Finally, a bridge crossing Crowchild near 54 Avenue will be replaced soon — possibly in the next couple of years.

For Julien, she said the bridges won’t be replaced in her lifetime — at least when it comes to walking her kids to school.

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