100 Street Pedestrian Bridge — gorgeous addition or sop to car culture?

· The Pulse
By Karen Unland
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The city is seeking public input on three proposed designs for the 100 Street Pedestrian Bridge, which is intended to "provide an accessible space for pedestrians and cyclists, without impacting vehicle traffic."

The "signature piece of infrastructure entering the downtown core" will go over McDougall Hill Road to connect the MacDonald Drive Promenade and the Funicular. The survey, which runs April 4 to 24, presents three design options: a timber bridge, a cable-stayed bridge, and a suspended bridge.

In a Twitter thread on the proposal, Conrad Nobert said the designs are undeniably striking, but asked: "Aren't we proposing to spend a fortune just so that cars can keep going fast once they crest the hill?" He wondered why the city wouldn't narrow 100 Street instead and install a cheaper crossing for people to walk and bike across.

On Episode 172 of Speaking Municipally, co-host Mack Male agreed with Nobert's assertion that "the only reason this design exists is so that we can keep cars flowing smoothly up and down that hill," and is thus an expensive subsidy for drivers, not a gift to pedestrians and cyclists.

Furthermore, he said, this is yet another example of making pedestrians go the long way around. "When I get off the funicular, I just want to cross the street. Why do I now have to take this incredible detour on an admittedly attractive-looking bridge? ... We prioritize getting from A to B for cars, and we never seem to do that for pedestrians, which is why I was quite frustrated to see this project."

Podcast co-host Troy Pavlek, an avid cyclist himself, allowed that the bridge was "forged in the pits of darkness of car culture," but he said he would rather have it than not.

"If what we get out of it is some world-class pedestrian infrastructure that gives us a view of our gorgeous river valley that we frankly can't see right now, I'm calling it a win."

The episode took a look at some other infrastructure-related issues as well, including the parking lot across from the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market and the Vision Zero Street Lab project proposed for Victoria Promenade, which Nobert also raised concerns about.

A woman jogs beside a cyclist on a bridge that curves over the river valley

A screenshot from the virtual tour of Option 2, the cable-stayed bridge, proposed for the 100 Street Pedestrian Bridge over McDougall Hill Road. (City of Edmonton/YouTube)

The podcast also addressed downtown vibrancy as a whole, in light of Downtown Dining Week, pandemic recovery investments from the city, and the Urban Development Institute's call for Edmontonians to "adopt" downtown.

Given that the five-day, work-from-the-office week may never be coming back, perhaps the greater need is to make it possible and enticing for people to live downtown rather than trying to get more people to work or visit, said Male, who lives downtown himself and notes that it is Edmonton's second most populated neighbourhood.

"It's not just about people from the suburbs needing to be convinced to come in and support downtown," he said. "To have more people living here would be a good thing overall for downtown vibrancy."

Hear more about all of that, as well as the immediately oversubscribed Clean Energy Improvement Program pilot, on the latest episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.