Head to head: Walterdale Bridge

Planning is underway to replace the Walterdale Bridge. There's a question about whether it should stay or be torn down. We decided to go debate it and let you decide.

By Alain Saffel

The Walterdale Bridge. I don’t know why everyone is so ga-ga about the metal monstrosity. Until recently I hadn’t realized where it was. Once I did, my thought was “that death trap has got to go.”

It’s the price of progress. I grew up in BC and there were many of these old bridges replaced. Good riddance too.

They were often narrow, metal-decked mayhem replaced by wider, safer non-descript concrete crossings; useful civic infrastructure at a good price point.

The idea that this bridge should remain and turn it into a mini-mall is terrible. I would hope city council would put more effort into making 124 Street, 104 Street or 118 Avenue better places to shop instead of plopping a mini-mall in the middle of the North Saskatchewan.

Kind of neat, but there’s no parking and I’m not going to walk to it from Jasper Avenue!

Tear it down! Besides, think of all the stainless steel appliances we’ll get back when we ship all that steel over to China! (Daddy needs a new stainless steel dishwasher.)

I was in Sandpoint, Idaho last year and they have a bridge mall. It’s pretty cool, but it butts up against downtown and is an interesting part of it. The Walterdale Bridge is effectively in the middle of nowhere.

My memories of the Walterdale Bridge are not fond either. As a scooter rider one tends to avoid steel-decked bridges.

They’re the bane of motorcycle riders everywhere; a constant threat as they tussle with your tires in an attempt to introduce your head to their silvery surface. They are evil.

Included in those memories of the Walterdale are happy Edmonton drivers cursing at me as I rode below the speed limit across it; obviously not scooter or motorcycle riders and in need of anger management or a high fibre diet.

Riding across it in the rain is fun too. I certainly won’t miss it.

It’s a short crossing that should be replaced with a plain, solidly constructed concrete bridge, not some monument to someone’s ego. The city can’t afford more signature projects and mega-projects.

What is it about large public construction projects that make some people go weak at the knees?

In the breathless pursuit of becoming a world-class city all we’re going to end up with is a world-class debt by the time this city council is done.

Alain Saffel is the publisher of YegNews.com and has an opinion on just about everything. Just ask him.

By Myron Belej

Saving the Walterdale Bridge is a winning idea for several reasons. It’s a part of our history, it’s an interesting piece of architecture, and as a refurbished bridge geared at walkers and bikers, it can also generate income.

The cost just to take it apart and throw it in the garbage is $2.5 million.  The cost of turning it into a bridge for walkers and bikers – a new destination and tourist attraction right in the middle of the river valley, minutes from downtown – is an extra $5.5 million.

That’s a steal compared to the cost of other new destinations like $80-million art galleries or recreation centres. New pedestrian bridges proposed elsewhere in the city have been coming in at $20- to $40-million.

The maintenance cost on a refurbished (and repainted!) Walterdale is estimated at $20,000 per month, less than a quarter per citizen per year. Turning that into more meaningful numbers, the maintenance of the bridge might be completely paid for with 500 people a day making a purchase there: a coffee, a muffin, a craft item, a bike rental.

Winnipeg has a restaurant on its pedestrian bridge, built in 2003. Even in the middle of the afternoon on a rainy day, when I was there, it was a busy place.

Back to Edmonton. A captive audience of nearly 1,000 people live in Rossdale, right beside the bridge, with no nearby eateries since Cliff Clavin’s closed.

Over 100,000 people attend the Folk Festival each day it runs. Half a million people a year visit the Shaw Conference Centre, and the river valley currently receives upwards of 10 million user visits yearly, a large portion of which will be near downtown.

The Walterdale Bridge would make a nice halfway point for citizens and tourists walking between Whyte Avenue and downtown, and back again.

The Walterdale’s width in the middle section alone is considerably wider that what is planned for people on each side of the new bridge, minus the noise, pollution, wind effects, and kicked up slush caused by cars.

More space means more possibilities for events, parties and festivals. Imagine how much money an event like The Taste of Edmonton could generate along the Walterdale’s 700-foot span.

Infrastructure that pays for itself, preserves architectural history, and promotes walkability and sustainability at the same time? In an era of tightening budgets, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Myron Belej is a creative urban planner with a passion for fixing cities and improving communities. His work has been published and featured nationally and internationally. An active mentor and coach, Myron has also been recognized for his thought-provoking presentations at several conferences and Pecha Kucha Nights. Read more by Myron at www.cityplanner.ca.

Got an issue you think we should tackle? Got someone you’d like to go head to head with on a particular idea? If so, let us know. We don’t mind serious, fun, tongue-in-cheek or a mixture of all of them. No matter what the issue we hope to spur some debate on the topic at hand. Let us know what you think. editor@yegnews.com.

One Response to Head to head: Walterdale Bridge

  1. The last plan I looked at had the new bridge terminating near enough to the old bridge that keeping one while building the other would be that much more expensive. In addition, if the old bridge was kept the new bridge would be wiping out the burial grounds that were so reverently commemorated. Does the $8 million cost of refurbishing the Walterdale for some kind of London-Bridge-in-the-Middle-Ages include the costs of disrupting new bridge construction and relocating the burial grounds?

    Will the cyclists of this city accept the yearly $250,000 maintenance hit for a roughly 1 km span of walkway that will be duplicated just a few meters away, money that could be used to create new cyclist links in the city?

    I like the Walterdale Bridge and I appreciate its symbolism as the first connection between Edmonton and Strathcona. But Edmonton’s historical and modern transportation needs are abundantly served by a new bridge. There’s a tradeoff between building for the future and preserving the past, and we haven’t done a great job as a city in balancing the two; but the criteria for deciding what to save has to be more sophisticated than age.

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