Thoughts on the Peace Bridge
Of the core issues in the coming election it seems that the Peace Bridge has left the strongest mark on voter’s minds.
As someone looking to unseat an incumbent Alderman the outrage over Peace Bridge could be seen as something to score some easy points on. I find something uncomfortable about this though.
I am excited for the Peace Bridge. I think it looks interesting, and I like that there will be lots of ways for cyclists and pedestrians to get back and forth across the Bow river near downtown. I think our rivers in Calgary are one of our best assets and that they should be as accessible as possible.
Why I am disappointed in city council about the Peace Bridge is that no one seems to have made efforts to explain the positives, or some truths of the situation to the people of Calgary. They seem to be hiding from this issue and I think its the lack of clarification that makes council look guilty. Councillors may blame the local media for this situation, but I think we need to find a way to better step over the local media and explain these issues to Calgarians directly.
Here is what I understand of the situation.
The City of Calgary was given access to a one time chunk of money from the province (i.e. the Peace Bridge was not paid for by your municipal tax dollars) that was ‘earmarked’ to be used for a project meant to increase and support sustainable forms of transportation (like walking and cycling). The procurement of the design contract was not handled very well, and wasn’t as open as it should have been (for example- to some of our Calgarian designers), and ended up going to a famous international designer. The bridge is located very closely to two other bridges which seems like overkill to some people. The announcement of the project was made at a tough time financially for a lot of Calgarians and the whole project seemed lavish and wasteful. The city instantly seemed to backpedal and almost hide behind the military by naming it the Peace Bridge and trying to tie veterans to it. This made veterans angry.
The price tag on the bridge seemed very high to people and became a focus- despite being a relatively realistic number for this type of project and a small fraction of the money the city spends building ways for cars to get around in our growing footprint.
But then somehow the Peace Bridge became the prime example of a flailing city council. The first question I hear when I start to discuss local issues is often “what do you think of the Peace Bridge?”. I don’t think that a 25 million dollar public works project, paid for by the province, making an effort to support sustainable transportation and bringing interesting new design work to Calgary should really take the focus in this election though. And shame on Rick Bell and other local media who manipulated public opinion so much on this issue- seemingly just to prove that they could. Yes Rick- I do still want your vote, I just want you to stop hating this city so much.
The Peace Bridge, and some issues around it, do bring light to certain problems in Calgary- but I feel like it should not be an election focus. Calgarians have not been given a clear picture of the actual story of the Peace Bridge and it has become a red herring taking away focus from the bigger picture issues that need to be addressed in our city.