I still believe...

One of the emergent stories from the council budget information sessions that occurred over the weekend was the number of pressing questions that were asked about the pedestrian walking bridge project.  In fact, aside from the head-turning story this morning about one councillor's request for a revisit of the plastic bag ban bylaw, it's been strangely silent after two and a half days of budget presentations.

I still think the bridge is essential.  In fact, I try to imagine the district without it and my stomach twists itself into a knot because it would be something completely different than we envisioned.  The Civic Plaza district would exist in virtual isolation, a 45-minute walk to the Suncor Community Leisure Centre.  I've walked it in the summer and it's quite lovely, if you have the time.  In the winter, it's a different story.

City Centre and its various activity nodes need to connect to the largest recreational facility in the country.  If the only connection point is a 45-minute walk or a short drive, then the two amenities become islands unto themselves.

Yes, there are rational arguments about the structure being an emergency evacuation route, a way for an ambulance to get off the island quickly, and an effective alternative to get data lines and other essential services to the Island on the underside of the bridge deck.  For me, the argument is a little less about pragmatism and a lot more about energy, vision and the human experience.

I want my neighbours to be able to park in one of the underground stalls under the Civic Plaza on a Saturday morning, do some shopping in the bustling farmer's market, stow their purchases in their car, then take a 5-minute stroll over the pedestrian bridge - stopping to take in the view of the river, and proceeding on to Shell Place to take in a little league baseball game under the warm Fort McMurray sun.

I look forward to our community attracting major conventions using facilities in both City Centre and MacDonald Island and seeing thousands of delegates going back and forth via the bridge, experiencing our beautiful waterfront, engaging with residents, and maybe taking a carefree stroll down the Morimoto Promenade, visiting the buzzing marina and family-filled Snye Park.

I want thousands of our citizens to have the choice of parking in the City Centre, walking across the bridge right into SMS Stadium at Shell Place for the most northerly CFL football game in history, the Northern Kick-Off.  When the game is over, I want those same folks to be able to grab their stuff, stroll across the Snye and back to their cars in a short five or ten minutes, not the 45 or 60 minutes it will take if no bridge gets built.

Multiply the time saved by the number of major events and the number of people who will visit City Centre and MacDonald Island over the next few years then add in the experiences and memories of a picturesque and energy-filled walk with your friends and family.  For me, the math on this capital investment is simple.  The bridge will pay for itself in spades over the years, enhancing the capital investments we've already made and those we will make in the future, providing a better human experience and better safety and egress.

How many people today complain about the price tag of the original MacDonald Island Park expansion, or the $125 million Shell Place expansion (a project that was first priced in the $55 million range)?  Not too many.  Do you know why?  Because of the human experience this facility provides to each and every one of us, the human experience Shell Place will provide when it is done.  The pedestrian bridge is no different, except that it will not only be a valuable amenity all on its own, it will add value to two additional amenities by connecting them.

I appreciate that there are disparate perspectives on the viability, practicality and necessity of the Snye pedestrian bridge.  My hope is that the current council will consider all the views, not just the usual suspects in vocal opposition, and make an informed and courageous choice that is truly in the best interests of our community, a decision that moves us closer to the human experience we so richly deserve.  Thank you for reading.

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