Major redesign of 4th Street underpass gets nod from Calgary city councillors

A major redesign of Calgary's Fourth Street S.W. underpass that would light up the dark and drab concrete with interactive illumination is one step closer to reality after members of city council gave the project a nod Friday.

Interactive lights that change as pedestrians approach described as both an artistic and safety measure

What Calgary's 4th Street underpass is imagined to look like, after a planned renovation. (City of Calgary)

A major redesign of Calgary's Fourth Street S.W. underpass that would light up the dark and drab concrete with interactive illumination is one step closer to reality after members of city council gave the project a nod Friday.

A city committee endorsed the $7.4-million plan, which now just needs approval by council as a whole before construction can begin.

The project is one of a series of renovations approved in May 2007 aimed at making the busy pedestrian routes beneath the CP Rail tracks on the south end of downtown safer and more appealing.

Marc Boutin, the architect behind the project, said the Fourth Street underpass is "a space of fear" in its current form.

"It's a space to be avoided for many Calgarians," he told the committee. "But, undeniably, it's a space of complete disconnect for all Calgarians."

Click and slide the centre bar back and forth to see the current and proposed look:

Coun. Evan Woolley was even blunter in his assessment of the city's downtown underpasses, at least prior to the renovations that some have already received or are currently receiving.

"These have been an utter embarrassment to our city," he said.

Boutin also noted the bustling Beltline and the city's downtown core are currently separated by a two-block stretch that is "completely dark and void" and said the underpass redesign is aimed at fixing that.

"This project, at the conceptual level, is about building a bridge and reconnecting those two," he said.

$2.2M from developer funds

Woolley said $2.2 million of the project cost is to come from a pair of developer-funded pots of money — the Beltline Community Investment Fund and the city's public art capital deposit program.

Both funds see developers pay into them in exchange for greater density limits on their projects. The money is then later used for community enhancements.

"It's for exactly this kind of thing," Woolley said. "If these funds didn't exist, then that money wouldn't be there for this project."

The project's total price tag is estimated at $7.4 million in city reports, which includes both soft costs and construction costs. A previous estimate of $6.7 million included construction costs only.

Practical esthetics

Polish-Canadian artist Krzysztof Wodiczko helped come up with the design, which will includes a series of interactive lights that change their appearance as people walk near them.

Woolley said the lights serve both an esthetic and practical purpose.

"What they did with the art here is that they created lighting and lighting helps with safety," he said.

Woolley added that the dark, dank underpasses "have been unbelievably dangerous, scary places... with pigeon crap and urine and barf and garbage and all sorts of ugly activities that have happened to them over the years."

If city council approves the renovation plan later this month, construction is slated to start this summer and be completed by the end of 2017.

With files from Scott Dippel