CP Rail wants to put digital signs on its bridges in downtown Calgary

Canadian Pacific Railway is asking the city to allow it to put digital signs on several of its overpasses in downtown Calgary.

Sign application raises concerns for area residents and community groups

One of the underpasses in downtown Calgary where CP Rail wants to install digital advertising signs. (City of Calgary)

Canadian Pacific Railway would like to get more bang for its buck when it comes to advertising on its bridges in downtown Calgary.

Most of its bridges, which carry trains over city streets leading into and out of the core, have banner signs on them facing traffic.

On six bridges, the company wants to replace those signs with digital advertising signs.

Digital billboards are widespread in Calgary. The companies that control those signs change messages six times every minute so they can serve more advertisers.

Proposal raises 'significant concerns': councillor

The city is currently reviewing an application from Van Horne Outdoor, a company that was created by CP Rail in 2015 to develop new advertising revenues along CP's right of way.

It's taking public feedback on the plan through its website until July 29.

Examples of how the digital signs will look, in the daytime on top and at night on the bottom. (City of Calgary)

Given the proximity of the potential rail bridge signs to traffic and nearby residents, the plan is raising concerns. 

Coun. Evan Woolley, who represents part of the downtown, said the application presents a number of issues.

"I think Van Horne has their work cut out for them," said Woolley.

"There have been significant concerns from our traffic division as well as from adjacent neighbours on what exactly the impact of what big, bright signs would be, both in terms of residents living there as well as commuters driving through."

Community association not happy

An area community group also has concerns about the proposal.

The head of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, Peter Oliver, said it has been trying to reduce the number of billboard ads in the fast-changing area.

He said that more and more people are moving into the Beltline and the scale of these digital signs will be negative for residents who live along 10th Avenue.

"You could be looking out your apartment [or] condo window, staring at these LED billboards now changing constantly," said Oliver.

He adds approving these signs would run counter to the city's strategy of trying to improve the downtown underpasses, to make them more pedestrian-friendly.   

"The Beltline is more and more of a residential neighbourhood now and this is not the kind of thing you would put up in any residential neighbourhood," he said.

Plan has 'widespread support,' Van Horne counters

However, Van Horne Outdoor says it has been working on the underpass improvement program with the community for two years and has lots of support.

"We are working closely with city officials, including city staff, on the details of the program and met with relevant BIAs, BRZs, neighborhood associations, businesses, and other interested parties and have received widespread support," Christopher Bentler, the executive vice-president of development for Van Horne Outdoor, wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"Supportive respondents favour the esthetic improvements to the bridges and recognize that additional lighting in these areas will enhance safety."

Bentler also pointed out that the city regulates the brightness of digital displays but said Van Horne Outdoor would operate the signs at a lower level than what the city allows.

"The digital displays will be smaller than the allowable 25 square metres stipulated in the Calgary Land Use Bylaw and approximately 50 per cent smaller than the current vinyl billboard signage installed across the entire width of the bridges," Bentler wrote.

Locations of proposed digital signs

Van Horne is proposing the digital signs for several of CP's downtown overpasses.

The locations include:  

  • First Street S.E. facing north.
  • First Street S.W. facing south.
  • Eighth Street S.W. facing both north and south.
  • Ninth Avenue S.E. facing west.
  • Fourth Street S.W. facing south.
  • Macleod Trail facing south.

The matter has yet to go before the Calgary Planning Commission and city council will get the final word. 

Clarifications

  • Van Horne Outdoor, the company created by CP Rail to develop new advertising revenues along CP's right of way, sent CBC News a statement a day after publication of this story. The story was updated to include part of the company's response.
    Jul 17, 2018 12:26 PM MT