Edmonton's Chinatown Business Association calls 97th street bridge a safety hazard

Chinatown is making another plea to the city to remove the old CN rail bridge over 97th Street near 105th Avenue. The business association told councillors on Wednesday the bridge poses a safety threat to potential visitors, preventing the area from flourishing.

'I wouldn't eat the vegetables from there,' says resident about the garden atop the bridge

Volunteers worked throughout the weekend to plant the bridge garden on the former CN Rail bridge at 97th Street. (CBC)

Chinatown is making another plea to the city to remove the old CN rail bridge over 97th Street near 105th Avenue. 

The business association told councillors on Wednesday the bridge poses a safety threat to potential visitors, preventing the area from flourishing.

"There's lots of graffiti … there's also syringes and also people use it as a public washroom," said Ratan Lawrence, the executive director of the Chinatown Business Association.

The bridge causes people to avoid the area, she added. 

Ratan Lawrence, the executive director of the Chinatown Business Association, said the bridge is a safety hazard. (CBC)

In 2013, a group of community volunteers planted a garden on top of the overpass and dubbed it a 'living bridge' as a way to revitalize the space.

But members of the Chinatown delegation said it hasn't made a big difference.

"I wouldn't eat the vegetables from there," said Stanley Mah, a property owner in Chinatown, adding there are often needles strewn around the garden and people urinate in the plants.

Road can't be leveled

A consultant report prepared for councillors recommends keeping the bridge, in part because its cultural connection to Chinese immigrants' connection to the railway.

But Mei Hung, vice-chair of the Chinese Benevolent Association, said the cultural connection relates to the Canadian Pacific Railway, not the Canadian National Railway.  

If we truly could have taken the bridge out … I think it does make it more welcoming. Unfortunately, we can't do that anymore.- Coun. Ben Henderson

The cost of removing the bridge would be about $500,000, Lawrence said. It is currently owned by Qualico Developments.

Coun. Ben Henderson said he might be in favour of demolishing the bridge if the road under the bridge could be leveled. But the large dip in the road would have to remain, he said, because of access to the new Royal Alberta Museum nearby.

"If we truly could have taken the bridge out … I think it does make it more welcoming," Henderson said. "Unfortunately, we can't do that anymore."

Coun. Ben Henderson said he might be in favour of demolishing the bridge if the road under the bridge could be leveled. (CBC)

Henderson recommended raising the pedestrian walkways so people don't have to walk under the bridge to get to Chinatown.

He said using the bridge as an east-west connection for pedestrians will be more beneficial once the new museum is finished.

Economic improvement key

Mayor Don Iveson said the conversation about the bridge distracted from the conversation about improving the overall economic viability of Chinatown.

"How do we make sure that those businesses are getting great traffic flow, great exposure, great marketing and ultimately more investment to grow?" he said.

Edmonton's Chinatown is the largest geographically in the country, but the least dense.

The city has started an economic taskforce to help improve the area.

Iveson warned that Chinatown won't be fixed the next few years. He said a major factor will be creating more resources for the homeless and mentally ill in the area so visitors feel safer.