Bow to Bluff project puts skateboarding, walking and biking into shared park

Calgary’s skate parks are typically tucked away, built separately from other uses. 

But the Bow to Bluff project in Sunnyside is creating a nexus of users — a trend that the skate community would like to see more of. 

The project conceived back in 2011 when citizens in the community set out to reinvent the space surrounding Calgary’s Northwest LRT line. After years of consultation, construction is underway on the $5.5 million project.

One of the first portions that will open to the public is located under the Sunnyside LRT ramp, beside Memorial Drive. It’s an urban “skate spot.”

“We want to make it so it draws people in,” said Todd Reichardt, a manager with city parks.

By coincidence, it’s being built a stone’s throw from Poppy Plaza, which has become an unsanctioned skateboarding attraction. 

“It’s a very happy coincidence,” said skateboarding activist and planner Jeff Hanson. “Hopefully, you know, this area can kind of become more of a bit of a local skateboarding mecca.”

Unsanctioned skate spot nearby

Poppy Plaza was built in 2013 as a place for the community to gather and memorialize the service of veterans. 

Architect Marc Boutin said it quickly became a skate destination, something the city discouraged.

“It was just so funny that those two groups, instead of coming together and sharing, it was actually kind of you know, it became very polarized,” he said. 

Boutin said the design was never meant to choke out different users — it’s public space designed for the public, including skateboarders. 

Construction is underway on easy skate obstacles for the Bow to Bluff project. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Reichardt said areas like Shaw Millennium Park, or the new Bow to Bluff skate spot, are designed for skateboarding — so that’s where he hopes users will head. But he added the city has changed its approach to wheeled users over the years. 

“It’s now about how do we create a shared vision and how do we get our citizens to really interact respectfully and mindfully,” Reichardt said. 

Hanson said skateboarders have been a resourceful bunch because they have been treated as “other” in the public realm. 

Now that the sport is in the Olympics and is more mainstream, he said it’s about time the city’s public realm includes more uses.

“Everybody recognizes that skateboarding is going to happen in public spaces, so why not try to incorporate it?” Hanson said.

“Instead of designing a space, and then putting skate stoppers, you know, little metal chunks on everything that just makes the space less accessible and less friendly to everyone.”

He believes if the city builds it, the skateboarding community will come.

Resident concerns

Not everyone is happy to see this new type of integration. 

One resident who did not want to be interviewed said those who live next to the new park weren’t consulted. 

A letter received by the city on Aug. 16 says that skateboarders are ignoring the no trespassing signs to try out the ramps. (Helen Pike/CBC)

A letter, which was received by the city on Aug. 16, cites concerns around a lack of consultation, parking demands, noise and safety.

Enclosed in the letter are a number of photos, with timestamps, showing that the site is already in use by skateboarders who have ignored the no trespassing signs to try out the ramps. 

“Skateboarders who are not willing to follow ‘no trespassing’ signs are no more likely to stay out of pedestrians’ and cyclists’ way,” read the letter. “The city’s reluctance to enforce the no trespassing notices at the site now tell us that we would have no one to count on to enforce the basic community standards to which all Calgary residents are entitled.” 

The project is currently under construction and will open to the public in October.

“We really try to encourage people to be responsible, to behave properly, because, I mean, ultimately, this is for everyone to enjoy,” Reichardt said. “Everyone needs to kind of step up a little bit and be fair and be reasonable.”

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