Extensive damage done to Calgary’s Peace Bridge over the weekend has reopened discussions about the cost of maintaining the heavily vandalized bridge and its importance to the city.
Early Sunday, a man reportedly smashed up to 80 per cent of the bridge’s glass panels with a hammer and bricks, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Police were called to the scene but the man evaded arrest and the vandalism remains under investigation.
“It’s sad that it seems we can’t have nice things because they get vandalized,” Richard White, a local urban analyst, said Tuesday.
“It’s a shame because we want to have these lovely, beautiful, comfortable spaces, and the vandalism seems to be senseless.”
He suggested the city look into different materials that aren’t so easily destroyed and are more cost-effective.
“The maintenance cost of this is way too high,” said White. “What have we learned from having it that allows us to maybe do a small retrofit to make the bridge still be a beautiful bridge, but also be something that’s less costly to maintain?”
And while he is disappointed in the damage, he understands the person responsible could be suffering from mental illness or anger issues.
“Unfortunately, we have people with mental-health issues or who are on the street and can’t seem to get the care that they need or have a place to go and, unfortunately, this could be a consequence of our society today that can’t get a handle on mental-health issues,” said White.
Calgary police describe the suspect as 50 to 60 years old, with a full moustache, wearing a dark-coloured baseball cap with a white logo, a blue sweater with white or reflective stripes on the shoulders, and jeans. Investigators believe the same man is responsible for another vandalism incident on the bridge on June 18.
There were no updates on the investigation from Calgary police on Tuesday.
The city’s bridge maintenance manager, Charmaine Buhler, said Monday that the most recent damage is more severe than any other past vandalism.
Each panel costs about $12,000 to replace. On average, the city has had to replace six panels annually due to damage, at a cost of more than $500,000 since the bridge was finished in 2012. The dozens of panels destroyed Sunday will cost hundreds of thousands to replace.
The city has hired a consultant to assess other materials that would better withstand or be less prone to vandalism. City council is anticipating a report on the bridge to be presented sometime this fall.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters Tuesday that the city is looking into what happened and what happens next.
“It’s an expensive fix. And I’m not sure what the situation is with the person who did the damage. Obviously, we try to be compassionate in situations like this. But we’ve also got to figure out what exactly led to this. It’s a travesty,” said Gondek.
She said vandalism of bus shelters is also an ongoing issue, so the city needs to look into alternative materials.
“At one point, we did have an understanding that it may be more costly to replace the panels with different materials, but that one-time cost may be a better investment,” the mayor said.
The damage to the bridge is heartbreaking, said Mark Garner, the executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association. Despite the bridge being controversial since its construction, it contributes to Calgary’s economy, he said.
“We’re competing right now with something that’s referred to as the experience economy. People are looking for experiences to spend their income,” said Garner.
The bridge brings visitors from the downtown into other neighbourhoods, and across the Bow River to Hillhurst and Sunnyside, he said.
“If people are in that area, it creates the stickiness you need to generate economics. Having the bridge there has a direct impact on businesses because people stop for lunch or buy something in the area,” he said.
Changing the materials of the bridge could affect the esthetic of its intended design, Garner said. But he admitted that the bridge will remain vulnerable to repeated vandalism even after costly repairs.
Jeff Hessel, vice-president of marketing with Tourism Calgary, said in a statement that the Peace Bridge has become one of Calgary’s most recognizable and iconic landmarks. Images of the bridge are used in much of the city’s marketing.
“It’s a beautiful feature in the city’s downtown landscape, popular with locals and visitors alike, so it’s very disappointing to see this kind of vandalism and resulting damage,” said Hessel.
Peg Oneil, president of the Eau Claire Community Association, said the damage is unimaginable, especially as the city runs a campaign to deter vandalism on the bridge.
“It is just absolutely horrifying. We’re all sick at heart,” Oneil said. “It’s not just one of Calgary’s iconic images, it’s our home. It’s our bridge . . . It’s part of our pathways. People run on it, they bike on it and they enjoy looking at it.”
The city launched a campaign last month to highlight the Peace Bridge as a piece of art. The bridge was lined with defaced paintings and posters to deter vandals, but is now also lined with yellow “Caution” tape as both sides of the bridge are closed to keep people away from the broken panels.
Cyclists are required to dismount as they share the central pathway with pedestrians.
Oneil said she’s concerned other materials would take away from the bridge’s beauty, and wouldn’t reflect the light and water in the same way as glass.
The executive director of the Kensington BRZ, Annie MacInnis, said it’s sad to see this kind of damage, whether it’s to murals, businesses or the Peace Bridge.
“So many people work so hard in this community to make it a more beautiful and welcoming community,” she said. “It’s disappointing to see someone do this kind of damage that will cost taxpayers so much.”
— With files from Brodie Thomas