RelativeCity: Making my Way, Downtown


mC:t   2015.06.12    #RelativeCity

This will not be a debate on the ongoing discussion of the positives and negatives of the +15. It is however an exploration and comparison of the +15 through first-hand experience. As well, being inspired by last week’s explore Calgary topics, I took this opportunity to see how the +15 worked.


Before we begin, for those unfamiliar with Calgary the +15 is Calgary’s urban walk way that is located approximately 15 feet above the street level. It is a sheltered pedestrian network that connects major areas and buildings within downtown together allowing for easy access and protection from the elements while in use. These walkways are most utilized during our winter months as our temperatures drop well below -30°C. Further information can be found here as a previous blog post had extensively covered the pros and cons of the +15.

For starters, an interesting fact about me is that for the past 25 years, I had not once utilized the +15 system. This is in part due to my reliance on the vehicle including transit and that all my destinations are easily accessible by either means of these transportation methods. As I went to begin my journey through the +15 I felt like a tourist to this city that I grew up in and hopefully this mentality will allow for an un-biased view of the +15 system.


Like all trips, planning was needed. I printed out the map of the +15 and decided to go from James Short Park to TD Square. This to me was a fair distance within the +15 system and its location and straightforwardness would allow for testing of ease of use and accessibility from other buildings and streets. Hopefully this route would provide variables allowing for plenty of opportunity understanding how the system worked as well as its efficiency and organization. Due to past debates I also wanted to take this opportunity to see how the +15 compares to the pedestrian level, seeing how effective the skywalk is versus the sidewalk in both user comfort, amenities and travel time.


I began my walk at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, right when rush hour was dwindling down. The skywalk was open but from the following pictures seemed rather empty. As I proceeded from the James Short Park +15, and entered Suncor, I noticed that the +15 was connected to the offices food court. Beyond that was the bridge of Suncor that connected to Bow Valley Square. It was then that it proved rather confusing as the bridges were located at random areas within the buildings and also their design were unique to the buildings themselves. In fact if you are following the map, you had probably notice that I had taken a longer path from James Short Park. Rather than going from James Short Park to Firth Avenue Place I went to Bow Valley Square Instead. This was on purpose as I was told that it was faster to TD Square if taking this path and exiting to the streets at Bow Valley Square, which in my mind added another layer to the comparison, a combination of both +15 and pedestrian level travel. As well the distance from James Short Park to Firth Avenue Place was roughly the same as that of James Short Park to Bow Valley Square.


With that said though it was very hard to navigate through this maze as the “pedestal interactive maps” that they claimed to be there were nowhere to be found, and way finding was rather difficult as each building had their own signage and design. The only unifying signs were the street / building signs located on top of the +15 entrance.

It was 6:10 pm when I got to Bow Valley Square. Interestingly, when I excited Bow Valley Square I saw TD Square only a block South from where I was. The time was 6:14 pm when I reached TD Square from Bow Valley Square.


Now to see the time from TD Square back to Bow valley through the +15, but also to see the time to Fifth Avenue Place. I entered TD and excited onto its +15 heading towards TD Trust Tower. Through an abundance of food courts, shops, and services like dry cleaning, unfortunately though everything was closed and the cleaning crew was already well under way doing their routine cleaning. I ended up at Fifth Avenue Place in 7 minutes and Bow Valley Square in 8 minutes.


I proceeded back to TD Square and started my pedestrian walk back to James Short Park. The start time now was 6:40 pm and when I ended back at James Short it was 6:47 pm. The streets where quiet and not many shops were open if any as I proceeded further from TD Square. There really wasn’t much to see here on the pedestrian level. To which I believe as this was the office core and most of the ground level retails were located back at TD Square or other more vibrant streets like 17th ave.


The results as concluded,

The time it took to travel between James Short Park and TD Square was:

Pedestrian level (sidewalk): 7 minutes.

+15: 18 minutes

Combination of both +15 and Pedestrian level: 8 minutes.


Even though this was only a small test within the entire system, and in many ways not accurate but only approximation. It is undeniable that traveling in the pedestrian level was much faster than using the +15 system. But, with the large variety of retail opportunity and services as well as a network of food courts and meeting areas. It is evident that the +15 system is the widely used means of travel between the two.

The +15 system, love it or hate it is something that I could see why people utilize it so much, mostly because of our extreme and almost always random climate. In ways it’s almost a necessity for Calgary downtown professionals.  Why I say professionals of downtown? Because as someone who has not used the +15 before, it was challenging to find my way through the maze of interconnecting bridges, where when I was on the pedestrian level, I could clearly see my destination and the street signs helped a lot, as well as the obvious fact that on the pedestrian level I was never restricted to where I could go. Making me believe that the +15 was made specifically for those who worked within these office towers to travel easily and sheltered between the buildings and their destinations. Meaning it’s for those familiar with the system rather than occasional users.

In the end, both the +15 and the pedestrian walkways have their own pros and cons. They both provide retail opportunities (some more than others), and allow for their users to get to their destination. The only thing that is different is the efficiency of these pathways. There’s a time and place for either of these system, both of which are needed in our city. What do you think about our unique skywalk system? Think you could get a better time? Post in the comments below!




Next: Coming soon…
Previous: RelativeCity: Is Brutal Brutal?

makeCalgary:talk provokes conversation among Calgarians about the design of our city. Catch up with us on Twitter (@makecalgarytalk), Instagram (makecalgarytalk), or Facebook.