Of the 17 bike accessible spans across the North Saskatchewan River, one is known to cyclists in Edmonton simply as “The Bridge.” Forty six meters (155 feet) above the river with a deck 777m (almost half a mile) long (not including approaches), the High Level Bridge is the only one that crosses the top of the river valley, sparing its users the long trudge up and down the only significant hills in E-Ville, hills that also split the city in half.
I love the bridge because living near it opens up the entire city to me and my bike, but it looms ominous like the bridge at Sleepy Hollow. No matter which way you go, the south approach is a descent with a series of turns at the bottom, weaving around girders with no room for error, and no matter the season, traction is always an issue, with the turns either getting iced up, or sandy or gravelly. Two people (one cyclist and one rollerblader) have been killed in the last decade in accidents on the south approaches, and countless more have been injured (including a friend who was thrown off her bike and slid halfway down the icy hill on her backside, yesterday). I ride the bridge twice a day on average, and have had too many close calls to count (though with freezing rain today, I can expect more). It’s the coldest and often most dangerous part of my ride.
Darker still is the other place in our collective conscious The Bridge resides in. Talking about it is taboo, but the issue is too familiar to those who walk or cycle the bridge every day. I’ve never been able to find statistics of how many people have jumped off the bridge, but I know people who have, and most everyone from around here knows someone… And every now and then a new memorial pops up, or missing posters go up and down, or a high profile missing persons case suddenly goes into the collective memory hole… This is the subject of the locally produced short film “The High Level Bridge,” which is currently screening at the Sundance Film Festival. To me, (unfortunately), it wasn’t the filmakers’ stories that were extraordinary, it was extraordinary that they broke the taboo by talking about it.
Here it is (for a limited time only):
If my life were a cartoon, the bridge would be a character, a friend, but a dark practical joker that I knew too well to completely let my guard down around. (and like a troubled friend, sometimes you have to call their mom, er 311 if things start getting really dangerous). What can I say, the bridge is an important part of my life, and like the film points out, it has made an impression on our collective psyche. But you don’t get that level of intimacy by driving through it. There are no headless horsemen here, still it’s only after safely crossing the bridge that I can get comfortably on my way.