Rendering from the environmental assessment of the proposed bridge.
Three weeks ago, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee unexpectedly voted to send a long-planned, already approved, already budgeted-for pedestrian-cyclists bridge back to the drawing board, due to concerns about the roughly $23-million price tag. The double-helix bridge was slated to be built on the site of Fort York, currently undergoing revitalization in anticipation of War of 1812 bicentenary celebrations next year. The bridge was intended to be finished in time for that celebration—crucially, arrangements had been made with Metrolinx, which operates the nearby rail line, to accommodate construction—and to also service a growing condo boom that will see thousands of new residents moving into that area over the coming years.
Drawing immediate and strong criticism from many residents and from Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), in whose ward the bridge would be located, campaigns immediately sprung up to help save the bridge. Layton presented approximately 2,500 petition signatures and letters, all in support of sticking with the original construction plan.
Today, council considered whether to reverse the Public Works committee decision and proceed with bridge construction as originally planned. Due to vagaries of council procedure, in order to have this item debated at today’s council meeting, Layton needed not just a majority vote, but the support of two-thirds of his colleagues. This threshold was not met.
In some cases, sending the bridge back to staff for re-examination would be a setback, but not a severe one—it might sometimes mean a delay of a few months, but not a fundamental threat. In this case, however, because of plans Metrolinx has for those tracks, finding another window for construction will be extremely difficult (the earliest would be 2015) and thus the Public Works Committee vote has the practical effect of delaying the bridge for years, if not squelching it completely.
And editorial comment: this bridge was worth saving, and saving with its current design. Our current administration seems to be operating under the impression that we are best served by spending the least money, rather than by spending it most wisely. Cities—vital, dynamic, growing cities—don’t succeed by just getting by. They require, deserve, and benefit from more than the bare minimum. This bridge would have serviced a growing community of local residents and restored a vital part of Toronto’s history to the streetscape by making it easily accessible, freeing it from the web of tracks and roads that currently obscure it from view. The bridge is a little bit of inspiration, and aspiration; residents, tourists, and yes, taxpayers, are best respected by retaining it.
This is not just a point about city-building in the abstract, aesthetic sense. Some in Ford’s administration have suggested that the City would be better served not just by rolling back the bridge plan but by selling the land currently set aside for the bridgeheads to private developers and benefiting from the proceeds of the sale. This would be disastrous for the neighbourhood that is just starting to grow there. Livable neighbourhoods are not made by cramming in as many condo units per square-acre of land as possible. They need green spaces, easy points of access, and careful integration in the surrounding fabric of the city. This bridge would have provided precisely those things. It would have made the developments that will and should be built at Fort York both more livable and more valuable.
“This history of this site is the history of this city—it’s the history of the soul of this city,” Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) implored his fellow councillors when he asked them to reopen this matter for discussion. Shame on those of them who did not listen.