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news

Bid to Save Fort York Bridge Fails

20110427xx.jpg
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.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/gilmourtaylor Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

    Score one for mediocrity!

  • http://twitter.com/JonHorvatin Jon Horvatin

    I can't quite tell from the artist rendition, what exactly is the bridge connecting…?

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Vision and Inspiration.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    This is why we can't have nice things.

  • torontothegreat

    I saw David Shiner last night compare this bridge to one in Hamilton that he claims are “similiar”.

    Either he believes his own lie or he's completely blind.

  • http://www.gregburrell.ca Greg Burrell

    If the Fords' problem with the bridge was the cash needed to build it, this would have been an excellent test case for the tax-increment financing model they plan to use to extend the Sheppard Subway. Instead they're going to turn that growing neighbourhood into Toronto's next slum, which is going to come with a whole new set of financial & social problems. Also I imagine the value of the land they want to sell just dropped a whole lot. Pound foolish indeed.

  • http://blog.yasmary.com yaz

    Sad and very well put.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    For all the talk of emulating Chicago and “What Would Mayor Daley Do?”, you'd think by their actions the Mayors Ford are under the impression all that fancy infrastructure downtown came cheap. This fancy pedestrian bridge in Chicago, designed by Frank Gehry, cost the city about $15 million (for 285m, versus $24 million for ~400m in this proposed bridge). They recouped $5 million of that by selling the naming rights – tacky, but nobody's going to make you call it the BP Pedestrian Bridge if you don't want to.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    (I'm including the non-bridge walkways in the ~400m estimate, and I assume the price includes the landscaping too.)

  • dammittoronto

    The city looks like crap, our finances are a mess, but out taxes are slightly lower! Go Rob go!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=590175336 Gregory Hughes

    I cant really tell what the bridge is supposed to do, it is very pretty, but 24million dollars is a lot of dough for slightly better access to “?” for some.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674413178 George Sawision

    the bridge was a waste of money and would make a few who own the land where the footings will sit a good profit.With metrolinx covering the railway and lowering strachan avenue,simply covering their project with a surface is not only cheaper but greener.the metrolinx railway underpass is but a hundred metres from this bridge.the details and what is possible are being kept from the public and Mike Layton himself knows the details of what I speak.If we cover the rails all the way to bathurst street and beyond we will have a real showpiece,a new park in the downtown core.Those who signed on to any petition did so in a political partisan favour and not for any bridge and the councilors saw through the crap and rightfully stopped this bridge. The NDP have always been in favour of more condominiums why joe pantalone was the councilor in power.In fact mike layton proposed 400,000 to go to two developments one at 20 bathurst street and the other to one on king street at the old paul wolfe electric supply site.Still no answer why those developers would get that money!?

  • http://twitter.com/greygardens Circa Vermont

    Ford and anyone who supports has no vision for the future, are reckless, thoughtless hypocrites, and deserve to be thrown out of office.

  • rich1299

    What a shame, yet another city building project bites the dust because of Ford.

  • Nick

    Hmmm, $1.5 million tossed in the garbage through the action of 23 of 45 councillors. Not exactly seeing how “the councillors saw through the crap”, George. Plus the bridge was already budgeted for, and planned for years… probably with the support of developers (certainly with that of Waterfront Toronto). I'd say it's more likely a partisan move on the Ford's part to punish downtown elitists and Adam Vaughan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674413178 George Sawision

    Nick,actually ford didn't really care if this bridge went up or not .It was a deal made by Joe Pantalone that was supposed to be “opened” when he was mayor.Joe did more than a few projects around and in the fort and frankly I have been criticized for even bringing them up.But hey eventually the money stops and we have to begin to think of the fute generations and what we are going to do with green space in the downtown area and stop these high priced needless projects.Oh if you have to go there is a wonderful toilet at the waterfront that cost the city 440,000 only costs a quarter to use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674413178 George Sawision

    my name is george saw vision better ideas for a vision to the future my motto my promise

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674413178 George Sawision

    yes and there is one very unhappy construction company that will want answers to this one

  • D_Russell

    I signed that petition. I put a lot of time and heart into saving the bridge because I believe it is the sort of landmark Toronto needs, because it will be good for neighbourhoods and property values, because it will bring in tourism and make sense of what are now disparate and underused attractions: Fort York, the CNE and Ontario Place, because it will revitalize this important area, because it will be beautiful, because a bridge gives you the city in a way no building or park can, and because I wanted to stand on that bridge and be proud of a city that celebrates its past and looks to the future. Your tunnel idea insults my intelligence. How dare you insult my integrity as well.

  • http://twitter.com/karenstints Karen Stints

    (Not that I care, like really, but I saw this over at Spacing earlier.)

    Here's what the “bridge” means to me.

    “The engineering estimate for this contract was $18,050,965.00 excluding HST. The difference between the engineering estimate and the lowest bidder's price was the cost of the structural steel including access and protection, cable hangers, dampers, epoxy asphalt, railings. These items are unique and specific to this project, for which no comparable prices were available upon which the engineering estimate could be based.” http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/

    The difference between the estimate and winning bid is nearly $5million. The estimate was off by nearly 30%. Invariably, with weak controls come hidden and excessive costs. Look how far off City Staff were in their estimate. I wonder when they noticed the unique items?”Technical Services staff has reviewed the bid and found the price of the recommended bidder to be acceptable and within budget.” http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/

    How much confidence should we place on such an opinion? I worry that they might be as weak on the engineering side as they appear to be in cost control and estimating. It's one thing to lose $5million, that's only money, but poor engineering can result in serious accidents.

    At $22million, this isn't a big project, it's more about timing since it spans a very busy railway. I wonder about the management skills at play here. Why did it take so long to bring to Tender stage? I don't know how much was spent already but I can imagine the consultants were all over this one. I care less about that waste of money and more about the reason for the untimely shepherding of the project.

    I'm thinking this is not a rare event and there will be many other easy pickings for Rob Ford. Each one likely to distract and deflect attention away from what appear to be systemic problems with management in the bureaucracy.

    This Tender went out to the market on Christmas Eve, 2010. That was 2 years and 2 months since it had been approved. By then Rod Ford was Mayor.  The bids for the project appeared in super-fast time during February 2011. By chance no doubt, barely 2 months after the Tender Call was released, the lowest bid was above the $20million approving limit for City Staff. The whole matter now had to be re-approved, this time by a Purchasing and Materials Management Division controlled by Rob Ford. http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/de… 

    There appears to be no record of how the committee members voted but I suspect Cllrs Layton and Perks were out-numbered by Cllrs Minnan-Wong, Shiner Parker and Grimes. (I can just imagine the grand-standing that meeting.) However, with severe blows to the competence of Staff and the Budget what professional manager wouldn't have cause to balk? I suspect there will be many incidents like the “bridge”. And, this isn't the only one we've seen in recent history. 

    In my opinion, it's the result of poor management and out of control elected representatives.The wheels for the project were put in motion at the very last Council under the Miller era, on August 27, 2010. That automatically makes it smell, as far as I'm concerned. That was the Council where the final market for Ward Politic IOUs were exchanged. It was the one where David Miller's reconciliation with Karen Stintz was consumated, for example. All kinds of strange voting patterns appeared during that last council. Not that we can see how all the votes were cast because in those days a Recorded Vote was a rarity. To be fair, the blame for such a lack of transparency cannot be laid solely at the feet of David Miller. It was open to any Councillor to call for a Recorded Vote. Nor can the diminution of local democracy or community input throughout the City be levelled at him either. That started with Amalgamation and it was very much in evidence during the dying days of the Miller regime. To sharpen that image, imagine Adam Vaughan campaigning with Rob Ford the same way as Karen Stintz stumped with David Miller outside the Yonge and Eglinton subway during April 2010.  

    The City had been increasing spending all through those Miller years. From 2003 to 2010 Toronto increased spending by $3.1billion or by almost 50%. Property Tax increases for homeowners were consistent and on average were increased by 3.5% every year. Who was paying attention? Who was frustrated the most? Answer, Rob Ford and an influential and organised group of populist fiscal conservatives with long knives. 

    I get angry every time one of the “bridges” shows up. It's like watching kids play soccer. All the players run after the ball. Even the goalkeepers! And the johnny-come-latelys watch from the sidelines incapable of seeing what's wrong because they're only now paying attention to the game.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The bridge would have
    • extended Stanley Park south of Wellington St West
    • given northern access to Fort York and Garrison Rd
    • cut as much as a kilometre from the existing access routes for people on bikes, pushing strollers, or using mobility devices coming from the north/west
    • mirrored Garrison Creek, reviving and elevating part of our city's buried heritage
    • added a new tourist attraction to the downtown
    • made the 1812 bicentennial even more of a spectacle

  • Anonymous416

    For reference, Miller's tunnel to straighten the Dufferin Jog went from $24m to $40m, and I didn't hear any car drivers suggesting that it should have been cancelled or that it wasn't worth it.

    Methinks this isn't about the money.

  • JohnfromTO

    Folks, this was never about the additional cost of the bridge. As David Shiner  makes very clear, his real concern (and presumably Ford's) was the opportunity costs of allowing zoned parklands around the bridge to become unavailable for development.

    And so the question for council was never, “Can we afford this bridge?” (of course we can, and we almost certainly will be paying more for the promised “cheaper” design years down the road). The real question was, “Should we develop this parkland?”

    There are already few amenities and precious little public space in the Fort York area, parkland or not. Fort York condo residents should be greatly alarmed to hear that the City wants to pave over what little remains. The residents should ask exactly why they are paying property taxes to a City that refuses to invest in their neighbourhood.

    This issue is about real estate sales, not a fancy bridge. The fact that this has been successfully framed around the phony question of “thrift vs. vision” represents another strategic failure of council's left wing.

  • Nick

    You're ill-informed, George. Glad I never voted for you. The city is not on the hook for the toilets, Astal Media is, see this article in the National Post.

  • Nick

    I think George is referring to the Metrolinx underpass for the Airport Rail Line that is currently under construction to put the tracks on Strachan which are at grade under the road, D_Russell. But as a regular cyclist pulling a bike trailer with my son in it to the waterfront from north of College St., Strachan even with bike lanes is a nightmare due to the large amount of traffic entering Liberty Village. Thus the Fort York bridge would have been very useful, and would have served a large number of people.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Other than the narrow slice between the train tracks, the land is already “unavailable”. The north end is a parking lot, the south is Fort York. The part in the middle could be rezoned, at any time, within inches of the bridge.

    I do agree though that the Left (the direction I lean) regularly fails at framing issues, though the press is certainly complicit in that regard when it takes the Right's talking points at face value.

  • http://www.puppetvision.info Andrew

    It's so frustrating to see viable, well planned projects like this and Transit City thrown under the bus (pardon the pun) in the name of cost-saving when many of the same city Councillors don't seem to have any issue with wasting millions of tax payer dollars on contract cancellation fees for which the city gets absolutely no benefits whatsoever,

  • JohnfromTO

    Folks, this was never about the additional cost of the bridge. As David Shiner  makes very clear, his real concern (and presumably Ford's) was the opportunity costs of allowing zoned parklands around the bridge to become unavailable for development.

    And so the question for council was never, “Can we afford this bridge?” (of course we can, and we almost certainly will be paying more for the promised “cheaper” design years down the road). The real question was, “Should we develop this parkland?”

    There are already few amenities and precious little public space in the Fort York area, parkland or not. Fort York condo residents should be greatly alarmed to hear that the City wants to pave over what little remains. The residents should ask exactly why they are paying property taxes to a City that refuses to invest in their neighbourhood.

    This issue is about real estate sales, not a fancy bridge. The fact that this has been successfully framed around the phony question of “thrift vs. vision” represents another strategic failure of council's left wing.

  • Nick

    You're ill-informed, George. Glad I never voted for you. The city is not on the hook for the toilets, Astal Media is, see this article in the National Post.

  • Nick

    I think George is referring to the Metrolinx underpass for the Airport Rail Line that is currently under construction to put the tracks on Strachan which are at grade under the road, D_Russell. But as a regular cyclist pulling a bike trailer with my son in it to the waterfront from north of College St., Strachan even with bike lanes is a nightmare due to the large amount of traffic entering Liberty Village. Thus the Fort York bridge would have been very useful, and would have served a large number of people.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Other than the narrow slice between the train tracks, the land is already “unavailable”. The north end is a parking lot, the south is Fort York. The part in the middle could be rezoned, at any time, within inches of the bridge.

    I do agree though that the Left (the direction I lean) regularly fails at framing issues, though the press is certainly complicit in that regard when it takes the Right's talking points at face value.

  • http://www.puppetvision.info Andrew

    It's so frustrating to see viable, well planned projects like this and Transit City thrown under the bus (pardon the pun) in the name of cost-saving when many of the same city Councillors don't seem to have any issue with wasting millions of tax payer dollars on contract cancellation fees for which the city gets absolutely no benefits whatsoever.

  • nevilleross

    George, do you know how to spell, or even think about the issue? It seem that like most Fordists, all you know how to do is troll web sites that are opposed to Ford about how great your leader is, when in truth most people know the truth-he and his brother are the biggest ignorant arrogant pusbag ever elected to high office, whose bullshit policies Toronto will be paying for in the future. 

    Please, keep your ill-informed, bullshit comments to the National Post's boards, or the Toronto Sun's boards-we don't care about Ford or his policies, and we sure as fuck don't care about his supporters, too.