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The Revised Fort York Bridge Goes to Public Consultation

Area residents gathered to talk about the merits of a new, cheaper alignment for the Fort York bridge, and also a nearby condo.

A rendering of one of the original designs for the Fort York Bridge. The designs now under consideration are different. Image courtesy of the City.

A rendering of one of the original designs for the Fort York Bridge. The designs now under consideration are different. Image courtesy of the City.

Thursday night in the gymnasium of Niagara Street Junior Public School, residents gathered for a public consultation meeting on the long-awaited, long-delayed Fort York pedestrian bridge.

The bridge was originally planned as an S-curve shape, spanning the Kitchener and Lakeshore GO lines from the Stanley Park extension in the north to Garrison Common in the south. This came with a cost estimate of $26.269 million. Council balked at the expense and cancelled construction in May 2011. At a meeting the following November, council reinstated the project when staff came back with cheaper alignment alternatives that preserved the bridge’s original design, all of which were estimated to cost between $18 and $19.7 million. Those were the ones displayed at last night’s meeting.

The Ordnance Triangle, a new condo development going up next to the bridge, also had to be taken under consideration during the redesign. To integrate the bridge with the building, the new plans propose a grassy berm between the two rail lines, and Ordnance Triangle’s developers have applied to have that area rezoned as a park. The pedestrian bridge would be split into two bridges, with the berm between them. The future park would be part of the nearby condo development.

“The development makes the land bridge between the two bridges much more feasible than originally planned,” said Stephen Schijns, a manager of infrastructure planning for the City. “The original bridge plan in 2009 flew right over the Ordnance Triangle and didn’t touch down. It links the bridge with Liberty Village and creates that whole east-west linkage that is a tremendous attribute to the bridge. At the same time, by allowing the bridge to shrink into two separate bridges, it makes a dramatic reduction in the cost.”

But at last night’s meeting, residents paid far more attention to the proposed condo cluster: a group of three buildings going up at Ordnance Street and Strachan Avenue. The developer staged an impressive presentation involving a rendered fly-through video of what the completed neighbourhood would look like, starting from Strachan and zipping down Ordnance, following a walking path to the bridge, then around and back to Strachan.

The condos, like many being built these days, are mixed use, meaning they have retail and services at ground level. There was the fear among some of the attendees at the meeting that these buildings run the risk of becoming a cliché. The idea of having retail and service providers at street level sounds great, but some attendees expressed worry that it would end up being filled with franchises and banks. The City can’t dictate who will set up shop.

The current version of the plan for the area also includes a public pool at the western edge of the proposed park in the Ordnance Triangle. Condo residents would have easy access to it, and people passing by on the bridge could step off the path for a quick dip. Some residents were intrigued, while others thought it would be a disaster. They compared it to the small pool at Stanley Park, which is always jam-packed. The hypothetical pool would be much larger. Funding for it, however, is a long way off.

Public comments on the new bridge design are due by February 15. After that, a design review will be presented to a review panel on March 28. City council is expected to consider an addendum to the bridge’s environmental assessment in May 2013, and a 30-day public review period will follow. Construction on the bridge, however, can’t start until Metrolinx completes its work on the Kitchener rail corridor in late 2014. And so it will be a long time until we can walk or cycle from Stanley Park to the waterfront without weaving through traffic.

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