This regular online series will feature interviews with fascinating and influential urban thinkers, with a focus on discussing how Toronto can become a more engaged, accessible, sustainable city.
The Fort York Pedestrian Cycle Bridge, previously approved by City Council and originally slated for completion by 2012, is meant to connect neighbourhoods north and south of Fort York. At its most recent meeting, the City’s Public Works committee unexpectedly decided against approving a construction contract for the project. A motion will be put before council this week which, if successful, will overturn the committee’s decision and allow the project to move forward as planned. Spacing asked Richard Douglas, an activist involved in saving the Fort York Pedestrian Cycle Bridge, to communicate exactly why the project remains such a wise investment.
Spacing: What are the main objections raised by opponents of the present design?
Douglas: Cost has been the key objection raised by opponents to the Fort York Bridge. It is important to remember that the final design and budget for the proposed bridge is the result of an intense consultation process. The consultation was a three-year democratic process involving hundreds if not thousands of person hours from professionals, City staff and citizens to say nothing of the $1.3 million that has already invested to get us to this point. Further, the funds have already been earmarked for the project.
Spacing: What were the key reasons for the development of the bridge to begin with?
Douglas: First, Celebrating History: It is the centre-piece of the Fort York War of 1812 celebration – one of Canada’s most historic sites.
Second, Connecting Communities: It is meant to be a key bicycle and pedestrian artery by which to connect local communities directly to the waterfront.
Finally, Community Safety and Access: The bridge provides those wishing to travel by foot or bicycle north/south a safe route to do so. The traffic situation on both Bathurst and Strachan is known by all to be hazardous particularly for young families who want to enjoy Toronto’s green spaces and waterfront safely. Traffic congestion will only continue to increase as new buildings are erected and more residents move into the area.
Spacing: What alternatives are being proposed?
Douglas: The returning of the Fort York Bridge project to Committee at Council effectively eliminates this project. The situation becomes even more time-sensitive when you consider that Metrolinx has provided a small window of opportunity to build this bridge. Once that window closes, surrounding communities and the City of Toronto will have lost out on a tremendous opportunity.
Spacing: In your opinion, why are the alternative proposals inadequate compared to the present design?
Douglas: The current Fort York Bridge was designed with community building, environmental enhancement, tourism, access, and city beautification in mind. The proposal takes a long-term view and not a short-term approach. A short-term view, we feel, in contrast, will simply lead to ghettoism.
Spacing: Metrolinx is set to commence major track alterations in the corridor. At this stage, is it problematic to be considering a redesign of the bridge?
Douglas: Yes. There is a very limited window of opportunity. Metrolinx has already amended their schedule to accommodate the construction of this bridge. The cancellation of this project negatively affects local communities, developers and the City as a whole.
Spacing: The bridge is obviously a very unique and interesting design. Generally speaking, why is it important that we, as a city, insist on better architecture and design?
Douglas: Think of the great cities of the world – they all have recognizable landmarks. Utilitarian design does not draw visitors nor does it invite community building. The combination of art, design and function demonstrates leadership, establishes tourism destinations and draws in tourism dollars.
Spacing: How do you respond to critics that say the bridge is unaffordable because it’s too “fancy?”
Douglas: We have to build a bridge to connect these communities to the waterfront. The City and its residents engaged in a three-year planning and consultation process where numerous alternative designs were considered. This was the best compromise of design and budget that all stakeholders agreed to. Going back to the drawing table is both impractical and economically wasteful.
Spacing: How does the bridge fit within larger scheme of revitalizing the waterfront?
Douglas: The City is investing millions of dollars in revitalizing Toronto’s waterfront. Why do so and then not connect the public to access those areas in a manner that reduces congestion on already dense roadways?
Spacing: With a national historic site, Fort York, at one end of the bridge, would the city be remiss not to create a landmark bridge in that location?
Douglas: Absolutely! If Fort York ends up in the middle of condo projects it will die. Shadow cast and isolation will not be a draw for visitors.
Photo by webguy63