Monthly Archives: September 2013
Over the years I have seen the annual work that is required here in London, Ontario, to maintain the Blackfriars bridge and understood that there must be a cost to maintain such a historic asset. But I have also seen the effects that even temporary closures have had on the surrounding neighborhoods. Having the bridge closed to pedestrians has significantly affected many people who live near the downtown core. Residents of not just Blackfriars but other nearby communities are currently cut off from downtown, and for pedestrians and those with limited mobility, this is especially significant, even more so in extreme temperatures or inclement weather, potentially causing a safety risk. For some this closure means an unexpected expense of either added travel time or money to make alternate arrangements. The closure also cuts off local businesses from their nearby clients who come from neighborhoods off of Ridout and Talbot Streets.
Our city councillors have recently been very supportive and aware of issues regarding London’s heritage and the communities that make this city unique. That support has helped encourage and motivate many residents to provide input and become more involved in the city they live in and that’s been such an exciting thing to see, even if everyone isn’t always in 100% agreement. At the end of the day I think everyone wants a thriving and vibrant city, so the more input the better chance we’ll end up with a happier and more involved community.
Having served on the interim board at Eldon House since last fall, I have had the opportunity to experience and better appreciate just how much thought and consideration must go into the important decisions that city council are tasked with. City assets are an incredible responsibility and the work that goes into ensuring that the right decision is made at the right time and for the right reasons and even in the right way, is often a challenging one, due to the level of complexity. But it’s because of that complexity regarding one of London’s oldest assets, Blackfriars Bridge, that I am hoping council members will continue to listen to and consider feedback from the people who have such a high stake in utilizing and identifying with such a key element in this city.
As other community members and local historians have confirmed, this bridge is not just an infrastructural tool to flow traffic in and out of the downtown core. It is a significant fixture for all Londoners, bridging the gap between communities on a daily basis for generations and today, encouraging Londoners to choose the environmentally friendly option of accessing the downtown core by foot or bicycle.
When I bought my home in the Blackfriars community this bridge was one of the key benefits to being a homeowner in this area. Walking over the bridge is a privilege that I have had daily since I moved to this neighborhood. Neighbors and friends continually referenced it as one of London’s gems, a unique feature that sets our city apart and allows us to retain a piece of our historical identity.
While I understand and support the due-diligence in assessing the bridge and looking at a long-term solution in order to spend city funding responsibly, I hope when city council meet tomorrow to discuss this topic and possibly make a decision on whether to leave the bridge closed for some time until a study is done, or select an option to temporarily repair the bridge, I hope they will consider supporting the option of approving the work required to re-open the bridge for pedestrian and bicycle use. This option would be the cheapest of those they are considering, allowing the bridge to be used while a more long-term solution is investigated. I don’t think a lot of money should be spent to make the bridge safe for cars, since those funds would be better used towards a long-term solution and vehicle use puts considerable wear on the bridge, which in turn will require funds spent on more regular assessments and other interim repairs. With funds already in the city’s budget for annual repairs to the bridge, the pedestrian/bike option would still allow the bridge to be used in some capacity without diverting significant funds from the long-term solution.
Like many Londoners and as a supporter of preserving London’s historic assets and as a resident of the Blackfriars community, I’m personally affected by the outcome of the pending decisions about this local landmark. My regular exposure to this very bridge renewed my love of history and inspired me to research, write about, and become involved in supporting local heritage. As the publications chair of the London and Middlesex Historical Society I’ve been reminded by fellow members that the bridge is also a symbol of the historical significance and importance of the Thames River to our city, as an important trade route and the location where Simcoe and his team explored, surveying the area looking for the ideal spot for a capital. Later this neighborhood became an important hub, where tradespeople worked and supplied London with valuable goods and services.
Today, countless Londoners and visitors use this bridge to experience the city. I want to see others do the same tomorrow and the days after, even if only by foot.
Update as at Sept. 17, 9pm: Council voted 12-3 to spend $260,000 to reopen the Blackfriars Bridge sidewalk, while waiting for the Environmental Assessment report before making a long-term decision. Great news as it could be quite some time between the point where a report is ready, reviewed and motions made with public input, at which point it would then be more time before that final long-term move is carried out. So a big THANK YOU to Council for passing this motion, it will affect MANY people!