Keeping feet and bike wheels dry may be possible with redesigned Riverdale Pedestrian Bridge

Eric Morse — 

It looks as if, perhaps by 2018, cyclists and people who cannot use stairs will be able to enjoy the Riverdale Pedestrian Bridge without difficulty—and the rest of the world will stand a chance of getting onto the bridge from the west with dry feet.

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In the complex ecology that is the city, walkers and cyclists are species that do not always see eye to eye. But in Wards 30 and 28 they have found common ground in at least one cause: the bridge.

The Riverdale Pedestrian Bridge connects the east and west halves of Riverdale Park. It has never been a total design success since from the Don River cycle path it can only be accessed by stairs, while the western approach at the foot of Riverdale Farm (at the bottom of a long, long flight of concrete steps) turns into the Lesser Dismal Swamp at the least sign of humid weather. The steps may remain but with an October 2015 call for a design proposal, everything else looks like it’s getting a whole lot better.

The Riverdale Pedestrian Bridge connects the east and west halves of Riverdale Park. It has never been a total design success since from the Don River cycle path it can only be accessed by stairs, while the western approach at the foot of Riverdale Farm (at the bottom of a long, long flight of concrete steps) turns into the Lesser Dismal Swamp at the least sign of humid weather. The steps may remain but with an October 2015 call for a design proposal, everything else looks like it’s getting a whole lot better.

“When the master plan was being discussed, it looked like there wasn’t going to be any ramp access south of Pottery Rd. The plan called for stairway at Gerrard and Dundas but no ramps,” said Holloway. “We started looking at the bridge design. The master plan people claimed there was no way to do it. They said there were “massing issues” (plannerspeak for having too large a structure in the floodplain).”

“What won me over,” Black chimes in, “was when [Holloway and Leong] prepared that great diagram with a ramp. As soon as I saw that I said, wow, these people are really serious.”
The major issue is angle of slope. Walk Toronto in particular is interested in accessibility for strollers and mobility aids like wheelchairs and walkers, and Ontario accessibility legislation (AODA) requires a maximum ten-degree slope on outdoor ramps and paths beginning this year. That means a massive 75-metre switchback ramp running north between the cycle path and the Don, on the opposite side from the existing stairs (according to Leong, spirals are not friendly to the visually impaired).

“We circulated our proposal to everybody in the city that might have an interest, and finally Councillor Fletcher took hold of it and started making progress.” said Leong. “She organized a site visit with the design company that had done the master plan.”

There was then an exchange of memoranda at a leisurely pace and in great volume. Lobbying then began with Walk Toronto emphasizing accessibility to the Don parkland both for patients at the Bridgepoint health facility and for the neighbourhoods west of the Don who don’t have a lot of major park space.

A request for proposals (RFP) for design was issued in mid-October 2015 and should be awarded “soon,” according to Leong. Then there will be a stakeholder consultation, and another RFP for construction. The call for proposals also includes a second element: a redesigned approach to the west end of the bridge that may leave the concrete flight for stairs in place but would take the existing roadway from the end of Carlton Street down to the park, around the south side of the ball fields and back north to the bridge, thus avoiding the current “wetlands” at the foot of the stairs.

The three are rightfully proud of what they’ve done so far. “Cycle Toronto or Walk Toronto usually sort of comment on projects that the city starts,” says Black.

“This project is unusual in that it was their initiative and especially Vivien and Holloway had to overcome a ton of resistance—everybody in the city was opposed to it and if they weren’t so doggone stubborn this wouldn’t have happened.”

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