Queensway residents comments on the Drury Lane bridge; Council agrees to repair. Building a new bridge? That’s five years off.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON February 13, 2012  The core values of a community are often not fully appreciated until they are threatened and that is when the community comes together and focus on the challenge it faces.  That is when members of the community find their voice and make it public.  And that is what the Glenwood School drive Community did last week when nine of its members stood before the city’s Community Development Committee and said: “fix our bridge”.

For a time city council chamber looked like a day care centre with children scampering all over the place while other draped themselves over their parents laps. In this picture city Manager Jeff Fielding looks on from the public gallery and made no comment. Let's see what he says when this gets to city Council.

Each person spoke with their own passion; some were more direct than others, some talked of the history and the small things that made the community unique

Steven Kopysh talked of the change that had taken place in the community from the time 44 years ago it was a quite secluded area that not too many people realized existed. At the end of my street you could walk across the tracks to a wooded area with a well-worn path through it.  There were no fences, Fairview street was not there, Burlington was not a city.

All that has changed.  Fairview was built to be a main east west corridor, railway underpasses were built,  Brant and Guelph line were widened and Queensway made into a main thoroughfare.  The GO train added more traffic and the tracks were fenced off. Our community had gone from a secluded area to an isolated area.

Kopysh reminded Council Committee that forty years ago Council had the foresight to build a pedestrian bridge to the south.  It made sense. All the elementary schools, the high school, central Park, the Library and the Seniors Centre were to the south.

Then in a way that only a long-time resident can, Kopysh  chided Council members  as said” If Council is serious about greening the city and reducing our carbon footprint, if this Council is serious about promoting vibrant communities, if this Council is serious about promoting walking and cycling – the bridge makes sense. Please do not isolate us.  Do not force us to use our cars.

And if the point was not already made Kopysh added “my sincere hope is that our city council has the foresight and wisdom shown by their peers forty years ago and that we will have a bridge for generations to come”.

Alicia Lovatsis was pretty direct in her comments to a Committee of city Council when she said: - we want THAT bridge and not a path

Alicia Lovatsis, a Fassel Avenue resident first took issue with the bridge traffic survey the city was using And pointed out that a petition of 240 names of people this neighborhood that are saying we use THAT bridge and we want THAT bridge fixed.  Not a pathway.  Our bridge!!

Our children and youth are the ones being forced into busy roads and dark train station tunnels!

The main reason I stand before you is speaking environmentally.  I am not an environmentalist but I have been taught to think about the choices I make and how they impact our world.  At the first council meeting I watched you councillors roll your eyes at Marianne (Councillor Marianne Meed Ward) telling her it waste a waste of the cities time to include statics about cost per trip when using the bridge!

Again maybe this is just a difference in generations but this is the way our generation thinks.  I don’t want to live in a world where my children think its ok to get in the car every time they want to go somewhere!!  So I decided to look back at how many times I could of crossed the bridge but instead I had to get in my car and drive.  From November 25 until January 21 I made 52 unnecessary trips with my car.  I will spare you the details but all my destinations were south or southeast.  I never once went to the go station!! I did another little experiment just thinking in line of the councillors thinking that its no big deal to go around and through the station, I did a little walking experiment.  I left my house at 1:13pm on a Sunday afternoon.  I walked across Fassel and up to Glenwood  School and across to the Go Station.  I got to the station at 1:36 , down and through the station and across the south lot.  Arriving at lights at 1:47, cross the street, backtrack to Aragon and cross down through catwalks arriving at Tom Thomson at 1:59.  That is travel time of 55 minutes.  No one will do that, even if it cuts down on my time by a pathway…it still leads me to the go train station platform, not an ideal place for my 3 and 5 year old!!  I used to be able to leave at 8:45 and arrive at Tom Thomson. 20 minutes is very reasonable for travel!!

Lovatsis then reminded Council of the Pedestrian charter, passed in Burlington in 2009.  There was the clear sense that few on Council knew what she was talking about but Lovatsis reminded them that

“an urban community is one that encourages and facilitates walking, and supports community health, vitality and safety.  It increases use of public transit, decreases car dependence, reduces conflict between vehicles and pedestrians, leads to cleaner air and more public green spaces, as well as supports green tourism.  Such an environment creates opportunities for the informal social interaction that is one of the main attributes of a vibrant, livable urban community.”

She wasn’t finished. She urged the committee to truly listen to the people of this community that have come together to speak about how important this bridge is to our community.  That is what they call ‘walking the talk’.

Sarah O'Hara told a city council committee that she and her kids, as well as neighbours from across the city, stand on the bridge and watch the trains pass underneath and delight when the train engineers blow their whistles.

Sarah O’Hara, who has lived on Glenwood School Drive for more than twelve years pointed out that the Drury Passenger Bridge has a rich history in our neighbourhood.  People use this to get safely from our survey to the business section of Fairview Street and can easily access Burlington Mall, the library, the Y, and other places without having to take the longer route of Guelph Line.  Safety issues aside (which are of course one of the main reasons this bridge needs to stay), I would like to touch on the rich tradition this bridge offers our residents.

I use the bridge daily to get fresh air for my daughter and exercise for myself!  While making the daily trip I meet many other mothers, fathers and grandparents in the neighbourhood who also made the bridge the destination of their walks and they love to climb the bridge and eagerly check the colour of the lights for the trains.  When we saw a green light a sense of excitement would ensue while we waited for the approaching train.  GO trains, VIA and freight trains would never fail to honk their horn and wave to the thrill of all the children who stood on top, clinging to a grown up in a mix of fear and delight while they waved excitedly to the passing train, then quickly turn to watch it receding the other way.  I met countless parents who have actually driven from other neighborhoods so their children could climb the bridge and experience the same thrill.

The bridge O’Hara told Council committee “helps to define our neighborhood, and a place where neighbours meet.  This bridge has helped to create neighbours in the true sense of the word, not just strangers who happen to live on the same block of land.  We are already experiencing so many changes in our neighbourhood; it would be a shame to lose this bridge.

The Queensway community ,managed to get a city council committee to go along with $380,000 worth of repairs to the bridge. Getting the thing rebuilt or an underpass put in place in five years will be the next battle for them. Guess which community is going to be active in the next municipal election? will this sign be gone by then?

O’Hara asked the members of Council to “look behind me.  You are looking at teachers, waitresses, social workers, postal workers, stay at home mums…children.  What brought us all here together?  What “bridged” our differences?  We are here out of a desire to have our voices heard on something that is evidently important enough for us all to come here tonight.  This is our chance to show our youth that the city of Burlington takes the concerns and opinions of its citizens seriously.  Please show us that what is important to us, the people living here, matters.  Please fix our bridge.”

There was one occasion when the public cheered and clapped and committee chair Blair Lancaster quietened the crowd and explained that applause wasn’t allowed.  I wondered why the first time Lancaster said no responses were permitted but then understood when Lancaster added:  If we let you clap when you’re happy then we have to let you boo when you’re not happy.  Thhe beauty Queen has become a politician!

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