The Drury Lane bridge will get repaired if Council lives up to what it passed at Committee. But it will be just a five year patch.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 9, 2012  It looks as if the Glenwood School Drive community is going to get some relief for the bridge that has yet to fall down – but they had to fight for every yard they gained in the battle with their city council.

No longer safe for the public to use the Drury Lane pedestrian Bridge was closed in November. Estimate is that $2 million will be needed to re-build and $380,000 to put on a five year patch.

The bridge that crosses the GO train tracks at Drury Lane was closed very suddenly last November 25th.  An inspection of the structure, that was first put up in 1972 and modified and repaired a number of times since then, was found to be unsafe.

Suddenly a community that is basically landlocked, found that it had to take trips that required 55 minutes as opposed to the normal 20 minutes.  Parents found they could not get their kids to school on time.  Most of all – they missed standing in the middle of the bridge that crossed the tracks and watching the trains pass beneath them and hearing the engineer blow the train whistle.  For many it was almost a “right of passage”.

A community that used to have a way out to commercial Fairview and south to the commercial core was suddenly floundering to figure out how they were going to get around and, more significantly, how they were going to deal with a city council that seemed to have forgotten all about them.

Six month before that same city council stuffed an additional 54 housing units into six lots that previously held six houses.  They weren’t listened to then and they were afraid they were not going to be listened to this time either.  They had no idea what to do.  They used all the old time tactics – put together a petition that had 240 names on it – from a community with 400 homes.  They held a community meeting, called people at city hall and met with their ward Councillor.

They gave the petition to their ward Councillor and neglected to keep a copy for themselves and had nothing to follow up with when they realized it was going to take more than a petition to get their bridge fixed.

Due to the nature of the issue a matter that goes to committee first was referred to Council rather than discussed at much length at the committee stage – There was no community input at the first Committee meting.  The community showed up for the Council meeting a few weeks later only to be told that it was going to be sent back to Committee so that some of the ideas that had come to the surface could be resolved.  At this point the city was looking at the creation of some paths that would make use of the GO train tunnels under the train tracks; but that didn’t pan out – so the city was looking at replacing a bridge that they felt not very many people used and they didn’t like the look of the $2 million + price tag they were staring in the face.

And that’s what happened Wednesday evening – when 60 residents filled the Council chamber and nine  residents delegated to council committee.  The Council members got an earful from a community that may have been seen as not fully prepared but this time they had their ducks lined up and they weren’t taking a no for an answer.

Unfortunately a number of things happened before the residents got to have their say.  For some reason, the order in which delegations were to be heard got mixed up; add to that the meeting was chaired by an inexperienced Council member and managed by a Clerk that didn’t seem to know how to advise her Chair.

Child of a Queensway community parent waits patiently for their turn at the delegation podium. City Manager Jeff Fielding chose to sit in the public gallery and watch his staff handle the meeting.

Dysfunction was made to look acceptable when a Council member went on and on, and on and on some more about accepting the Cycling Master Plan, technical data on the width of lanes and the separation of bicycle lanes and traffic counts.  Ward 5 Councillor Sharman, who can be very biting when he chooses did ask for the forbearance of his fellow Council members as he asked question after question of staff who struggled to find answers.

Meanwhile sixty adults, many with school age children on their laps waited, and waited for Councillor Sharman to end his questioning of staff on a subject few in the public gallery came to hear about.  As Sharman droned on, several members of Council, three by my count, were thumbing through the Procedural Manual; perhaps looking for a way to bring this farce session to an end.

An enlightened chair could have and should have shifted the order of the agenda and moved the sixty residents with their nine delegations forward.  To make it all even more dismaying – after the delegations were given staff then gave a report setting out what the options were for the bridge problem. The residents would have liked to have heard those options before they delegated.

It got worse.  After hearing some very sensible comments made during the delegations when everyone thought they were done one parent stood and asked when her children and their Dad were going to speak.  The delegation list had failed to include the children so they didn’t come forward when their Mother did.  The chair wasn’t quite sure she wanted to entertain yet another speaker and the result of that gaffe was a pre-teen child in tears because she felt she wasn’t going to get her chance to be heard.

It wasn’t over yet either.  One delegate was delivering a fine series of statements and was then told that her time was up.  Each delegate has ten minutes at committee.  Lisa Hayes turned away from the podium after telling the chair there was something wrong with her clock.  Hayes was correct – she got cut off at the six and a half minute point of her delegation.

It didn’t get much better when it got to questions of Council members to staff and then comments from Council members.  It had become clear at this point that Council had been swayed by the comments from the community – they were going to have to do something.

The two options that would have the residents walking some distance to use the GO tunnels underneath the railway tracks were not going to work but that the first step of repairing the bridge and re-opening it at a cost of $380,000 was going to be what got through the Committee meeting.  The cost of the repairs aren’t  going to put much of a dent in the city budget – the funds used will come from savings at the Brant/Fairview upgrade.

The Drury Lane bridge spans the GO train tracks and has been the location where local residents stand and wave to the trains passing beneath.

But Council still kept moaning about this “unexpected cost” and for a time didn’t appear prepared to spend any money on this community.  The replacing the bridge option was estimated to cost something in excess of $2 million while the underpass was estimated to cost about $1.5 million – appreciate that these numbers were all back of the envelope stuff.

The 240 residents that signed the petition and the 60 people in the Council chamber along with the nine delegations now knew that if you want to win at city hall – you pack the Council chamber and you make yourselves heard – and you watch the clock to ensure you get your full ten minutes.

Next step for this community is to make sure they are a part of the design of whatever Council decides to do – re-build the bridge or put in a tunnel.

For the record what staff put forward will have the bridge back in operation this summer and give the city a five year time frame to figure out what to do next for a community that depends on the bridge.

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