City councillors in London, Ont., have voted to reopen the historic Blackfriars Bridge to vehicular traffic as the group of municipal politicians await a study on its long-term use before deciding whether to keep it open for motorists.
In late 2018, the bridge reopened to vehicular traffic following an extensive restoration that saw its finishing touches put in place nearly a year later.
In April 2020, motorists were temporarily barred from using the bridge in an effort to allow for physical distancing between pedestrians and cyclists amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bridge was set to open this month to eastbound vehicular traffic, which prompted a petition on Change.org asking the city to keep it closed.
The petition made its way to city hall through Ward 12 Coun. Elizabeth Peloza, who brought up the matter during an early November meeting of the civic works committee, which is chaired by Peloza.
Peloza then put forward a motion to have the bridge stay closed to vehicular traffic as council awaits a review of the bridge’s operations.
This study on the long-term use of the bridge is a requirement under the environmental assessment process of the extensive restoration that was completed in 2018. That study is expected to wrap up in 2023, according to city staff.
The motion earned the support of the committee and Peloza hoped to see a repeat during Tuesday’s meeting of council.
“Having had this closure in the pandemic I think showed the potential and the love of this area and how users throughout the city are coming to enjoy it,” Peloza said during Tuesday’s meeting.
She added that regardless of what council decided to do with the bridge, a final decision wouldn’t arrive until a study of its long-term use is complete.
“Just looking for the bridge to stay closed in the interim, so we’re not opening and closing it, opening and closing it, and people know what to expect with it.”
Peloza’s motion failed to garner support, with council instead voting in favour of a referral from Ward 13 Coun. John Fyfe-Millar that would reopen the bridge to vehicular traffic as council awaits the results of the long-term use study.
Fyfe-Millar says he sought to follow the original plan with Blackfriars Bridge, which would’ve kept it open to vehicular traffic had it not been for the pandemic.
“A petition is not engagement, a petition is a one-sided opinion. If we want to get to where we want to get with this bridge, we need the metrics to understand and we need the community engagement to make a decision that works for everyone,” Fyfe-Millar said.
Councillors ultimately voted 8-5 in favour of Fyfe-Millar’s referral to reopen the bridge as the city conducts a study of its long-term use.
Those opposed to the referral included Peloza, along with Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer, Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy, Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins and Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner.
Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih was absent during the vote, while all other sitting members of council voted in favour.
Ward 6 remains vacant, with its appointed councillor Mariam Hamou expected to be sworn in on Wednesday.
A final decision on which traffic is allowed on Blackfriars Bridge is set to arrive after the completion of the long-term study on its use.