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Council gives green light to new pedestrian bridge ... again

Spokesperson for Residents for a Safe Speedvale Avenue says they will appeal decision

Plans to construct a new pedestrian bridge over the Speed River took a step forward Monday evening, but an appeal is likely to follow, a delegate warned.

City council unanimously approved an official plan amendment allowing for bridge infrastructure to be built within significant wetlands, significant woodlands or significant wildlife habitat – something that’s otherwise forbidden by city policies – connecting Emma and Earl streets.

“We’ve heard enough excitement that I’m excited about it,” Coun. James Gordon said of the bridge project, adding he’s gone door to door in the area numerous times and heard “a lot” of support for it. “We’re seeing ample evidence of the need and desire for this.”

First approved by city council in 2015, the previously-estimated $1.8 million project is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge proposed to span 90 metres over the Speed River, 200 metres downstream of Speedvale Avenue. 

Council’s approval came when it endorsed a design for reconstruction of the Speedvale Avenue bridge over the Speed River that did not include bicycle lanes, as otherwise required by city policy. 

The Speedvale Avenue bridge project has yet to come to fruition and is on hold after tender bids came in over the anticipated $10 million cost.

With council’s approval, the next step is to submit the EA to the province for consideration of approval, followed by design and construction work.

Delegates to council and written submissions were largely in support of the project.

“The Emma to Earl bridge is a shining example of what is needed to encourage those who are reluctant to bike or walk because they feel unsafe on or near busy roads,” said Mike Darmon, president of Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation. “Due its unique location – spanning a beautiful, quiet section of the Speed River, away from the noise distraction of busy roads – it will be the jewel in the cap of an envied river trail system.”

“River corridors are extremely important to the city,” added Hugh Whitely, calling for it to include viewing platforms where people can enjoy the scenery. 

Representing Residents for a Safe Speedvale Avenue, Martin Collier spoke out against the project, calling instead for council to reduce the number of motor vehicle lanes on Speedvale in order to accommodate bike lanes rather than build a new bridge.

“Leave the Speed River like it is in this location,” he told council, referring to that area as “relatively pristine” and urged council not to approve the official plan amendment recommended by staff. “If council doesn’t follow these recommendations, we will file an appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal and send a second bump-up request to the Ministry of the Environment and … do whatever else it takes to stop the EEB from ever being built.”

Council’s approval comes more than a year after the province deemed an environmental assessment for the project to be incomplete – the result of the first bump-up request from Residents for a Safe Speedvale Avenue – pointing to deficiencies concerning lack of consultation with the public and First Nations, as well as ensuring it is in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.

“I see nothing problematic with this at all,” commented Coun. Phil Allt. “I think it’s important we as a city move forward … Let’s get on with it.”