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Should cars be banned, even seasonally, from historic Blackfriars Bridge?

City staff recommend a compromise that may not satisfy many Londoners who cross Blackfriars Bridge on foot, bicycle, or in their vehicles.

Next week, the Blackfriars Bridge Long-term Use Study will be considered by council’s Civic Works Committee (CWC), which includes a traffic count and the results of a citywide survey of 1,200 residents.

The study assessed three options:

  1. Continue with the current bridge configuration providing one-way access for people driving cars and two-way access for people walking and riding bikes.
  2. Dedicate the bridge to people walking and riding bikes during the warmer months from May 1 to October 31, and allow people driving cars to use the bridge from November to April annually.
  3. Permanently close the bridge to cars, providing exclusive use for people walking and riding bikes.

The CWC report from city engineers will recommend Option 2, a seasonal closer to vehicles, starting May 1, 2024.

“During these warmer months, the bridge would remain open for people walking and riding bikes. From November 1 to April 30 all road users, including people driving, would also be able to use the bridge,” the Get Involved London website read.

However, Londoners who spoke to CTV News didn’t prefer the seasonal compromise.

“Safe bike routes are really important,” explained Sasha Letourneau after crossing on foot. “People would definitely use the bridge more if they could go both ways if they feel safe and not at risk of being hit by a car.”

Dave Reed lives near the bridge and said, since becoming one-way, vehicle traffic is low.

He prefers the current configuration, “To close off another way to get downtown, I don’t think is beneficial to the city.”

However, cyclist Heather Kime said, “As someone who lives in the neighbourhood and uses the paths, I love the idea of car-free areas, generally.”

Built in 1875, Blackfriars Bridge was closed in May 2013 after an inspection discovered extensive corrosion.

In 2017, the bridge was removed for an $8.7 million restoration.

It officially reopened in December 2018.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bridge was closed to vehicles to encourage its use as an active transportation route across the Thames River.

In November 2021, a majority of city council supported reopening Blackfriars Bridge to eastbound vehicles.

At the time, several councillors argued there was a lack of traffic data and public input to permanently ban vehicles, despite a petition that called for the bridge to remain car-free.

A survey of 1,200 people conducted last year by the Human Environments Analysis Lab (HEAL) at Western University found that, “The bridge’s traffic configuration is a contentious issue as many participants responded strongly disagreeing or strongly agreeing with the different bridge configurations shared in the survey.”

Specifically, 49% of survey respondents indicated that they ‘Strongly Agree’ with closing the bridge to cars permanently, with 38% ‘Strongly Disagreeing’ with the current bridge configuration.

The survey concluded, “Due to the polarizing public response, extensive care should be taken when considering how to move forward with altering the bridge configuration.”

Meanwhile, a traffic count study by Dillon Consulting suggested a shifting usage pattern on the historic bridge.

“The 2022 traffic data indicates that eastbound [vehicle] traffic volume across the bridge has decreased by approximately 65% since 2013, which may indicate that the COVID-19 work from home measures continue to impact study area traffic volumes,” read the traffic study.

Traffic data collected between March and October 2022 revealed, “On weekdays, the number of vehicles crossing the Bridge is similar to the number of pedestrians/cyclists crossing Blackfriars Street at the TVP, and on weekends, there are more pedestrians/cyclists crossing Blackfriars Street than vehicles travelling across the bridge.”

It concluded there is no clear case to open or close the bridge to vehicles, “The relatively low volume of cars currently using the bridge can be reassigned to the surrounding network with minimal impacts. Similarly, the relatively low volume of cars could be viewed as a low impact on other users of the Bridge.”

The report suggests continued monitoring because of a number of variables including downtown construction and evolving post-pandemic traffic patterns.

The Civic Works Committee will hold a Public Participation Meeting on June 13.

Council will consider the report on June 27.

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