Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

A bridge too far? The case for a pedestrian, cyclist link to Toronto Island

Toronto Island has been an especially hot spot this summer thanks, in part, to gorgeous weather.
Toronto Island has been an especially hot spot this summer thanks, in part, to gorgeous weather.

When people ask me were they should go on these hot, hazy summer days in Toronto, I do two things.

First, I tell them to go to Toronto Island.

Then I give them a list of things they need to do to ensure their experience getting there isn’t miserable.

That list includes always buying tickets for the Island ferry in advance. If you do – either online or in bulk – you can skip the long and disorganized ticket sale lines and head right to the cage-like waiting area.

Once inside, get on the first ferry that shows up. Don’t even read the destination sign. All three ferries go to nice places and if you bring a bike – did I mention you should bring a bike? – you’re only a quick ride away from all destinations on the island-side.

Got it? Good. Trust me, once you perfect the strategy, it’s not as painful as it looks.

Still, there are moments every summer when I start to wonder why Toronto residents put up with this. Why is it so hard for the public to access the city’s best public space?

I’m not talking about a big, concrete span serving cars. Instead, I’m referring to an elegantly-designed lift bridge for pedestrians and cyclists spanning the 300-metre gap between the Cherry Beach area and Ward’s Island.

I’m nowhere near the first person to suggest this. In 2004, at the request of the Globe & Mail, architecture firm Montgomery Sisam drew up a cool design for just such a bridge. In 2012, Urban Planner Astrid Idlewild wrote a blog post outlining a strong rationale for the link – also citing improved access for emergency services.

Of course, the bridge idea also has its share of detractors. Since bringing this notion up, I’ve heard from Island enthusiasts who aren’t feeling the need for a bridge.

Their reasons include issues with port security, challenges with marine traffic, the fact that cottagey Ward’s Island probably isn’t the ideal access point, and a concern that a fixed link to the mainland might fundamentally change the Island experience – and not for the better.

Maybe they’re right, and maybe there’s a chance a bridge isn’t necessary. City hall is in the process of ordering new ferries, needed to handle growing crowds, while Waterfront Toronto is developing a new design for the ferry terminal. Done right, those could work to improve access.

But I’m skeptical that these status quo improvements will change the Island-going experience enough.

I want to dispense with my need to give visitors a long list of tips to avoid miserable lines and interminable waits. To really fix that, a bridge might be the only thing that goes far enough.

This post was originally published at on 2016-07-25T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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