Monday, February 18, 2013

Beautiful Blackfriars

London's oldest bridge has spanned the Thames since 1875. Built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, it was actually a kit, put together on site by Isaac Crouse. Now well past its intended life span, the bridge is still connecting Blackfriars and Ridout streets.

Local residents are getting used to the almost annual round of repairs. The bridge is currently closed since sections of its wooden deck are peeling off. The repair work will take about a month. Then, just as folks get used to the bridge being open again, it'll be shut down this summer to assess the condition of its steelwork.

Two suggestions have been put forward to help preserve the old bridge. The first is to make it one-way only. Like you can use it to drive to downtown but not back. Possibly a no-brainer considering it's only one lane wide anyway. When you pull up to Blackfriars Bridge do you stop, go ahead, or only continue if the vehicle coming the other way isn't bigger than you?

The other idea is to make it a pedestrian bridge. Though weather may be the main reason for deterioration of the wooden deck, we can be fairly certain vehicles also damage the surface. As a pedestrian bridge, Blackfriars would be an interesting asset to the Thames River Parkway, that pathway system along the river that connects so many neighbourhoods.

Is the bridge worth saving? Of course, for a great many reasons. According to Nancy Tausky in Historical Sketches of London: from site to city, quoting industrial archaeologist Christopher Andreae, Blackfriars is the oldest metal bridge in North America still open to vehicles. Furthermore, it's a good example of bowstring construction. The bridge has been a source of inspiration to numerous local artists and photographers. Walking across it gives one a rural feel in the middle of a city.

Even Government has figured it out. The bridge was designated by the City of London in 1992. It's also on the provincial Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport's Ontario Heritage Bridge List.

Probably one of the reasons the bridge has survived so long has been due to its fairly low volume of traffic. It's time to cut the traffic off altogether.

Update, March 18, 2013 - The bridge has re-opened this past week. A detailed inspection has been recommended by City Hall for $300,000.

Update, February 1, 2016 - City Hall is now proposing to repair the bridge so that it will support vehicle traffic going eastbound only - the cost - $4.6 million. Better idea: let's keep the bridge for pedestrian and bicycle use only.

Update, February 2018: The bridge is gone, moved to an off-site location for a $7.9 million  "refurbishment." Watch for its return late in 2018. Meanwhile, its former location on the Thames River looks eerily empty without it. Let's hope the bridge returns on schedule.

1 comment:

  1. There are other wrought iron bridges from the same era as the Blackfriars still carrying traffic in North America but they do not carry anywhere near the traffic volume and the London bridge has the longest span by far. This bridge could easily be moved and dedicated to pedestrian use and a modern take on the bowstring design could then be built as a replacement. You are quite right, it is time to retire our aging wrought iron bridge.