Safety concerns at Liberty Village bridge raised before it was built

Safety concerns are being raised at the new pedestrian bridge in Liberty village that just opened back in April. Shauna Hunt reports residents are raising the alarm bells over loitering, drug use and vandalism.

By Shauna Hunt and Meredith Bond

Liberty Village residents are frustrated that the safety concerns raised years ago at community consultations for a new pedestrian bridge are coming to pass now that the overpass is open.

“In seven months, it shouldn’t be in this state. It’s great that it’s here, but it’s not the cleanest which doesn’t make me feel safe here,” said Neema, who lives in Liberty Village.

The bridge, which was approved in 2011 and opened in April of 2021, connects King Street to Western Battery Road, providing a shortcut to get to transit for those in the heart of Liberty Village.

While many residents say they are happy the bridge was constructed, drug use and loitering in the elevator vestibules have caused safety concerns for those using it, especially at night.

People posting in a community forum on Facebook say used needles and garbage can be found in and around the elevator vestibules. Graffiti also lines the bridge and the staircases on both ends.

A local resident, Charis, takes the bridge at least twice a day, and said while she’s happy it exists, the route can be unsettling at times.

“There are some mornings where I will take Tecumseth [Street] rather than the bridge … just because there is better lighting and more people,” she said. When CityNews asked if she feels safe taking the bridge, she said, “When the sun’s out, but not 100 per cent of the time.”

Another resident who was using the bridge for the first time, said she would not use the bridge at night.

“We invested so much time and money in it, I don’t see why they don’t have security or something,” she added.

Several residents have also raised concerned about encampments forming underneath the bridge. It comes just months after an encampment was removed from nearby Lamport Stadium.

The City of Toronto says there’s lighting on pathways to the bridge, there are emergency buttons and that it’s “monitored for 24-hour access.” However, on a recent visit by CityNews, the security cameras were spray-painted over.

In a 2016 public consultation on the bridge, several people noted the security risk should the bridge be enclosed. They were concerned about loitering and “users … not easily heard or seen” if it was enclosed. Many preferred an open air bridge similar to the one over the tracks near CityPlace.

The city councillor for the area, Joe Cressy, said they were forced to used an enclosed bridge because elevators were necessary to make the bridge accessible. Due to the slope of the ground around the rail corridor in that spot, the city had to build an elevator rather than a ramp.

He said they even asked at one point whether they could make the elevators in open air, but it was not possible.

Cressy said he is aware of the safety concerns from residents and has elevated the issue to the City’s corporate security team, as well as Toronto’s multi-disciplinary outreach team, which helps vulnerable people find housing. The team has been working with someone who has been camping out in one of the elevator vestibules to find them a better living space.

“[The] current situation is not acceptable, that’s why I’m doing everything I can,” Cressy explained

Back in 2016, residents also suggested regular police patrols of the bridge. In a statement to CityNews, Toronto Police said, “Officers work directly with respite shelters, both staff and residents, regarding needle cleanups and any ongoing community concerns.”

Toronto Police also did respond on Twitter to those who have raised concerns, saying Community Response officers are patrolling the area.

Cressy added the bridge was a long time coming, and is a lifeline for the community.

“It connects the growing and booming neighbourhood of Liberty Village to King West,” he said, “where [residents can] get on the streetcar and where they take the kids to school.”

The councillor said they are working on getting a mural painted on the concrete to beautify the bridge as well.

With files from Jessica Bruno

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