City admin sides with pedestrians in footbridge fracas

UPDATED APRIL 8 Whitehorse city councillors spent close to three hours last night listening to the pleas of residents who want to keep offroad vehicles off Rotary Centennial Bridge.

UPDATED APRIL 8

Whitehorse city councillors spent close to three hours last night listening to the pleas of residents who want to keep offroad vehicles off Rotary Centennial Bridge.

Of 18 delegates who spoke at the committee meeting, 17 were in favour of retaining the Riverdale bridge’s pedestrian-only status. The polarizing issue attracted so many people that council chambers were packed for most of the evening.

Council heard from Riverdale residents, members of Vanier Catholic Secondary School’s justice club, the Active Trails Whitehorse Association, the Whitehorse Bird Club and others.

Tony Gonda’s comments elicited laughter after he asked council to imagine its peaceful chambers invaded by noisy machines.

“Can you imagine a motorcycle coming in here right now,” he said, “or into the Sistine Chapel?”

An administrative report presented to city council last night also recommends keeping ATVs and snowmobiles off the bridge.

It also proposes improving public education about the best way to use trails on the east side of the Yukon River.

The report states there isn’t enough public support to consider changing the bridge’s designation to accommodate offroad vehicle users.

Moreover, doing so would go against the desires of the original supporters of the bridge project: the three Whitehorse Rotary clubs, Yukon Energy Corporation, the Riverdale Community Association and Father Jean-Marie Mouchet.

The recommendation comes almost two years after the issue was first brought to city administration’s attention.

City councillors will vote on the matter next week. Dave Stockdale has already made it clear he will support the status quo. He made the remark last night, flouting the rule that councillors are supposed to withhold judgment until debate is complete at committee meetings.

“I’ve been told so many times that I don’t follow procedure,” he said, “but for this issue it’s so obvious what I’m going to vote. Now I have to wait another week before expressing my opinion and it just grinds me up inside.”

Coun. John Streicker encouraged Stockdale to remain open to debate before reaching a final decision on the issue next week.

Mayor Dan Curtis said it was unprofessional to voice an opinion during a committee meeting.

“We have to wait for all the debate to be over before reaching a decision,” he said.

“Am I leaning a certain way on this issue? Absolutely.

“Am I going to tell you which way? Of course not.”

Coun. Mike Gladish admitted that he’s still on the fence when it comes to whether or not to allow motorized vehicles on the bridge.

“I have a dilemma,” he said. “And I need to know if this is really a problem.”

Council’s other option is to change the bridge’s designation to allow offroad vehicles, develop a code of conduct and increase bylaw presence to enforce it.

Riverdale’s offroad vehicle users argue the bridge is the only available means for them to access trails on the far side of the river. Other residents, however, worry that allowing motorized vehicles on the bridge would spoil the tranquility found along one of the city’s most popular pedestrian trails, and that it could pose a safety hazard.

The bridge, which opened in July 2005, will celebrate its 10th anniversary this summer.

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com

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