The Charles H. Hiscott bridge, also known as the Overlea bridge, is used by the majority of students on their commute to Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute and Valley Park Middle School. First built in 1960, the 427-metre-long and $13 million bridge designed by Frank Barber has connected communities in Toronto [1]. Students walk to school through the narrow pedestrian lanes on the bridge, which has recently proven problematic.

During the pandemic, parents became increasingly worried about their children crossing a crammed bridge in a densely populated neighbourhood [2]. In order to take action, parents signed a petition to “reimagine” the bridge, a story that was covered by CBC News. When MGCI administrators saw the article, they decided to support the students and take action themselves.

The Reckoner has previously published a few articles about the school’s effort to fix the Overlea bridge. One particular article discussed how the school became involved [3]. Students met with MP Rob Oliphant, MPP Kathleen Wynne, and Councillor Jaye Robinson to discuss how they can push for change [4]. After final discussions, there were several requirements for the bridge: a capacity for 20 000 vehicles per day, a pedestrian and bike lane, and barriers to prevent accidents and suicide. [5].

In order to engage students and push for local change, Mr. Langford’s technological design class became involved in November 2020. A previous article from The Reckoner, “Bridging Towards a Safer Future”, contains a more detailed explanation of the contest [6]. Students used Bridge Designer 2016 to design an affordable bridge that could bear the weight of its users. Mr. Langford and Ms. Cordova helped organize the contest, consulting many different teachers, students, politicians, community members, and firms for advice.

“The most rewarding part was getting to know the parents, the students, the community members, and bringing them all together. It was an experience for them to be able to communicate their frustration in a meaningful way and address it to those policy decision-makers,” said Ms. Cordova. “That was our purpose: to get families and the community members into this discussion and have an impact on the community.”

Bridges were constructed using Bridge Designer 2016, and judging criteria included stability under a specified load and financial costs. The award selection was difficult, as many creative ideas were presented. There were four division awards—one for each grade—and the top two designs in each category were recognized. Students worked through hundreds of iterations to create an optimal design, with some spending weeks on their projects.

“The most fun was the live leaderboard. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” said Selvahini Kamalarajan, the second-place winner in the Grade 10 division. “It made us strive to push ourselves and do better.”

Design contest awards ceremony. Photo by Bala Venkataraman.

Winners of the design contest were announced at the awards ceremony during the morning of December 3, beginning at 10 am. Ward 16 Councillor and Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, as well as TDSB Superintendent Andrew Howard, arrived to present awards. Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong presented the Grade 9 and 10 awards, and Superintendent Howard presented the Grade 11 and 12 awards. The results are as follows:

Grade 9

First place: Aruzoo Farhadi and Neda Siddiqi

Second place: Don Tran

Grade 10

First place: Andy Chai

Second place: Selvahini Kamalarajan

Grade 11

First place: Abdulbasit Mohammed

Second place: Muhammad Asif

Grade 12

First place: Abdulrahman Mohammed

Second place: Andy Chai

Congratulations to all participants who submitted their designs, volunteers, and community members for their support and work. A special thanks to Mr. Langford, Ms. Cordova, Ms. Roberge, Ms. Sawh, Ms. Woodley, Ms. Ammar, Ms. Carey, and Mr. Seenath for their role in engaging and organizing the school contest. We would also like to thank MP Rob Oliphant, MPP Kathleen Wynne, Councillor Jay Robinson, Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong, and Superintendent Andrew Howard for their dedication. 

The public consultation meeting regarding changes to the Overlea Bridge will take place early in 2022.

 

Citations

[1]https://leasidelife.com/leaside-viaduct-enters-its-10th-decade/ 

[2]​​https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/thorncliffe-park-parents-overlea-boulevard-bridge-reimagine-physical-distancing-children-1.5798638 

[3]https://www.thereckoner.ca/the-overlea-bridge-campaign/ 

[4]https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/marc-garneau-collegiate-high-school-students-design-changes-overlea-bridge-1.5904923 

[5]https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-suicide-prevention-bridge-barriers-1.4662464 

[6]https://www.thereckoner.ca/bridging-towards-a-safer-future/