Someone set Toronto's brand new Liberty Village pedestrian bridge on fire this weekend
It took roughly ten years, from approval to completion, for the City of Toronto to finally give Liberty Village its long-awaited (and desperately needed) pedestrian/cyclist bridge — and only seven months, give or take, for someone to try and destroy it.
Residents of the densely-packed west end Toronto neighbourhood were alarmed and dismayed on Friday evening to see flames shooting up from the brand new bridge over Metrolinx's Kitchener rail corridor.
Rumours began swirling almost immediately on Facebook that, as one member of the Liberty Village Residents Association (LVRA) put it, an "encampment [had] burned down" under the structure's north end.
While the neighbourhood has indeed struggled with encampment fires outside a local respite centre in recent years, police don't believe that this most-recent blaze was caused accidentally by someone trying to keep warm.
Rather, the Toronto Police Service revealed on Saturday that the incident was being investigated as an act of arson.
According to TPS, officers responded to a call for fire at the King-Liberty Pedestrian Cycle Bridge just before 8 p.m. on Friday, November 19.
Police say that "an amount of combustible material" had been found beneath the bridge, right next to the structure's northern elevator bay, and that "a man approached this area and set the material on fire."
Video footage of a man approaching the bridge was released by police on Saturday with a plea for assistance from members of the public to help identify the suspect.
The bridge sustained "significant damage" as a result of the blaze and was closed off to the public on Friday night. As of Monday morning, it remains inaccessible.
Investigators have, however, arrested a suspect in connection with the case: Vincze Laszlo, 28, of Scarborough, has been charged with Arson Causing Damage to Property, Common Nuisance, Mischief Over $5,000 and Possession of Incendiary Material, according to police.
What many locals now want to know is "why?" Why would anyone set fire to a bridge that had only just opened in April after many, many years of delay?
TPS Const. David Hopkinson told CTV this weekend that police believe the aforementioned "combustible materials" may have "been the belongings of some of the people that may visit that area frequently."
Fortunately, nobody was injured due to the fire — but the story could have ended differently.
"There may have been some homeless people staying or seeking shelter in that area," said Hopkinson. "If maybe one of them had been asleep, this could have been so tragic."
It is of note that the bridge has become a source of great controversy within Liberty Village over the past few months, especially since colder temperatures have hit.
Residents have complained of finding drug paraphernalia, garbage and graffiti inside the elevator vestibules on both sides of the north-south bridge between Western Battery Road and Duoro Street.
Some have also complained of feeling unsafe as people experiencing homelessness use the indoor parts of the bridge structure for shelter.
@joe_cressy you promised a SAFE pedestrian bridge between King Street-liberty village. Why aren't you keeping that promise? If not for a warning from a passer-by, a very pregnant woman would have taken the elevator right into a crack deal at the bottom. FIX THIS. ITS YOUR JOB— Audra R (@audrar) November 3, 2021
For now, locals are simply mourning the loss of a long-awaited access point to King from the middle of Liberty.
Prior to the opening of the new King-Liberty Pedestrian Cycle Bridge, residents could only exit and enter the neighbourhood's northern border through Atlantic Avenue and Strachan Avenue — a substantial stretch for those on foot looking to catch a King streetcar each morning.
"It was nice while it lasted," wrote one person in the LVRA Facebook group with a photo of the closed-off bridge on Saturday.
"ELEVEN YEARS we waited. Walked the LONG way," wrote another.
Barriers remain in place around the bridge as city engineers evaluate the condition of the bridge and the extent of structural repairs needed.
"Further inspections are required and are being coordinated as quickly as possible," said city spokesperson Alex Burke to the CBC on Sunday night.
"Here's how the aftermath of the bridge fire looks from across the tracks," wrote one LVRA member sharing a photo of the aftermath on Sunday. "Bet that's gonna be a messy cleanup."
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