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Johnson Street Bridge – May 6th Council Update [video]

It seems a long time since council last met to discuss options for the Blue Bridge, now it appears the process will move forward at a rather rapid pace. On February 18th City of Victoria Council decided to seek like on like (apples to apples as they determine it) refurbishment vs replacement technical details and costs, then conduct a public engagement campaign before council itself makes a final decision. After that, the issue will be put to a referendum – that was suggested as October, now set for late November.

Johnson Street Bridge - Photo: Miroslaw Paprotny

May 6th the Governance and Priorities Committee received an update from City of Victoria Assistant Director of Engineering Mike Lai on the technical progress to date, along with the public engagement/information process from Katie Josephson, Director of Communications.

The verbal presentation set a time line for the next reports to Council, and the potential time line and process further to that, depending on decisions. Mike Lai stated the technical and engineering reports, which include updated bridge replacement costs, as well as the refurbishment technical and cost details, would be available by June 1st.

Katie Josephson noted the initial stage of the baseline survey, an Ipsos Reid phone questionnaire to Victoria residents, has been completed, and a similar phone survey is being conducted for businesses. 600 residents were contacted, and 200 businesses will be questioned. Those results will be available by May 20th – after which council will receive the results. The survey results, along with the technical reports, cost outlines, options and renderings will determine how the public engagement process shapes over the summer.

Talking after the presentation with Mike Lai and Katie Josephson, the expectation is that the final decision will have to be made by council in late August or early September to allow time for drafting a borrowing bylaw, obtaining approval from the Province and allowing the required 80 days notice for a late November referendum.

Questions from councillors offered a few interesting points. Geoff Young questioned the need for a separate pedestrian/bike bascule (which demonstrated some confusion by the entire council on what they agreed to in February), and received a confirmation that all options (such as rail/no rail – 3rd bascule or not) will receive separate costings. Councillor Young later raised one of John Luton’s previous points – regarding reducing the bridge car lanes to two from three, allowing for the deck to be refurbished for safe cycle traffic. That proves to be interesting – both Councillor Luton and Mike Lai suggested a report by the engineering group MMM deemed that impossible, yet speaking to Mike Lai afterwords he noted there is no documented study on what would happen if the bridge was reduced to two lanes, simply a quick review by engineers. Mayor Dean Fortin seemed to cut off any further consideration of car lane reductions.

If the baseline survey determines that cost is the most prevalent concern of residents and businesses, then surely seeking the lowest cost option should be a priority. Reducing the bridge to two lanes, with a refurbished deck suitable for cyclists, would allow the current rail line to remain (that also appears to be a council priority), and negate the requirement for what is potentially an expensive 3rd bascule.

The Burrard St. Bridge in Vancouver is an appropriate example of ‘belief’ vs reality. It required an imaginative and inquisitive council to go against their own city engineering reports, and outrage from drivers and businesses to conduct a real life experiment, and prove to everyone reducing lanes would not cause gridlock.

Wikipedia – On May 31, 2005, a detailed engineering and planning report was presented to Council, reviewing the situation broadly, presenting alternatives, and offering recommendations. (Its computer visualizations of various proposals [esp. pp. 8–12—notably p. 8—and Appendix E] are indispensable illustrations to the discussion. See [5])
That day Vancouver City Council voted 10-1 not to follow the recommendations of the report, but to reallocate the two curb-side lanes to cyclists for another trial, as part of Council’s plan to increase cycling in Vancouver by 10% for the 2010 Winter Olympics. [  ]

In Nov. 2008 the current Council, which advocated widening the bridge, was defeated and replaced by a new mayor and Council opposed to the widening but supportive of lane reallocation from vehicles to cyclists. In late January 2009, in an economic downtown and anticipating the 2010 Winter Olympics, the City announced plans for trials of three kinds of auto traffic lane closings, allowing bicycle use of the road surface. This would be supplemented by safety upgrades. [  ]

Regarding effects on three kinds of traffic: two weeks into the trial, the City of Vancouver released a data report showing daily bicycle travel across the bridge had increased by an average of 30%. The same report indicated little change in pedestrian trips, a slight drop in motor vehicle trips, but no change in motor vehicle travel times between 12th Avenue and Georgia Street along Burrard via the bridge

According to Vancouver’s own statistics, they has been an increase of up to 70% for cycle traffic, little increase in pedestrian, and hardly any change in vehicle volume. There is little impact on congestion.

So – if we are seeking truly viable and cost effective options for the Johnson Street Bridge, should the City of Victoria take the time to thoroughly evaluate lane reduction? Surely, that must be explored.

Video – Governance and Priorities Meeting May 6th 2010

6 comments to Johnson Street Bridge – May 6th Council Update [video]

  • Lloyd Skaalen

    This is the key wording from the preamble: “Reducing the bridge to two lanes, with a refurbished deck suitable for cyclists, would allow the current rail line to remain (that also appears to be a council priority), and negate the requirement for what is potentially an expensive 3rd bascule.”

    In fact, I would suggest that the bridge be made one way (inbound) each morning and (outbound) each evening for automobiles; the Bay Street Bridge can handle the additional traffic if some changes are made to Tyee cross traffic for those same time periods with Wilson and Catherine streets picking up some of that short term re-routing.

    Whatever bridge option is chosen, refurbishment or replacement, that commuter rail potential must remain.

  • Dennis Robinson

    Are the results of the Ipsos Reid poll of 600 residents, and 200 businesses going to have more influence than the 9,872 voters who were polled through the petition process 4 months ago?

    If the city is still determined to replace rather than refurbish, then the questions asked and the various cost options offered, will be worded in their favour. As they say, “Don’t ask a question you don’t want to hear the answer to”.

    It looks like the process will now move ahead in a rapid pace reminiscent of the summer of 2009.

  • A recent article on the Johnson Street Bridge written by the Times Colonist’s staff writer Bill Cleverley, first appeared in the online version of the Vancouver Sun on May 6 with credit to that writer, but without credit to him the next day in the print version of the Times Colonist.

    It suggested that Victoria City Council will first get a look at an Ipsos Reid poll on 600 Victoria residents and 200 businesses ‘on their understanding of the bridge issue and the preferred public-consultation process’ when the report will be presented to Council on May 20.

    It is unclear if the public will see the report at that time, but ‘the information will be available June 1,’ says the TC version.

    ‘After receiving that information, the City will consult the public on the preferred option before deciding whether to replace or refurbish,’ according to the Cleverley article.

    Somehow, despite all these efforts to appear to be consulting the Victoria electorate again to discern their secret thoughts on the fate of this beloved heritage bridge, somehow I just can’t help but think that this Ipsos Reid survey following our overwhemingly successful counter-petition victory, followed by yet more consultation on the preferred option ‘before deciding whether to replace or refurbish’ is nothing more than a type of play acting by Victoria City Council, a pretense of due process which will not at al deter them from their own preferred option to demolish and replace the old bridge.

    The evidence provided by Sam Williams’ excellent reportage on this scandal in the latest number of FOCUS magazine also seems to suggest that Delcan’s vice president Mark Mulhill and the City of Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge project manager Mike Lai and his staff were concerned not to appear to be involved in a conflict of interest by their obvious preferment of the replacement option, but that eventually they somehow managed to convince themselves, their staffs and the impressionable and half-asleep Council that they weren’t in a conflict.

    But it appears to me that it is obvious beyond any reasonable doubt that Delcan’s Mr. Mulhill, the City of Victoria’s engineer Mr. Lai and their supporting staff are in fact all in an apparent conflict of interest that cannot be denied, that they have not given the Council objective professional advice and that as long as they are involved is such an apparent conflict, the professional advice they are giving the Council is questionable, to say the least.


  • Rebecca Kennel

    Commuter rail requires a double track. . . there is never any mention of this in discussions about the rail section of the bridge. If commuter rail is brought into downtown, as far as I know, the present single rail track would not work. I hope the engineers look at this so that we don’t end up with an expensive single track (new or refurbished) that doesn’t meet commuter rail requirements.

  • After September 1, we won’t have Sonya Chandler to kick around anymore, as she will have quit her salaried job on Victoria City Council, ‘halfway through her second term,’ as Kim Wested puts it in the Victoria Times Colonist today, Saturday, May 29, 2010.

    I suggest in no uncertain terms that this quitting can be likened to that of the infamous Sarah Palin to our north, who also quit her post half-way through, thus both women have disappointed the foolish people who voted for them in the first place.

    Is Sonya Chandler the first Victoria City Councilor to be crushed by the loud KLUNK made by our Johnson Street Bridge counter petition victory?