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.
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 )
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.