Sunday, December 19, 2010

Following Transit

As debate starts to heat up around Victoria's regional rapid transit plans, looking back at the experience and coverage of transit issues in other cities will be useful to inform the discussion.

The Tyee covered the choices between rail and bus rapid transit systems in Vancouver, noting the performance of streetcars during the Vancouver Winter Olympics last February.

Victoria and Saanich councils have both endorsed rail based, light rapid transit systems as the preferred option, and the story helps to explain some of the reasons why what makes sense elsewhere is a good model for us to follow at home.

You can read the story here:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Green Buildings, Cycling and Transit

Just finished up making comments to the U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Neighbourhood Design. Sent my ideas for better defining their bicycle parking standards, contributions to cycling networks and quality of transit services serving developments. Hope it adds some value to their public comment process.

Find it at:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rapid transit and the evolution of our streets

Council recently endorsed Douglas St. as the preferred corridor a new rapid transit service connecting downtown with Uptown and the Westshore.  Transit will see dramatic improvements while pedestrians and cyclists can also expect some enhancements too.  Not so happy are some of those who believe that the reduction in vehicle lanes and on-street parking will destroy downtown business.  Some business fear that their customers will disappear and other voices decry the "war on the car". 

The development of the transit project has been evolving over the last couple of years, with extensive consultation involving the many stakeholders in the community that will be affected by the change.  Public protest notwithstanding, business has been consulted through surveys and the many open house events, all well advertised, and presenting ample opportunity for business owners and the public to get engaged.

Transit planners and city council are well aware of the concerns and have listened to feedback on the issues facing downtown business and the customers they rely on.  Highway congestion, growing density downtown and a need for more office and commercial space demands new approaches to transportation in the region and the transit plan is an important and positive step forward.

Future blog entries will share more of the research analyzing transit options and the work that has gone into developing this plan.

If there is a "war on the car", we are still losing - vehicle dependence is still growing in the region.  Walking for transportation has been dropping, mostly due to school consolidation.  Bicycle trips have jumped significantly, but still account for less than 10% of commuter trips in the region, though the share of traffic in the urban core is still higher than in any other city in North America.  Transit use is edging upwards, but more and significant investments are needed to attract people out of their cars.  It's not a "war", but we do need to provide people with more and better choices - it's an environmental imperative.  We don't have the space to accommodate more and more cars and the threats posed by climate change demand that we shift our choices to more sustainable modes.

The fear that businesses will lose customers is a more substantive issue than the overblown rhetoric about the attack on poor Hummer drivers.  We do need to be sure to share the thoughtful analysis that has gone into planning for a more transit oriented corridor into downtown.  Space for cars and on-street parking, however, is much less important to consumers than business assumes, and for many of them, the changes coming will be positive, if not profitable.

Let's start with a recent study out of Toronto, where bike lanes have been proposed for Bloor St., one of the city's key commercial arteries.  One of the key features of the new Douglas St. will be more robust bicycle lanes, often a target for some who would sacrifice bike facilities to preserve space for parking or vehicle lanes.  Transit isn't trying to dislodge people off of their bikes, rather we are trying to get people out of their cars, so disenfranchising cyclists would be counterproductive to the objectives of the project.  Besides, cyclists, no less than anyone else, are coming downtown to work, to shop or be entertained, and they are using the same routes and headed for the same destinations that everyone else is.  "Complete streets" that accommodate everyone are essential to a balanced and effective transportation system - preserving priority for vehicles is neither equitable nor sustainable.

The Toronto study is useful in at least challenging some of the misconceptions about business, their customers, and the impacts of changing street design on travel and shopping habits.  It's an interesting read for anyone looking for more background on what the future of Douglas might look like.

Here's a link to the study, and watch for more blog postings on my site:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Failure of credibility

It's probably safe to assume that more people read Focus Magazine than read my blog, so many of those reading here may be familiar with the endless downplaying of seismic risks for our now condemned bridge (by virtue of the referendum vote of just better than 60% giving us the borrwoing authority we need to build a new one).  Their latest issue suggests there is no need to protect our bridge because much of downtown will be rubble anyway.

That's incorrect, since all new construction and many older buildings supported by heritage property tax holidays are being protected to current building code levels, so, as was the case in Chile (Focus must think we are Haiti), damage will be more limited, life safety better protected, and our ability to recover more resilient.

There's lots more fault to find with Focus now, and then (during their long campaign against the new bridge), but for the time being, at least, one interesting read is an article from the Globe and Mail's Report on Business detailing some of the concerns of the insurance industry with respect to how well we are prepared for a major quake, which they also note is likely to hit the west coast sometime in the not too distant future.

An opening note in the article remarks on the need to upgrade critical infrastructure, including bridges,  to withstand a major seismic event.  My research, reported elsewhere on this blog or at my website, covered the issue from a couple of perspectives - bridges are at the top of the priority list of critical infrastructure and investing in protection or mitigation provides net positive benefits are two topics covered in some detail.

Now that the citizens, well enough informed I think, have endorsed the project, we are working towards covering off that one critical link in our own transportation network that will help protect life safety, ensure emergency response and other critical services have access to intact infrastructure, and provide for recovery in the event of an earthquake.

While Focus now suggests that the process and the decision are tainted by a "failure to inform", the real failure here is one of credibility.  There hasn't been much of value there on the issue of what potential threats we face in Victoria from a major earthquake, but just in case you haven't read enough, here's the Globe article:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More on the sustainable city

Janette Sadik-Khan, visionary transportation commissioner in New York City, is profiled in this Esquire story.  "What's important locally?", you might ask.  The details of her transformation of the streets of New York are informative for any city, and the ambitious expansions of bike lanes and pedestrian spaces are models of what we can be too.  Some of it is already happening (our new bridge, for example, won't disenfranchise drivers, by the way, but it will provide dramatic improvements for cyclists and pedestrians).  More is coming and the change will be welcome.

Tax shifting and municipal spending

Municipalities have been picking up the tab to fight federal and provincial deficits for years.  Federal governments have been withdrawing support for affordable housing and the provinces have been dumping mental health and addiction issues out onto the streets of cities across the country.

At council I push back at one colleague often enough. one who consistently votes against municipal investments in housing, steadfastly holding firmly to his principle that this is a job for the province and the federal government.  We've been in a housing crisis long enough.  I'll continue to argue that our constituents don't care which level of government gets the job done, they just want more action on housing on homelessness.

We've been the catalyst for some innovative programs aimed at increasing the supply of market housing, as well as funding partners in new projects to build affordable housing or, as was the case with our recent acquisition of two hotel properties, taking advantage of immediate opportunities to secure other housing options for some of our more disadvantaged citizens.  We have to get beyond petty debates about whose job it is, and just get the job done.

To be fair, both provincial and federal governments in BC have come to our aid.  We could not have done this by ourselves.  Still, it has been, for Victoria, a much more proactive and responsive agenda we've been pursuing to tackle the scourge of homelessness, a challenge that has been consistently identified by voters as a top of mind issue.

The entry of local and regional governments into the housing field has been sometimes more incremental over the several years that critical analysts are again focused upon in their camapign to promote the fiction that municipal government spending is out of control.  It isn't and we've heard the same story before.

The fact that the spending trends are outpacing inflation and population growth across the board, sometimes, ironically, as is the case in the Capital Region, with more right leaning local governments seeming to be growing spending faster than those of us seen to be on the left, suggests that there is more to the spending growth than irresponsible governanance.

None of us likes spending more than we have to in order to deliver the services citizens expect from their municipal governments.  Sometimes they are even more than willing to pay the difference. The Capital Region has a parks acquisition levy that passed several years ago with overwhelming voter endorsement.

Those other incremental costs, the shifting responsibilities for housing, and for many local governments, what used to be provincial roads, or any number of other tangible assets we own that now face us as the "infrastructure deficit", are adding costs to municipal budgets.  The shell game going on in the background is the tax shift.  The province and the feds have been running successfully on a tax cutting agenda - an appealing platform for any beleagured taxapapyer.  Most of the responsiblities for public services are still there, it's just who does the work and how is it paid for that has been changing.

Dissecting a pattern of tax shifts and spending reallocations from one level of government to another would be a more honest analysis of your tax burden, who is pinching your harder and who is spending how much and what for.  Municipal governments provide a good product at a fair price and its still a bargain, despite what the critics are saying.  You aren't paying more for less, you are just "paying Peter, instead of Paul".

Local governments will be spending time over the next few months fine tuning their budgets, and they do so at meetings open to the public.  It may not be as entertaining as the latest movie or as important to your day as picking up the groceries or taking the kids to soccer, but it's worth coming down to watch the process at city hall sometime.  We'll be at the table early and often in the new year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And now what . . .

For most of the last two years the Johnson St. Bridge has drawn the attention of council and the community while we worked, sometimes awkwardly it seems, to reach the point now where the path forward is clear and new tasks will be undertaken.

A strong endorsement of the city's request for our financing plan puts to rest the debate over saving the old or building something new.  Last Saturday's referendum generated a turnout, high enough by municipal standards, and clear enough with just over 60% support, to signal that our citizens have trusted that the work done to date on the key issues facing the city has pointed us in the right direction.

A new bridge has always been the most practical and sustainable choice.  The cost of restoring, and especially maintaining, the old bridge, have always been unpalatable, and too fraught with uncertainty.  The opportunities provided by building new too important to defer for the decades we might have extracted from the Blue bridge. 

It will be designed to withstand the most serious of earthquakes, an important consideration in Canada's most seismically vulnerable city.  It will incorporate the resilience of newer, more durable, and more sensible mechanics and electronics that will last a century.  Perhaps most significantly, it will democratize transportation for generations to come.  Nowhere in the capital is it more important to retool our infrastructure to better support cycling and walking.  And it will unfold in a manner that protects and supports a vibrant downtown that is the centrepiece of our regional economy.

We have much work to do.  Detailed design and the hands on work that will piece together the new bridge will begin in earnest soon.  We'll be watching every step, as will those excited by the new bridge and those who feel the loss of the old bridge more acutely.  They too, have spoken and we will do well to find ways to celebrate the eventual passing of the old bridge, seek opportunities to repurpose elements of the structure or preserve some of its history in our public art.

There is much else to be done.  Sometimes more quietly it seems, we have made much progress on issues of homelessness and housing.  We are inching forward on the sewage issue.  Building a vision of our future and shoring up the walkable and bike friendly villages across the city is hustling along through our community planning process.  Regional transportation, where we play a central role, is getting a makeover with new options for public transit to emerge in the new year.  There is so much more on the go.

And all the while, the exciting evolution of our new bridge will unfold before our eyes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Answers and Questions

Without rancor, here are some comments on the Vote No op-ed in today's Times Colonist.

The city has pursued the most cost effective option to deal with the Johnson St. Bridge.  The $30 million quoted in the article is a Class D estimate, which does not include quantity surveys or project details.  Class D estimates are at 30% of design while the more detailed work that goes into a Class C estimate provides typically 70% of design.  Class C is a better estimate of costs since it doesn't just identify what work needs to be done, but details more how it will proceed.  Critics of the new bridge know this and have thus far refused to acknowledget that they understand the difference.

The one year closure necessary for refurbishment is unrelated to the scope of the project, simply a requirement to protect the waterway from the lead-based paint that will have to be blasted off of the old bridge.  This cannot be done in place for this kind of movable bridge that opens and closes several times a day.  Imagine the cost escalation associated with mounting and dismantling scaffolding several times a day on the premise that this could preserve the functionality of the crossing during repairs.

Repair does not save money.  San Francisco's Third St. Bridge was a different project than ours.  It is a single bridge span that required only seismic work on one of two piers.  I spoke to the project manager in San Francisco who said that he told the bridge preservation campaign not to use their bridge for comparison; that every bridge is unique and must be assessed individually.  Why do the critics continue to hide from this advice and misrepersent the facts? 

The LaSalle Causeway Bridge project in Kingston was managed by the same engineers who are developing our project.  It was also funded by the same federal government that has committed $21 million to our bridge project.  The engineers wrote to detailing differences between the two projects.  This is information they don't want you to see.  For their investment, the federal government does due diligence on the projects they fund.  They've accepted our proposal and support a scope of work that critics suggest are superfluous.  "Cutting costs" will end up costing Victoria taxpayers more if we lose that funding.

The old bridge, if preserved, will cost twice as much to maintain, year after year after year.  How is that the affordable option?  A bridge in Saskatoon that got the "cheap fix" for a 20 year life actually only lasted 4 years.  That bridge is now closed.  How do we price that risk?

The scope of repairs spelled out in the Class D estimate that the critics are attached to would compromise the heritage of the bridge by cladding the lattice work in plate steel.  While preserving elements of heritage, it would be a different bridge than the one we know today.

The new bridge is not an experiment.  The design and technology are proven and much more sensible than the current design.  A similar design, at least for some of the mechancics of the new bridge, was the bridge Victoria should have chosen in 1922, according to the engineer who did the peer review.

Frills that critics want to cut include a harbour walkway that will be paid for from the city's capital reserves by shifting funding from other phases of the city's harbour greenway - a project developed with extensive public consultation and endorsed by citizens.  It makes sense to complete this piece in conjunction with the new bridge project, saving money and minimizing disruptions.  Other "frills" that critics now want jettisoned included improvements for cycling, walking and a better level of service for people with mobility challenges.  These are essential to shifting our transportation choices to more sustainable modes and are a must do element of the project.  Without them, funding from the federal government is at risk and the project cannot qualify for gas tax funding endorsed by the CRD.  They also help us meet commitments to action on climate change and a regional growth strategy supported by all municipalities in the capital region.  I do not conside those commitments to be dispensable.

The rail right of way will be preserved and the city is seeking regional funding.  Is it fair to load the cost of that regional piece onto the taxpayers of Victoria alone?  How will a rail link across the bridge serve if the region and the province do not invest in the other upgrades the rest of the line requires?

Seismic upgrading is required to secure federal funding and protect our investment.  The $10 million saving notionally attached to a reduced seismic standard will not be enough to retrofit the Bay St. Bridge where a more comprehensive and expensive project would likely have to be mounted.  Please explain how we save money by doing two bridges, one of which is in satisfactory condition?  Is it ok to spend whatever it takes, as long as the Blue Bridge is saved?

The city's engineering consultants have met with local suppliers to discuss the new bridge and there is local interest and capacity to bid on the project.  If the steel for a new bridge is imported, where does the steel for repair come from?

The city has retired debts that provide the borrowing room necessary to fund the replacement project.  There is a financial plan for our infrastructure.  Over the next 20 years, Victoria will invest $750 million in infrastructure.  Refurbishment is risky and costly and we would have to borrow, likely more, to fund that project, especially if we lose funding from the federal government or don't qualify for gas tax funding.

The city has continued to maintain the bridge to the extent possible.  Repairs or replacement of obsolete electrical and mechanical features are not feasible without disassembling the bridge and the focus of city engineers was to first complete a condition assessment, provide advice to council and move forward on a clear decision.  The peer review confirmed that the existing bridege was not built to be maintained, partly because material design at the time of its construction was predictably not as well advanced as that available today.  The seismic vulnerability of the bridge has no relationship whatsoever to maintenance of the bridge.

Council's decision followed a condition assessment that identified the poor shape of the bridge, the challenge of refurbishment, the costs associated with both options before us and the need to act with some urgency to protect the city against the consequences of possible closure.  For our taxpayers, it would have been irresponsible of council to ignore the availability of funding partnerships to help support any project.  The additional public engagement that has taken place over the last several months has confirmed that, given complete information, our citizens prefer replacement.

The city's advisory committee provides technical advice to staff and would be poorly served by turning it into an arena for a political debate.  Process cannot instruct the city to be negligent and does not change the condition of the bridge.

The critic's choice for minimizing closures continues to be a non-starter, information that has been provided both to the public and their organization.  Night work would be intolerably disruptive to downtown neighbourhoods and residential and hotel developments in Vic West.  The city could face liability costs, especially if that plan affected businesses.  How is that cost effective?  Night work also entails a significant cost premium to address overtime or shift work, as well as the safety of working in the dark.  Early estimates pegged that cost at more than $5 million.  How is that more affordable?

The op-ed again proposes that cycling and pedestrian facilities can be improved in a cheaper, reduced scope project.  Most cyclists who actually use the bridge understand what is proposed and will be voting for a new bridge.  Myself, I've been working with the city for more than a decade on developing improvements that have provided some help to cyclists, but we have reached the service limits the old bridge can provide.  Show me what successful cycling or walking projects you have supported, advanced, developed or designed in the Capital Region, if any.  I can show you a few that I've been involved in and, with all due respect, I've seen your plans, and they don't work.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An apology to Ross Crockford

You'll find an apology on my facebook page and some of my recent posts edited.  Ross Crockford, who I targeted in some of my comments, suggested it was unbecoming of an elected official, if not more, and I agree.  So I've removed references to accusations of fraud, which is over the top.  The posts remain, I believe, fair comment.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just so you know

Bridge critic Ross Crockford wrote in a recent Monday Magazine article that the Johnson St. Bridge survived an earthquake that hit Victoria in 1946.  That quake's epicentre was at Forbidden Plateau, more than 200 km away.  Research from the 1989 California quake found that the extent of damage recorded reached only 100 km from the epicenter.  More at:

The "No" campaign is lately concerned about the suspected export of jobs that a new bridge might entail if contracts were let to off-shore firms.  By the way, local suppliers and fabricators have been contacted by the city's engineering consultants already to see if we have local capacity.  Some firms have expressed interest.

No word yet from the critics on the job impacts of the year long bridge closure estimated for a refurbishment project that calculates a $13 million dollar impact on downtown businesses.  The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce thinks that figure might be too low.  See their news release at:

Lately saw the "NO" poster that claims to be concerned about "maxing out the city's credit card".  We're about $300 million short of what we could borrow (not that we would at the moment), but how about a little concern about the real costs of keeping the old bridge?  Maintenance after any refurbishment would be twice the cost of the work we'd need to do on a new bridge.  That's about $20 million over the lifespan of the bridge, maybe something less if you don't plan on keeping it for too long.

Kind of inconsistent, though, to talk endlessly about how long these old bridges can be kept in operation forever while calling it unfair to cost out anything that will last more than 30 years.

Just aksing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More bridge fairy tales

Last night I took part in a debate about the Blue Bridge, where suspicions were levelled at the city's engineers and our consultations, and confident projections of a fixed price refurbishment contract that has nothing to do with the practical estimates and the complexity of the project.

Those of us who have worked hard on the evolution of our transportation system to better support cycling and walking know that many of the "fixes" proposed by critics will not work.  The relationship between infrastructure and growth in participation is well documented, (and you'll find some material over at my Capital Bike and Walk site -

The critics appealed a few weeks ago to the CRD to delay consideration of Victoria's request for support of an application for gas tax funds available to local governments to assist in the construction of infrastructure projects that help to shift transportation choices to sustainable modes.  An appeal was made to consider also a refurbishment project, but one that essentially makes no provision for cyclists or pedestrians - they've found, as both myself and our engineering department have been saying, that the improvements they had proposed for cyclists have proven to be unworkable).

What is lacking on the bridge is space and separation from traffic.  Pretty signage and a non-slip surface just won't make any difference.  The funding application for the regional facility, by the way, is a continuation of the Galloping Goose and the in-progress E&N rail trail.  The new bridge provides an expanded shared use pathway more than double the width of the tight quarters that cyclists and pedestrians struggle to share on the rail bridge and generous on-road bike lanes on the road portion of the bridge for commuter cyclists. 

Those on road improvements, it should be noted, are not part of the funding application.  The regional commitment and the only eligible project element is the trail piece.  No trail = no money.  Trail improvements under the refurbishment plan stop at the bridge.  We continue to hear that our plans for the bridge are poorly thought out, but the critics campaigned for a "two lane trial" long before they asked any engineers whether it would work or not.

Here's what you get with a refurbished bridge:  30 more years of this:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The numbers game and the Blue Bridge

Asked about numbers of cyclists on the bridge I responded that I "guessed" an average based on regional counts reported to council on fact sheets prepared by our engineers and communications department.  Turns out someone reversed pedestrians and cyclists on one sheet and, because the inquiring journalist was working to a tight deadline, I didn't have time to chase the source of the error.

It's been blown into a bigger isse than it needs to be, so here's some thoughts on what's really happening on the bridge.

First, it's been noted elsewhere often enough that the bridge needs replacement for a number of reasons, including seismic vulnerability, deterioration of the superstructure and its electrical and mechanical systems, a costly and unproductive repair bill and an unacceptable economic penalty for a project of uncertain benefits. 

A new bridge addresses all of those issues, but offers as well attractive opportunities to improve traffic safety, and provide much higher levels of service for cyclists, pedestrians and those with mobility challenges.  One of the more exciting elements of that service will be an important new link in the city's planned harbour greenway - a piece of the trail that threads through the new bridge and connect to a path that will eventually run from Rock Bay to Ogden point.  It delivers some benefits in more rational land use on both sides of the bridge, and how we take advantage of that opportunity will be the subject of a conversation we need to have with the community as we move forward.

The dust up on numbers has been about how many cyclists are on the bridge every day, and how many there might be in the future.

Transportation systems are designed to carry maximum capacity at peak hours, so while averages and daily counts are useful indicators of volumes, a bridge, a road, a bus, a ferry system of a bike path really need to be ready for high tide.  On a good day there are 4,000 bike trips back and forth across the bridge, demonstrating the determination of people to get to and from the Galloping Goose by bike despite convoluted routing, an uncomfortable ride on the road or an all to narrow and congested sliver of the rail bridge.

That's probably one of the more important numbers to remember in assessing how well the current bridge performs for cyclists in particular.  An incomplete count, off peak hours, in the middle of winter, is not a good metric by which to judge how many cyclists are using the bridge.

The next important numbers will be what the bridge will need to carry.  Cycling and pedestrian traffic has been growing steadily on the bridge over the last several years.  Completion of key sections of the Galloping Goose along Harbour Rd and the arrival of new developments in Vic West are contributing to that growth.  The bridge itself, however, remains a barrier.  Cyclists and pedestrians need more space that will be provided on the trail piece of a new bridge, and on road bike lanes will support numbers more commuter cyclists.

Elsewhere in the region and across North America, the addition of supportive infrastructure has been shown to dramtically increase cycling on improved corridors and facilities.  There is no reason to doubt that completion of a more friendly crossing at the Blue Bridge will do the same here.  The current bridge is not, and cannot, be equipped to absorb that growth.  It will be increasingly less safe and more frustrating for all users.

Critics who insist that better approaches or even just better signage will do the trick simply have no concept of how cycling facilities work and how infrastucture connects to participation.  What's further missing from their understanding of that relationship is the absence of any acknowledgement of the new growth that will be generated by the new trail under construction alongside the E&N railway.  Thousands of new trips are likely to pressure the carrying capacity of the bridge, not to mention the Goose, which already is experiencing user conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians during peak hours.

So while for some, an instance where one set of numbers got turned around is a fatal flaw that must sink the new bridge, it really is just clutching at straws to find something that supports a simple agenda - save the bridge at any cost.  That's a legitimate objective to articulate, but wrapping it up in misleading, if not fraudulent, attacks on the project does a disservice to those who have a genuine sentimental attachment to "Big Blue".  More importantly, it's a myopic view of a complicated and comprehensive project that is informed by so many other factors that, taken as a whole point clearly to the new bridge as our best option.

Our borrowing referendum needs to pass, and with that we can turn not just to building a new bridge, but perhaps too, to how we can celebrate or preserve something of the old one.  It's time for a new landmark and a new era in transportation in Victoria.

The E&N trail is coming:

Can it handle the traffic?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Blue Bridge and the inconvenient truth

Just a couple corrections worth noting as new stories swirl around the media about who said what about the Blue Bridge and what it means.

Only the final report presented to the city by Delcan has any relevance when referencing numbers. Some want to take an impossibly optimistic figure as gospel to the bank and will be convinced that work should have stopped there and a project tendered for that amount.

Some of those same people, of course, argue disingenuously that only new engineering projects have been plagued by runaway cost overruns, deceptive politics and a host of other conspiracies that would never happen on a responsible restoration project.

Old bridges, no less than old houses, will present a range of costly challenges that have, and will, require the kind of detailed analysis ironically forced upon the city by the successful counter-petition campaign that demanded we seek approval for the borrowing we need to undertake to finance the replacement project city council has twice voted to proceed with.

There’s always a cheap fix – if you forget, for a moment, that a bridge still has to function as a bridge. But we can’t simply be curators of a museum or protectors of an artefact. The disconnect was probably best summed up in one survey I read among the several thousand returned to the city last summer. Answering the questions about which project they would prefer, this respondent was emphatic that the city not proceed with a new bridge, that restoring the old bridge was a “great idea”. “Any further comments?”, our survey asked. Yes, said the author, “I never use the bridge.”

I was often asked, when I was a bike mechanic, “how much is a tune-up?”, and I would give a price; but as often would follow up with something like “now let’s look at your bike”.

That’s our bridge, and that’s how our consultants approached the project. Here’s what we think your bridge needs to tune it up and extend its life, and this is how much the sort of project would cost. We’ll give you an estimate for a specific project when we finish our review of your bridge, the work it needs to meet operational, safety and lifecycle requirements, and we answer any questions you have.

The only number of value through that process is the $23.6 million estimated for a particular scope of works associated with refurbishment. Anything before that is incomplete guess work. I’ve lost count of the number of times Focus magazine’s fictional Sam Williams has insisted that I know exactly how many bikes are crossing the bridge every day before I decide on any project. They want to know exactly how much a new bridge will cost, to the penny, not that they would believe the numbers anyway.

When it comes to refurbishment though, they’ll pick a number, any number, and not just those notionally attached to our bridge, but to any bridge fix project that looks too good to be true, and mostly, they are.

Restoration of the 4th St. Bridge in San Francisco, for example, went wildly over budget, and the Ashtabula Bridge in Ohio revealed unforeseen problems that kept the bridge closed for 14 months. Saskatoon’s Traffic Bridge, where a cheap fix meant to extend its life for 20 years, is closed, only 4 years into it’s new lease on life. Here’s the CBC story on that one:

Like several other examples, the option of turning the bridge into a bike and pedestrian bridge only has been raised in Saskatoon, something that just won’t serve our transportation needs at the Blue Bridge crossing in Victoria. I’ve seen a couple of examples of some nice work saving old bridges for bikes and peds, but they are always at locations where the rest of the traffic has viable alternatives that we just don’t have available to us.

Here’s Walnut St. in Chattanooga:

And here’s a nice old bridge in Missoula:

There’s a good long list of other fibs from the bridge preservation campaign and the seismic issues keep on popping up in one spot or another. The most prominent bridge critic, a journalist and historian with a good body of work to his credit has lately said that Victoria was hit by a major earthquake in 1946 and the bridge didn’t fall down. At only 22 years old the then gun-metal grey bridge enjoyed some of the benefits of a newer concrete foundation somewhat more compromised now by another 65 years of pounding by the traffic above and the wash of seawater below.

What’s galling for a historian however, is that his research will have told him that the quake was centred near Courtenay, more than 200 km north of the bridge. It’s not a minor oversight. It’s deliberate misinformation. Focus insists our exposure is no worse than a 6 and we should plan accordingly, despite the incidence of the 7.3, a 6.9 and a 7.1 along the same fault line going back to that quake of ’46. As a matter of public record, those quakes and the ample information on their impacts should make the Focus proposal impossible to defend, but they continue.

Save the bridge campaigners once pointed to Toronto’s Cherry St. Bridge as a fine example of a cheap and easy fix for our bridge, something they seemed to have dropped since I brought back my own pictures of what they got for their $3.6 million. How would this work for you in a real earthquake zone (Toronto might get a few magnitude 4 or so shakes very now and again, barely enough to wake you up from a deep sleep let alone bring bridges or buildings down around you:

There are a million stories floating around the bridge and many blurring the line between facts and fairy tales. These are just a couple, and maybe already more than you want to read. I’ll try and add a few more to the blog over the coming days and weeks as we approach referendum day. Just like the critics insist, you need all the facts before you go to vote.

Friday, October 15, 2010

City goes to bridge borrowing referendum

City Council has again endorsed a new bridge as the best option to address the aging Johnson St. Bridge connecting downtown to neighbourhoods to the west.  It's a critical crossing and an important link in an integrated and diverse regional transportation network.

I've written extensively on my blog and at about the research I've done to inform my vote on this important project.  We need a bridge to the future, not one that preserves the unsustainable design we've had for the last 86 years.  While we work to preserve our heritage, we can't be held hostage to it.

Refurbishing the old bridge would be expensive and disruptive and we'd still have an old bridge that would drain resources for maintenance and operations.  The peer review of both the replacement and refurbishment options confirmed what our engineers and our consultants have been telling us about the condition and the costs we face of either choice.  The new bridge is the most responsible and sustainable choice.

Beyond all of the seismic and structural deficiencies, providing for the many thousands of cyclists and pedestrians who use the bridge daily can't be built into the old bridge. Those numbers are growing fast and will accelerate when a new trail alongside the E&N is completed.  Helping people to make the choice to walk or cycle for many of their transportation needs is critical to the success of many of our regional transportaton objectives and one of our most effective strategies for addressing climate change at the local level.

This is the most critical project in the region, perhaps the most important of any on Vancouver Island.  It is the weak link in a busy cycling transportation network serving many neighbourhoods around Greater Victoria and it is the gateway to a rapidly expanding multi-use trail system that is connecting communities from Victoria to Nanaimo and beyond.  It's a key support for a growing cycling tourism industry that has so much more potential on the Island.

The next step is to make sure all of the funding is in place.  The federal government is kicking in $21 million and the Capital Regional District is endorsing our request for more funding to support the rail and the trail.  (Don't buy the fairy tale that gas tax funds can help pay for refurbishment - only projects that help lower greenhouse gas emissions are eligible and, without improvements to the level of service for cycling in particular, saving the old bridge just won't qualify.)

The city's funding will come from borrowing - it saves our reserves for other capital projects and allows us to finance the project without raising taxes.  A 25 year mortgage on a 100 year asset is a pretty good deal.  The new bridge will serve long after the loan is paid off.

Referendum day is November 20th and I encourage you to get out an vote.  It's important to endorse the borrowing so we can get on with the project.  You can read more at my pages of course, but you can also click on the posting title and connect with the city's bridge page.  There are a numbers of public events where you can find out more about the bridge and the borrowing.  I expect to attend some of them and hope to see  you there.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Low energy housing

Here's a tidbit about "passive housing", a concept in building design that takes advantage of solar, super insulation, appliance generated surplus energy and even body heat to warm and cool a house or a building.

Efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and re-orient our energy consumption to sustainable models are generating innovations in technology and design and this is one of the latest examples.  Click on the title and check out more through the Sightline linked article.

More info on housing, transportation and other urban issues are coming ahead in my blog.  A couple of weeks of conferences in September and a computer meltdown hopefully nearing resolution has put me behind in the news I've been able to share.  There's always lots out there.

And, of course, Victoria's bridge project is in the news with a borrowing referendum pending.  More on the facts and fairy tales coming soon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obsessed with recyling

One of my obsessions is recycling.  Can't throw stuff into the garbage if it can be composted, re-used, pitched into the blue box, taken to my local plastics recycling day, hauled over (by bike trailer of course) to the metal recycler.

The CRD's "Recyclopedia" is a good resource to help you identify what you can recycle with them or help you find other services to responsibly dispose of your waste.

Active transportation and public health

Should be no suprise that cycling and walking for transportation has a positive benefit on individual and community health.  People who walk or bicycle have reduced rates of obesity and a host of other health issues that are increasingly prevalent in our overly sedentary populations.

Victoria, with the highest rates of cycling and walking in Canada, is, not coincidentally, a top tier city for public health - lowest rates of obesity, low prevalaence of heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes etc.

While investments are often the responsibility of local governments, the benefits accrue to the province and federal governments who fund most of our health care services.  With obesity and other impacts of sedentary lifestyles equalling tobacco use as a threat to individual and community health, and a cost burden on our health care system, the value of investments in promoting active transportation are gold.  Those investments earn a high rate of return.

The CBC story linked to this piece focuses on the obesity epidemic, but there are a variety of other health issues related to transportation choices people make every day and the return on investment in infrastructure that supports active transportation is well documented elsewhere.

Prevention is always good medicine, so grab a pair of running shoes or get on your bike.  It's a life sustaining choice.  Listen to your doctor:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Council Chooses New Bridge, Again

Victoria city council cleared another hurdle last Thursday when we voted, again, to replace the Johnson St. Bridge.

I think that those of us who voted in support of the new bridge are mindful of our commitment to heritage in the city, but for me I don't want to be held hostage to it.  As much as we appreciate our history and the unique character of "Big Blue", this is first and foremost, a bridge, not a museum piece to be preserved in perpetuity.

A bridge has to carry traffic, and ours will serve better if it anticipates what traffic will look like in the future.  It won't look like it does today and the old bridge can't adapt.

A consistent theme from our citizens in  Victoria and from users of the bridge, has been the need to make the crossing more sustainable.  It will carry a growing volume of bicycle and pedestrian traffic that the old bridge is ill-equipped to handle.  For many, this is a deal breaker that, given similar costs (at least on the surface), makes the new bridge the only choice.

Critics tried to acknowledge this with a variety of schemes floated in an effort  to respond to deficiencies identified by cyclists and pedestrians.  None of the strategies turned out to be feasible.  In the end, the bridge preservation campaign simply fell back on where they have always been -  it's too expensive to make improvements for cyclists and pedestrians and they should just suck it up and suffer the old bridge for another 20 or 30 years.

To be sure, the starting point for council's decision did not revolve around the traffic design that will now be fixed by a new bridge.  It has always been the deterioration of a bridge that will be almost 90 years old by the time it is decommissioned and, as one engineer commented, "it is more a machine than a bridge", and it has reached the end of its service life.

Electrical and mechanical systems are obsolete and have to be replaced and, despite protestations to the contrary, there are simply no easy solutions to deal with these problems.  The superstructure must be disassembled to get at these systems and the suggestion that half-measures or an easy fix are all that is needed is a convenient myth for those who have no agenda other than to save the old bridge.  That became clear in surveys and polling where some respondents ignored all other issues to emphasize that heritage was the only issue that mattered (costs were irrlevant), and that giving up $21 million in our federal contribution was acceptable if it meant saving the old bridge.

"Barring a major earthquake, this bridge can be saved" is how one of the engineers brought in by the preservation camp to support their campaign put it.  He recognized that the seismic deficiencies of the old bridge were terminal, but spoke to one of the other strategies promoted to hang on to the bridge for another few years.  The Johnson St. Bridge was built to no seismic standard whatsoever, and, as recently as today's Times Colonist,(August 14, 2010) an engineer much more intimately familiar with the structure noted how poorly constructed and badly deteriorated the foundation piers are.  In Canada's most seismically vulnerable city, ditching an earthquake retrofit is not just irresponsible, but potentially an enormous liability for taxpayers that could dwarf the cost of any project.

The preservation camapign shifts from time to time from the "do nothing" strategy to a "cheaper" seismic upgrade that would imperil either a new bridge or a refurbished structure.  Building to a a lower 6.5 magnitude standard would produce some capital savings, but expose the city to tremendous risk.  The 2001 earthquake centered in Washington state was a 6.8 magnitude that could bring ours down, even with some signficant upgrades.  The 6.5 standard would leave the bridge standing (at that magnitude), but make it unusable pending repairs.  With potential economic impacts to downtown amounting to $13 million a year for closures, the insurance premium of the extra protection of an 8.5 standard at $10 million earns a very quick return on investment.

Since day one the bridge preservation folks have ignored function  and jumped from one argument to another, most often in isolation, to try and identify flaws in process (as if that changes the condition of the bridge), or some magical, cheap, silver bullet repair that can save the bridge for pennies.  It just doesn't add up.

We still have our work cut out for us.  A referendum on the borrowing to build the new bridge will go to the voters in November.  A no vote potentially costs a 14% tax increase to pay for the project.  There is no third option.  It's a myth.  None of the various deficiencies or challenges of the old bridge can be viewed in isolation, and no responsible council is going to invest millions in minor repairs and leave the major works alone.  Nevertheless, expect to hear more of the same story over the next couple of months as critics attempt to derail the project.

When the "tough questions" are asked, the critics' case crumbles pretty quickly.  Don't buy the snake oil.  When referendum day comes, get out and vote.  We are going to need our new bridge and this is our best chance now to do it right.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bridge Decisions Loom

Days from now Council will select the replacement or refrubishment option for the Johnson St. Bridge and proceed from that point to a borrowing bylaw and referendum.

A few of my thoughts on what I've been hearing and some responses to some of the comments I'm seeing out there.

Critics of replacement have always emphasized how unique our bridge is.  True enough, but every time I open the newspaper or check the web commentary, our "unique" bridge is just like all the others when it comes to repair or refrbishment.  That's not credible.

Lately, comparisons to the LaSalle Causeway Bridge in Kingston have been making the rounds, and some voices insist that if they could refurbish theirs for $3 million and change, we must be able to do the same.  It's a nice fairy tale but it doesn't add up.  The same Minister of Transportation, along with his staff, reviewed the details of our project and found them convincing enough to offer $21 million for our replacement bridge.  Maybe, just maybe, the analysis turned on the individual projects and not on the cookie cutter fixes critics are raising again as "proof" that our project is over-priced.

 One of the engineers I spoke to in San Francisco, who managed their bridge rehab projects cautioned me specifically against using their bridges as models for any project.  He said that every bridge is unique and needs to be assessed on its specific condition and the scope of work it needs.  He also said he told the same to the bridge preservation campaign, something they conveniently ignored during the counter petition campaign when they repeatedly used the 3rd St. Bridge as an example of how to do a cheap and effective refurbishment.

A couple of the differences with the bridge in Kingston should be instructive for those interested in the staging of repair works, or indeed, just what might be the relative condition of elements of either their bridge or ours, and how that might be relevant to costs.. 

The LaSalle (just one bridge, not two like ours) doesn't have to lift very often.  In fact, it is closed to marine traffic for the winter of course, when the lakeshore and channel are freezing up and no boats are going anywhere.  This enabled them to "bubble wrap" the bridge to keep stripped paint from dropping into the water without impact on marine traffic.  That's a non-starter in Victoria where the Blue Bridge must open several times a day for ships to pass through, so bubble wrapping in place would be logistical nightmare.  You'd have to raise and disassemble scaffolding several times a day for work to proceed.  It would be very difficult logistically to maintain safety and security of scaffolding on the bridge while it was going up and down.

In all likelihood, the relatively lower demand on the bridge from marine users may have extended the life of mechanical and electrical elements.  Suffice to say that the various engineers that have examined our bridge specifically confirm that mechanical and electrical systems are obsolete, face potential failure and should be signficantly upgraded or replaced.  That expense, by the way, is totally absent from the bridge project costing in Kingston.

Kingston, of course, is also not in what you would call a particularly vulnerable eathquake zone, so seismic upgrading planned for the Johnson St. Bridge was not part of the plan for the LaSalle bridge.  The handful of voices suggesting we dispense with seismic work to save money and preserve their beloved Blue Bridge are, at best, infected by wishful thinking.  In truth, that would be irresponsible at one level, and negligent at another.

Even in a low earthquake hazard zone, a bridge did collapse recently in a 5 plus earthqauke centered on the Ontario/Quebec border.  The town of Vla de Bois will take two years to recover from the impacts.  The condition assessment and subsequent analysis of various scenarios, comparisons with other events in our fault zone and our evaluation of legal precedent recommends a seismic upgrade that will protect life and limb, but also ensure we have emergency services access and the wherewithall to rebuild and restore an economy that would be battered by any earthquake event.  Taking shortcuts could expose the city to civil liabilities that would dwarf the cost of any bridge project.

One of the most predictable fallouts of the various challenges posed by a complex and costly refurbishment estimate is the calls to dispense with the improvements for cyclist and pedestrians integrated into the planning for both options.  This is particularly ironic coming from organizations that want the city to "listen" to the people.  Improved levels of service for cycling and walking topped the list of needs citizens have a for a replacment or refurbishment project in polling and surveys the city conducted in the aftermath of the counter-petition.  Now that it is clear that those improvements are not as cheap as a "can of paint a bucket of cement" those voices have been discarded as irrelevant.

The prospect of 20 or 30 more years of a woeful level of service for cycling and walking is a non-starter for me.  I will not support any project that does not address these needs adequately.  Our decision must be focused first on function, less so on form.  Suggestions that we sacrifice the option of reorienting the bridge function to better support sustainable transporation options, not to mention shortchanging the project on safety, trying to patch up electrical and mechanical systems to squeeze another few years of use from the old bridge, or looking for other shortcuts is a little self serving.  It says that there are no other values other than preserving the bridge as a museum piece.

When decison time comes, I will take also into consideration the comments I have heard from many dozens of Victoria residents I have met at our open houses, neighbourhood meetings or out in the community at events and other venues who, some critics will be suprised to hear, have little attachment to the old bridge and can't wait for us to get started on the new one.  Their voices will also be heard.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New bus plan for China proposes radical solution

Check out the "straddling bus" technology that China plans for routes in Beijing.  1200 passenger capacity buses are designed to straddle the road and traffic, running on electricity and floating over congestion.

You've never seen anything like it.  Thanks to John McBride for the tip.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Houses for people not cars

A new housing development proposed for Vancouver's downtown eastside will dispense with expensive parking spots (worth $30,000 to $40,000 per space), to reduce the cost of a new condo development, making it more accessible to lower income buyers.

In Victoria we have on a case by case basis allowed some developments to proceed with no or reduced parking requirements, to meet the idiosyncrasies of land use or to help reduce costs at housing developments.

Most parking formulas are geared towards the travel demand generated by land use in an average North American city.  We aren't and Vancouver isn't average.  We bike more and we walk more and in Vancouver, traffic volumes are dropping in downtown even as population goes up.  Why do we need all that extra parking?

With 30 to 40% of urban land dedicated to the movement and storage of private automobiles, finding ways to reduce their impacts and give lower income residents a break on housing is an idea whose time is now.

Here's the Globe and Mail story:

Monday, July 19, 2010

More housing ideas

Vancouver is looking at increasing their supply of affordable housing by embracing modular homes and using city properties for numbers of new projects.  With homelessness and a lack of housing options still plaguing Canada's cities, especially here on the west coast, new ideas are always worth exploring.  Click the title for the Vancouver Sun story.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Visualize the Gulf Spill at home

Here's a map of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  With one click you can visualize how far reaching the spill is expressed by superimposing the area covered in oil over any location you can type into the tool. 

Looking at it with Victoria as the epicentre is a startling sight, enveloping southern Vancouver Island, sailing into Puget Sound and washing up Georgia Strait and out of the mouth of Juan de Fuca.  You could imagine its shape here altered, with a further reach than the open space of the Gulf site.  Here it would make landfall and be pushed deeper into the Sound, further up the straits and along coastal Vancouver Island and Washington State.  Not a pretty picture.

Suddenly, the catastrophic external costs of the fossil fuel economy are again in the news, even if they are fading from the front pages.

Here's another example of the high cost of oil:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Housing Options Moving Forward

Council has been busy on a number of housing initiatives since we got elected in November of 2009. Hundreds of new units are being built, some are operational already, and new initiatives are moving forward to provide affordable housing, options for people with disabilities or supportive facilities for those with substance abuse problems.

Most recently the Mayor worked behind the scenes to help persuade the province to open up summer shelter beds while we wait for more permanent facilities and services to complete.  In the last couple of days we've also completed purchase of a couple of bankrupt Traveler's Inns that will be turned into housing for disadvantaged First Nation's families and another project for low income singles.

Tackling homelessness and growing our supply of diverse and affordable housing for Victorians was probably the biggest issue in the last election and our citizen surveys continue to identify it as a top priority.  We're delivering.

The Traveler's Inn purchase has been getting great reviews and we're seeking funding to help carry the mortgage and operate the facilities.  But we're not done yet.

Soon a new cottage or garden suite policy will come to council.  It's another of the  initiatives we've undertaken to grow the supply of affordable housing for a diverse community.  Watch the city's website for announcements that will signal the policy is coming to council. 

In the meantime, click on the title to read more about backyard cottage housing initiatives south of the border.   The USA Today story covers a lot of ground, focusing in particularly on programs in Seattle.  It's good background on how other jurisdictions are embracing the cottage house or garden suite concept in their own backyards.  It's an old idea whose time has come again.

Johnson St. Bridge by bike

Check out Raymond Parker's video taken from his bike while riding through the tangled octopus of roads and trails that take you on or off the Johnson St. Bridge.  It's not an ideal facility for cyclists, to say the least, and the video helps illustrate some of the challenges.

One of the key issues, and it was emphasized in the city's polling of citizens, is how to make the crossing more bike and pedestrian friendly.  It was at the top of the wish list for those surveyed.  While many cyclists already cross the bridge every day, encouraging more people to choose cycling means providing more supportive facilities.

Take the virtual ride at Ray's blog.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

2 Lane Fairy Tales

Last week Monday Magazine reported on the proposal by inviting the city to conduct a 2-lane bridge experiment to see if the Johnson Street Bridge would work with a lane reduction.

It's something I've written about before on the blog or posted on my website at and it has been evaluated extensively by city and consulting engineers.  The Monday article covered the proposal without any reference to alternate voices that might question the instant expertise of the bridge preservation campaign.  Certainly there is no evidence suggesting that campaign organizers have any experience or any record with respect to designing traffic systems or facilities to support cycling.  The proposal is a little more elaborate than the "can of paint and a bucket of cement" idea they had several months ago, but it is no less simplistic and so far, hasn't found any support among traffic engineers (structural engineers aren't the same thing).

I wrote and overly long response, knowing that it would not be published of course, but the issue is a lot more complex than a few paragraphs are likely to cover, so here's my take on the issue (again), along with some illustrations that should help understand some of the challenges of the proposal and the comparisons made to other "road diet" projects.

The Johnson St. Bridge and the Burrard bridge are indeed, both bridges, but after that the similarities between the two are overstated. As a model for the wishful thinking of those who have convinced themselves that a 2 lane scheme is a simple and inexpensive solution in service of saving the Blue Bridge the comparisons just don't add up.

That "solution" has been studied for a decade and has been found wanting by most in the cycling community and every qualified engineer that has examined the structure of traffic carried by the bridge.

The Burrard St. bridge bike lane project took out 1 of 3 lanes, not 1 of 2, a pretty significant capacity differential that is key to the functionality of the transportation network supported by the Johnson St. Bridge. There are also 3 lanes running in the opposing direction on Burrard, though irrelevant to traffic flow, is still critical to the level of service provided to emergency vehicles, an important function of any bridge.

South of Burrard, traffic bottled up on the bridge by the lane reduction has several exiting lanes to relieve congestion and sustain flow. At the north end, there is generous "storage" capacity on Burrard and more on Pacific where queuing traffic can wait for the signal cycle that will channel them through the network. There's also additional capacity available at Granville for vehicles heading into a larger downtown and it too is absorbing some of the traffic diverting from Burrard.

At Johson St. the "goldilocks" point where capacity and demand meet is at Tyee and Esquimalt, not on the downtown side. Traffic volumes of around 25,000 vehicles a day (ADT) are destined to or from Tyee (8,000 ADT), and Esquimalt (18,000 ADT). On the downtown side there is no surplus storage that compares with Burrard. Queues will back up through Pandora at Store and across Yates on Wharf. Intersections further upstream may also experience gridlock, more certainly when the bridge is up (something that doesn't happen, of course, on the Burrard bridge).

Bay St. is not an alternative for Johnson St. Bridge traffic. It's maxed out now and can't provide more capacity. Ad nauseum calls for four laning are stillborn. Where is the road capacity on either side of the bridge to absorb additional traffic on the bridge (Ralmax, Westside Village?), and what would that downtown destined traffic do to gateway streets north of the city centre?

Gains for cyclists are also exaggerated. The physical separation afforded cyclists on the Burrard bridge eat up a lot of space that just isn't available on the Johnson St. bridge. The 1.5 meters that works on a road bike lane is too narrow on a bridge where lateral obstructions reach elbow or shoulder height and there is no room for physical barriers of any sort between the bike lane and traffic that includes frequent bus service and numbers of truck movements. Routing to and from the Goose would remain as convoluted as ever. The better signage proposed by some critics is truly "lipstick on a pig".

The 2 lane fairy tale is a loser for cyclists, as well as for pedestrians and people with mobility challenges. The levels of service can't compete with the purposeful designs that can be incorporated into a new bridge. Along with the real numbers on costs and the challenges posed by the staging of works - rehab means extended closures and serious economic impacts for downtown - citizens of Victoria have a lot to think about as they evaluate the options they would like council to consider.

The campaign to save the old bridge has always clamoured for more information and that's a welcome contribution to the discussion. Every fresh piece of information points to the new bridge as the right choice, and at every step critics clutch at new straws to advance an agenda, which is to preserve the old bridge, not matter how disfunctional or how costly.

For those that are willing to wade through my website or my personal blog, there is lots to read on the bridge from several angles.
Some of the specifics about the bridge and traffic patterns are at:

Bridge topics are also a frequent theme of my blog at

Illustrations of some of the issues can be found at my flickr pages, and a bunch of new pics are up on the page with this one that shows what the bridge is connected to:

While this may be too much for publication, the campaign to save the bridge started out more than a year ago clamouring for more information. I do my best to get it out there. People are free to poke holes in it or take it at face value as they choose, but the facts will be very stubborn.

Everything I've put out there seems to be backed up by engineers familiar with our roads and bridges and with traffic systems design. It's nice to hear from structural and heritage engineers, but they can't provide the comprehensive analysis we need to make sound choices on the future of the bridge.

John Luton, Councillor
City of Victoria

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Victoria does more affordable housing

Earlier this month we added to our portfolio of housing projects by investing $600,000 into two projects, partnering  with the Greater Victoria Housing Society to create 52 new units of affordable rental accommodation in the heart of the city.  It's another step forward in our ongoing efforts to increase and diversify housing options in Victoria.

Find out more about the city's housing sustainability program by clicking on the title.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Connecting with municipal leaders across Canada

Last month I joined municipal leaders from across Canada to shape policy and share ideas at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Toronto.  Some of the research I did shows up in other blogs.  The Cherry St. Bridge visit story has real local relevance.

 I also spent time exploring an emerging pedestrian commercial destination at the Distillery District, a development model that may have some exciting lessons for Victoria.  Toronto's street vendor culture isn't as exciting as what I've seen in Portland and Mexico City (grilled grasshoppers anyone?), but like Victoria and Vancouver, they too are trying on different models to liven up their streetlife and create new opportunities for small entrepreneurs.

Photos of my quick observations of a "scramble" signal where traffic is stopped in all directions to allow pedestrians to criss-cross a busy intersection will soon be posted at my flickr galleries of active transportation studies alongside the other nuggets from my collections.

The key message by local leaders from cities big and small was on partnerships and the challenge of addressing the municipal infrastructure deficit that we are all facing. 

It's a pretty current issue in Victoria where the costs of any one of the Blue Bridge project options under consideration are considerable and the complete package serves more than just Victoria's citizens who are footing most of the bill.  The federal government is poised to make the biggest investment in Victoria in our history but we have to choose the right project - seismic work included.  But where's the province and where's the region on the regional trail or railway elements that serve much more Greater Victoria and much of Vancouver Island?

Good questions.  Click on the title to catch up on the issues that got attention at FCM.  Mine joins a short list of blogs that FCM member politicians are writing across the country.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bridge Update

Council had a detailed presentation on the Johnson Street Bridge options on Monday, technical and cost analysis for replacement in current dollars and the more detailed work demanded by the public for refurbishment of the old bridge.  Several hours later those working to save the old bridge began trotting out some of the same misinformation and more bizarre schemes for their preffered  project.

A new bridge makes so much more sense both technically and financially, but more discussions with Victoria residents will shape what decisions council makes in August that we will take to referendum in the fall.

I posted some detailed discuss on at "Vincent's Victoria", a blog written by local resident Vincent Gornall.  It's a thoughtful and balanced site and Vincent covers a lot of key issues in the city.  I'm happy to chip in when the subject draws my attention and I have the time to put some thoughts together.  It's well worth a visit.

Following the presentations at Council, Vincent wrote a very short post suggesting that "it looks like we will get a new bridge", a rational if somewhat premature conclusion.  As much as I would like to make that choice now, I don't think the critics will go away quietly and the right decision is anything but a sure thing.

Here's my rather longer response on Vincent's blog, covering many of the technical and costing issues emerging in the media.  For complete information, the link to this post takes you to the city's site where you will find the many presentations on technical, costing and economic issues presented to council.

New bridge? I don't think it is yet a done deal. Technical and costing reports pretty clearly point to the advantages of a new bridge, but there are still those who would derail any effort to move in that direction.

The city has done what the counter petition process asked for - a detailed analysis and costing of a refurbishment project to compare with the new bridge option. The city and a technical advisory committee (do you want good advice or political advice?) made sure that both options were designed and costed to compare apples with apples so Victorians can weigh in on the choices before us.

A full picture has been presented by our engineers and multiple teams of consultants - professional engineers with both the experience and expertise, and whose reputation for providing sound and unbiased advice is on the line (and the code of ethics governing engineers require that they provide only objective and unbiased information and recommendations).
Both the new bridge and refurbishment options will cost multiples of the figures estimated in the original condition assessment commissioned in 2007. One critic likes to use one number only from that report - the $23 to $25 million estimated for a very basic refurbishment, but conveniently ignores most of the other numbers and recommendations presented by the Delcan team.
The same report said a new bridge would cost around $35 million, which, like the orginal refurbishment assessments, provided a solid foundation for further work but, like any complex engineering project, subject to detailed costing and the budgetary shifts associated with changes in scope for both options.
There will be a campaign to save the old bridge - and that's the only agenda, and however stubborn the facts, expect an effort to question the credibility of both the engineers and council, and new roadblocks thrown in the way of making a timely and responsible decision.
That latest effort, conveniently revolving around accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians, (the top two issues for citizens who will own and use the bridge in the future).
The "newly" proposed 2 to 1 lane road diet won't work. My analysis can be found at my blog and on my website. I keep asking the engineers if the analysis is sound and have always been supported in their responses.
It's just another stall.
Costs have about tripled for a new bridge, and are about 4 times for the refurbishment option. That's easily enough understood - some big ticket items have been added to the scope of that project to meet some practical objectives.
A new bridge to connect the Galloping Goose and the E&N trail (in progress) is the only practical and effective way to provide what cyclists and pedestrians will need. The old bridge can't accommodate the weight and doesn't have the space to provide what was designed into the new bridge at the Class "C" stage of development last year. For that project the cost was estimated at $63 million. Road approaches work added about $11 million to the package on that one too, then a more limited scope change than those elements now woven into a refurbishment concept.
Complete replacement of the electrical and mechancial systems have been added to refurbishment estimates to extend the potential life of the old bridge to another 100 years, again making it comparable to the advantages of a new bridge, but, just as predictably, adding some cost escalation to the project.

Comparable levels of seismic protection and some detailing meant to preserve the heritage features of the bridge are also costly elements never anticipated in the original refurbishment works envisioned in the condition assessment.
The suspicions cast around costs and the rate of inflation are a bit simplistic, if not disingenous. Apart from the many scope variables, the assurances that, when council first chose a new bridge, costs were at historic lows have proven prescient. The delays mean painful if predictable increases in material prices and other costs. The Financial Times reports that steel prices are set to jump by a third in 2010 alone and elsewhere in the construction industry media, analysts are observing some significant upward pressure on concrete prices as well.
The things you and I buy follow the rate of inflation, but large scale municipal infrastructure projects have their own set of financial dynamics and our input costs are quite different from your grocery bill.
Watch for the bridge campaign to push for a couple of "cheap" fixes. Cut out the rail, drop the bike bridge and leave the seismic work out of the project are emerging as the latest do nothing strategies. Paint the house while the foundation is crumbling and save the bridge for cars and trucks for another 50 or 100 years. Now that's sustainable!!??

How and with what we move forward with will still be debated around Victoria. Those that are losing the techical arguments will fall back again on process, but this really still is about the bridge.
What we need is a new one, something that echoes the old and fits into our cityscape, but something too that is purpose built to meet the transportation needs of the future, not the past. The safest and most durable investment and the best value for money has always been the new bridge.
The old bridge is not just a steadily deteriorating liability as is, but perhaps most surprisingly, not a very sound or effective design for the purposes for which it was built.
The bridge engineer who did the peer review (and who has experience in heritage work, bridge design and decades of direct experience with the Blue Bridge), said as much during his presentation. He concluded that, even with a reasonable and prudent project proposed for the refurbishment, he could not be certain that it would work as intended.
The best we can do might still uncover suprises (and costly ones), because there are structural elements that have not been examined or maintained since the bridge was built. Those same features might preclude any effective maintenance or protection against the pack rust steadily eroding the superstructure -rusting out beams and stressing rivets.
How ironic that many of the "charms" of the old structure are hastening its demise. Rust never sleeps.

By August we'll have a decision and November's events will include a by-election and referendum on the choices we make. It's not an easy task but I hope people can see more clearly what must be done. I'm working to help get us there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A virtual tour of Toronto's Cherry St. Bridge

Toronto's Cherry St. Bridge has been touted as an example of a cheap and effective refurbishment project that could inform our analysis of Victoria's Johnson St. Bridge.  It's a few years younger than ours but was designed by the same engineer and, though a little more graceful in design (note the more sculpted counterweights), is very similar to our bridge.

A 2007 refurbishment project, costing some $2.7 million shows up at as an example of a cheap and effective model of what we should consider here in Victoria.  Cherry St. is not in a particularly vulnerable seismic zone - an earthquake is a much bigger threat on the west coast so no doubt none of the work done had to address those issues, but looking at the bridge now, one has to wonder what the money was spent on.

I was in Toronto to attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities a couple of weeks ago, a conference, where local government leaders have a chance to meet to share strategies and develop policy to help municipalities speak with a single voice on issues of national concern.  The need for ongoing senior government help to repair or replace aging infrastructure was, coincidentally, a major theme running through the conference, as was the need to build more sustainable communities to meet the challenge of climate change.

I made sure I took some extra time to visit the bridge - a long walk from downtown but well worth the exploration (and I'll share some thoughts on outdoor and central food markets, street vendor carts and pedestrian neighbourhoods, as well as transit models I checked out, but I'll do that in another blog.

In the meantime, check out a few of my photos from the Cherry St. Bridge.  I wouldn't use it as a model refurbishment project.  The sculpted counterweights look like they are in good shape and maybe that's where the money was spent.  Everywhere else the bridge is covered in rust and showing serious deterioration.  Concrete sidewalks are crumbling and railings tilting over.  Can't say that a bridge signed "use at your own risk" inspires a great deal of confidence in its structural integrity.

It's pretty clearly not as critical a link in Toronto's more extensive transportation network but it does carry some traffic, notably cyclists heading for the waterfront east of downtown and routes towards "the Beaches" in the east end.  A nice ride with little traffic but like our bridge, not ideally set up for cycling.  Given the neighbourhood though, pedestrian traffic is probably pretty light and cyclists have the sidewalks mostly to themselves.

Toronto's councillor for the ward that includes the bridge also thought their bridge, given its age and condition, wasn't likely to be there much longer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Victoria moves downtown plan forward

Today's Council meeting advanced our Draft Downtown Plan - a vision for the heart of Victoria over the next few decades.  It's an ambitious project that expands the downtown core to recognize that the city is growing and districts around the commericial heart of the city will develop consistent with the city centre moreso than with their immediate neighbourhoods.

For Old Town, it reinforces our commitment to preserving the unique heritage and modest scale of our historic city.  In other nearby blocks, renewal, increases in resident populations, growth in office and commercial density is envisioned to keep Victoria as the region's downtown.  We'll invite hi-tech and light industry to locate in the city to help keep our economy vibrant and diverse.

For me some of the key and exciting new directions include an emphasis on walking, cycling and transit as our primary transportation choices.  We want to lower our carbon footrpint and make our city more sustainable.  It doesn't mean we are pushing cars out, more that we are inviting people in.  The evolution will take place over time and we'll plan to make walking, cycling and transit the easiest, most appealing and safest choice for our citizens and the people who also work, play or visit here.

It's also refreshing to see an acknowledgement that waterfront parking lots need to be redeveloped - preserving our most desirable land and our best  viewscapes for empty cars has long been one of my frustrations.  We can do better.

I'll be sharing more of my thoughts on the blog on issues raised by the plan - like the future of Government St. 

I'm off to Toronto for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference to help shape policy for local governments in Canada and to network with colleagues from near and far who face similar challenges to those we face at home.  I will be doing some local research there too - checking out car free zones in the Distillery District and having a look at their Cherry St. Bridge, built by the same architect who did our Johnson St. Bridge.  I'll also be meeting with some of Toronto's leading bike and active transportation activists to see what new ideas I can borrow.

 I'm sure the trip will help me reflect on the planning and transportation issues that will be central to our downtown plan, as well as other projects I'm working on.

We're several months away from adopting the plan and we have plenty of public consultation to engage in before Council endorses a final plan.  Click on the title and it will connect you to the city's plan page.  It's a great read and I hope you'll get involved in helping us to shape the future of downtown Victoria.

Monday, May 17, 2010

U.S. Cap and Trade Analysis

The cap and trade system being introduced in the U.S. is an important step forward in battling climate change.  Here's some details and analysis of the program.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Complete Streets

The U.S. Department of Transportation under the Obama administration is taking the country's transportation policy in an exciting new direction.  Secretary Ray LaHood stood up recently at a gathering of advocates in Washington to talk about bicycling and walking and the move to embrace them as transportation in the eyes of the federal government.  (For more click on the post title "Complete Streets")

It's an important policy statement that signals a direction for the nation's local, regional and state governments, but also to engineers and practioners in the private sector who also shape land use and transportation systems design across the continent.  (As an advocate I drift across the border and learn from colleagues abroad, and likewise professionals and community activists are increasingly bringing their expertise and ideas to share with us).

It's a short news release but rich in content that expresses where we need to be too.  The future of transportation and our future as a species depends upon a mobility revolution that must shift us to  more sustainable choices.  Obama was a dependable supporter of alternative transportation as he worked through the earlier stages of his career in Chicago, sponsoring bills and initiatives for my friends at the then Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance).  It's nice to see the commitment given new expression.

Here at home I'm working on my own initiatives on corridor protection for cycling and pedestrian facilities, a complete streets policy that aims to level the playing (and investment) fields to better support cycling, walking and transit, and, key to our Johnson Street bridge discussion, a policy directive to ensure accommodation on new or rehabilitated bridge projects (at no less the level of service provided to motorists) as a matter of municipal policy and as a requirement of federal and provincial funding and gas tax allocations.  I hope to bring it to my council and from there to the Union of BC Municipalities convention in the fall.

In the meantime, check the fresh news section (to your right), where I'll be highlighting the latest on current issues and events in the community that I'm working on or lending my support to.  To bring it back to the discussion of sustainable transportation, a threat to the integrity of the Galloping Goose is behind my concern for corridor protectio.  The news item on this will lead you to a call to action on this important issue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Food for thought

Some of us on council have been pushing to allow for more productive uses on our city boulevards and in some park spaces. Local food is an important emerging issue and we've got our parks department working to be part of the solution.

Read more at:

A glimpse of one of Portland's neighbourhood boulevards where crops and other things are growing.

New Bike Parking Initiatives

With the conversion of the city's parking meters to pay by space, a system that is more convenient for drivers and vandal resistant to protect city revenue sources, old meter heads are disappearing in favour of more compact designs that identify stall numbers. Trouble is that they no longer serve for informal bicycle parking, but the city is now working to meet the need with hundreds of new racks using the increasingly familiar inverted "U" design.

The inverted "U" was introduced to Victoria in the late '90s when Denise Savoie and I lobbied the city to change their standard bike rack from the less ideal "ribbon" rack (a.k.a the "serpentine" or "wave" rack). Denise was then working as our Bike to Work Week coordinator and myself I w as president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition. The inverted "U" was a design introduced to me by the bicycle coordinator for the city of Denver who presented at the 1998 Pro Bike conference in Santa Barbara. It was a great conference to discover and this is just one of the ideas I've brought back to Victoria (including the whole conference itself in 2004 - and $500,000 in economic benefits), with the biking and walking conference.

Putting a replacement program on the front burner was one of my early efforts as a new councillor. I knew the conversion program was coming and the city wasn't quite ready for the dislocation it would mean for area cyclists working or shopping downtown.

I also initiated a project that converted on-street parking to a now busy weather protected bike shelter in front of our local Mountain Equipment Co-op store on Government St. It spurred a nearby business (Habit Coffee and Culture on Pandora) to ask for their own and we worked together to make it happen.

Fast forward to this year and the nudging I've been doing with the DVBA and with the enthusiasm now of other organizations, the initiatives have taken on a life of their own. Two new "corrals" will be set up for an extended cycling season at another couple of on-street parking locations where bike racks are needed and local business is supportive.

The DVBA did a great job of working with their members to solicit support (as many as 30 locations were identified by businesses downtown where more bike parking is wanted), and with MEC, other members of Capital Bike and Walk, Bike to Work and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition (kudos also to Bike to Work president Rob Wickson who kicked in from his Discovery Economic Consulting business), and the pilots have been announced to launch for Bike to Work Week - May 31 - June 5, 2010.

See the news release at:

Bike to Work:

The Good: the inverted "U":

The Bad: the "wave":

What happens when no bike racks are available:

State of the art at MEC:
Low tech in Portland:

Local elections task force

The province is leading a task force to review local government elections and municipal governance. The key issue is the concept of the corporate vote, a privilege we dispensed with in the 90's when the NDP was in office.

I don't believe property or corporate votes have a place in democratic governance. The rights of citizenship belong to people alone. It's something I often struggle with on the road where many believe a driver's license gives them title to our public rights of way - after all, they argue, they "pay for the roads". They don't, and that's another issue, but attaching a price tag to public office or any other rights of citizenship is offensive to the notion of government by the people.

Corporate voting right are nearly extinct in western democracies, anachronisms of historical privilege and we don't need to bring the system back.

The provincial task force has been hearing a lot of that from local government representatives serving through the Union of BC Municipalities. Still, the Liberal government seems enamoured of the concept and may still try and introduce changes, though the oppositon has been loud and clear.

Several other issues are also being reviewed by the task force, and on those, the province and the task force are doing good work. The Minister has, to his credit, also canvassed the opposition on their views, and that's keeping up a finer tradition of government.

I submitted my own thoughts, which I think closely reflect what I've heard from other, urban based representatives I have the privilege to connect with when I attend regional or provincial gatherings of various other local government leaders. Here's what I submitted to the task force:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on local elections in British Columbia.

With respect to the Task Force issues here are some of my thoughts:

Campaign financing is an issue in our larger municipalities and particularly those where the stakes may be high - valuable land, concentrations of business and commercial properties, and the opportunity for significant and profitable development.

Campaign contribution and spending limits make sense to me. They can level the playing field to ensure that access to office is not limited to those with wealthy backers. Our democratic institutions need representation from those that want to serve and who can earn the confidence of their fellow citizens, not just those who can afford to run for office.

At the same time transparency and accountability must be resilient. Anonymous contributions have no place in elections, or for that matter, in our referenda and counter-petition processes. Citizens and communities have a right to know who is financing the campaigns of those who run for office, or those who take on the role of supporting or opposing initiatives of local governments by way of non-election year campaigns.

Tax credits may also be useful. Public financing has been effective at federal and provincial levels and does provide some support for ordinary citizens to contribute to support the candidates of their choice. This too helps to level the playing field and provide some support for people of modest means to run for office or to support those who do. They have a voice that needs to be heard.

Enforcement of election rules is important. There should be a role for the BC Chief Electoral Officer in supporting the efforts of local government to ensure fair and transparent adherence to election rules. Many small communities may not have the resources to ensure the thorough and professional oversight that could be provided by an office like the Chief Electoral Officer.

Terms of office could be extended to 4 years as has been recommended in some communities. It will provide for more long term planning and less campaigning (and at reduced cost to taxpayers) and can provide for more stable and thoughtful approaches to municipal governance. Election cycles that do not compete with provincial elections would also be useful to focus campaigns on relevant local issues free from the distractions of competing provincial campaigns. With fixed election dates now provided for in provincial legislation, this cycle should be simple to achieve with a 4 year term.

Corporate Vote: I believe the corporate vote was discarded for good reasons and it would be a step backward to re-introduce this anti-democratic initiative. The principle of any democracy is a vote by the people, not attached to property or business rights. It is not available in other jurisdictions, at the federal or provincial levels and it has no place in local elections in British Columbia. The rights of citizenship belong to people, not corporations. Businesses, their owners, directors, shareholders or employees all have rights as individuals that should not be abridged by providing votes assigned to and exercised by corporate leadership.

Thank you again for the opportunity to contribute my thoughts on these important issues.

John Luton, Councillor
City of Victoria