Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back to the Future

A few weeks have gone by since my last post, straddling my unfortunate election defeat in city elections.  I was overtaken by some new voices on Victoria's City Council and I wish them good luck.  You are on probation for the next three years! 

And thanks to all those in Victoria who invested their confidence in me over the last three.  Got more votes this time than last, but the shifting fortunes of electoral math put me a few hundred votes and one spot out of the running.

Back to business, however, or so to speak.  I've always got projects on the go on cycling, walking or other transportation initiatives and now, as an outsider, I'll be back in the gallery at city hall where I hope to keep an eye on projects I began or helped to move forward.  I see some of those losing momentum and other priorities popping up.  I won't be shy about sharing my views and critiques of the city's performance. 

I hope also to be launching a "Municipal Watch" element to my web page and invite comments in on local issues, not just in Victoria, but around the Capital Region.

First up, though, is the seemingly endless debate on what to do with our new Johnson St. Bridge.  Shovels have only just been put into the ground to start work moving utility lines and setting up new intersection treatments for cyclists and pedestrians connecting between downtown and the Galloping Goose trail.  Still, carping critics have come back with some "new ideas" about how we can design rail into the road bridge, certainly a service we want to see remain in Victoria, but no "solutions" are as simple as those critics would have us believe.  Sent some notes back to the local paper after a recent story on bridge plans.  Not sure it will get published, so here is what I wrote:

The new bridge debate:

Several weeks ago Ross Crockford raised concerns about the delay imposed by the need to move Telus services from the bridge site, expressing concerns about timelines and budgets.  Now he wants to impose more delay and add new costs to consider new design issues not contemplated during the successful referendum on the new bridge.

Our council proposed a full service bridge that included rail.  Mr. Crockford’s efforts made sure that rail was discarded, time lines were extended a year and costs for the project were driven upwards.

When his organization was courting the cycling community, many of his dot org colleagues were making the case that bringing rail into downtown really wasn’t necessary – it could serve just as well by moving the station to the Roundhouse and dedicating the existing rail bridge to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.  That was a necessary strategy when it became clear that the other proposed fix – the “two lane solution” – was found to be untenable, something that even Crockford admitted after working through the modelling with professional traffic engineers.

The push for more delay and more cost abandons one of his other constituencies – those who have always been certain that cheaper fixes were available with the old bridge (they don’t add up).  Asking for more design work will generate more expense – there is always more to assessing capacity on the bridge than finding out whether or not it will carry a semi-trailer or two, or an equivalent weight in an light rail vehicle.  The AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) guidelines for bridges are easy enough to find out, even if the specific manual referenced is too expensive for Ross.  A little web sleuthing will find easily enough the specifications for design vehicles for most general purpose bridges and our bridge will carry that weight.  But that’s not the issue for a lift bridge.  What will be the issue are the demands imposed when the bridge is lifting – the weight and capacity of the structure itself and the mechanical and electrical tolerances to lift and close, when the weight of the vehicles it will carry are irrelevant.  That’s a clear scope change, a cost driver and a another straw to clutch at.

A responsible analysis would also require a more detailed traffic analysis to determine what the impact would be on traffic system performance at peak hours.  The interruption would conceivably be a minor inconvenience at times of the day when traffic is light, but vehicle, cycling and pedestrian demand is concentrated during morning and afternoon rush hours when any LRT service would also be on the bridge.

The city needs to focus on the practical challenges of completing the new bridge to provide the service design, timelines and budget approved by referendum.  

Coming back with some new blogs soon I hope.  Already have some critiques aimed at new councillors and they haven't yet taken office!