Monday, October 13, 2014

Thanksgiving Goose

Dissecting the Goose

Friction along the Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails connecting Victoria and its neighbouring municipalities is not a new issue and solutions have been the subject of ongoing discussions for years.

The recent interest generated by Victoria’s council debate is a good time to bring real solutions back to the table.  Many of those ideas critics are convinced are new have been analyzed already and most will offer little relief.

The free associating on costs of widening versus separated trails makes no sense.  No research that I have found supports the conclusion that building two trails is cheaper than widening a single trail.  Most often, costs of separated trails will be higher and, in the case of the Goose, some of those will be considerable.

The more problematic “solution” touted by some of those offering advice is a change to protocols on the trail and have pedestrians walk facing bicycle traffic.  This needs to be discarded, and quickly.  We need to find fixes that work, not chew over failed strategies that will offer no relief for the very real discomfort trail users are experiencing.

Multi-use trails across North America use a tried and true pattern of directing all traffic – on foot or on bicycle – to stay to the right.  It is a simple approach that creates two directions of travel, albeit with differing speeds.  Cyclists are obliged to pass safely and responsibly and pedestrians need to be mindful that they are sharing a corridor busy with faster moving bicycle traffic.

Insisting that people walk facing bike traffic creates patterns that creates needless complexity and elevates risk.

First, the protocol would create four streams of traffic where once were two.  The need to pass either slower moving cyclists or pedestrians using the trail demands that those passing now negotiate their way through two traffic streams traveling in opposite directions in the space they need to pass.  Picking their way through that chaos is more dangerous and more complex than having to find space to pass any traffic, at whatever speed, moving in one direction.

Beyond the problems of potential collisions in a complex traffic stream, faster closing speeds for those moving in opposing directions dramatically increases the consequences of every unintended impact.  The speed differential between quickly moving cyclists and slower moving pedestrians is certainly a concern in a hit from behind collision, where someone walking at 5 or 6 km/h is hit by someone moving at 20 km/h or more.  Imagine, however, that instead of a differential of 15 km/h, the point of collision occurring at an effective acceleration of perhaps double that figure.  It’s not hard to imagine that injuries emerging from such a collision will be much more severe than those occurring at more modest speed differentials.

The scheme, doesn’t work anywhere else, so why would it work in Victoria?

A more effective fix is nothing new.  I’ve been pestering the CRD for some years to widen the trail to accommodate growing volumes of trail traffic.  The city, following studies on patterns of use, has finally paved a section of the trail south of the Selkirk Trestle, where an experiment with crushed basalt failed to draw more than token use by those traveling on foot.

Where the rubber hits the road, or the trail to be more accurate, is north of the Selkirk Trestle, particularly through Cecilia Ravine.  The trail is a tight three metres wide, hemmed in by rock bluffs that buffer the creek and a steep grade up to the Gorge – Burnside neighbourhood.

Blasting out rock or elevating the trail will no doubt be costly, but the alternative design that would create a separate trail for walkers could only be done alongside the creek, eroding sensitive riparian habitat and escalating costs beyond those conceivable for widening.  For reasons of directness and personal security, many on foot would likely remain on the main trail in any event.  This is one of a couple of key sections where extra width will be critical to accommodate growing numbers of trail users.

Past the Burnside Road overpass mural, the trail widens out to four metres, and most users can likely tell you that friction between walkers and cyclists is much reduced.  Space for passing is more generous, and cyclists have more room to give pedestrians a wide berth.   A shorter section that reaches the Saanich border needs some extra width also, but it will be easy enough to grub out a base and add some pavement on the flat topography available.

The next section between Tolmie and the Switch Bridge over the Trans Canada highway is also too narrow.   Intersections were rebuilt to support new traffic protocols - cross-streets face stop signs while the trail has the right of way.  Trail traffic volumes are higher than those roads and the right of way assignment follows typical transportation hierarchies for major and minor thoroughfares.  Here, the trail is the major traffic carrier.  Contractors constructing the intersections made a mistake when designs were in early stages and again I had to go back to the municipality to have them corrected.  New curb and gutter replicated the 3 metre cross section and had to be torn out and rebuilt to 4 metres.

Along this stretch of the Goose, a separated pedestrian tread could be built - a more comfortable arrangement that is useful where land is available and topography supportive.  It might mean acquiring a bit of private land to create a buffer between cyclists and pedestrians but the physical design is achievable.  None should be confused by the unsupported notion that it will be cheaper than simply widening the trail, but it would provide a much more appealing option for all users.

Again in Saanich, where the Lochside tracks north beyond the junction with the Goose at the far end of the Switch Bridge, extra width is badly needed.    Raising the trail grade is almost certainly needed to allow for extra width through the large culvert designed to accommodate trains of days gone by, and the rest of the topography is likewise tight, but widen we must.  CRD numbers are startling.  Year round averages indicate more than 7,000 trips a day travel the Goose and Lochside, perhaps 50% higher in fair weather, and volumes are growing.

The city and the CRD have known for years that the trail is becoming victim to its own success and badly needs an update.  Many other projects, from repaving crumbling sections to adding bathroom facilities at locations where longer distance visitors need relief, are two pressing issues.  It would be nice if the work we need to do didn’t have to wait for the sharp focus of an election campaign to generate the urgency we are witnessing at the council table or in the editorial pages.  The solutions are easy enough, we just need to get shovels to the ground to make them happen.

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