Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fear mongering

From the Delcan report on the Johnson St. Bridge:

Page 5-9
“Given the potential for significant earthquakes in Victoria (the highest of any Canadian city), the Do Nothing option has considerable risk . . . (t)he risk includes the potential for loss of life”

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sifting through the numbers

For those that are interested in transportation statistics and how different municipalities stack up in the CRD, check out their Origin and Destination Travel Survey reports. Some things to keep in mind about the numbers:

The information was collected as trip diaries among randomly sampled residents of the region, so it will be a pretty accurate snapshot of how people moved around the region during the survey period.

The survey was done in late October and early November, so for those interested in cycling and walking statistics, the numbers may under-represent traffic share in more hospitable seasons.

The numbers are from 2006 so they are getting pretty dated. Again, for those interested in cycling statistics in particular, growth in all-purpose bike trips grew by an average 8% annually from 2001 to 2006, so current numbers may be significantly higher. Commute trips (to and from work), grew by a little less than 5% per annum, still significant enough but not quite as dramatic as the all trip purpose figures.

Surveys only account for residents, so the considerable traffic numbers generated by visitors are not captured in this data. Only physical counts will provide complete information on actual volumes. Technology used for vehicle counts is also known to be less reliable for bicycle counts and will totally miss pedestrian trips (most commonly used are pressure hoses laid across the road that often may not detect bicycles).

The CRD data is consistent with StatsCan data from the census, although much more detailed.

For those interested in traffic share for cyclists, they are largely concentrated in core municipalities of Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt and urban Saanich.

It takes some digging into the reports but the information is very useful and patterns can be extrapolated from the data.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Stealing on street parking, in a nice way

Not that we want to do a wholesale conversion of every parking spot in the city, but here's an idea for repurposing parking to serve other needs. Borrowing spaces or converting them to different uses has been happening across North America. Here's a story from the San Francisco Chronicle on the concept:

I found the story through the Sightline Institute, a Seattle organization that is a goldmine of information on Pacific Northwest urban and environmental issues. Find them at:

Our own parking space conversions in Victoria have been for bicycle parking "corrals", (a concept pioneered in Portland), where some on-street parking spaces have been converted, and with the support of adjacent businesses! Here's one at our Mountain Equipment Co-op store (a project I developed several years ago as an advocate:

That project inspired Habit Coffee owner Shane Devereaux to come to the city and the cycling community to ask for his own. Working with him and our Cycling Advisory Committee, with support from staff, the council of the day and the neighbouring businesses, another permanent facility was built on Pandora near Fantan Alley:

One of the Portland examples:

What we'll try next in Victoria - an temporary solution to test out locations for permanent installations. It's an inexpensive way of testing demand and finding the right location for more and better bike parking:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Deploying bridge resources sensibly

Here's another longer post, in response to Ginna, who wrote about the bridge, seismic work, and where to put our money. My response didn't fit the comments section, so here is the full reply.

Here's the short answer - the seismic work on the Johnson St. Bridge needs to be done and the difference between lower and higher levels of protection is incremental. Cost savings won't be significant when you start rebuilding the piers and foundations, whether for a 6.5 or 8.5 earthquake. How much the incremental savings would I'll leave to the engineers and quantity surveyors, but it won't be enough to do a new project to rebuild the Bay St. Bridge to a higher standard. Doing seismic at Bay St. while doing extensive, similar work (even to a lower standard), will be much more expensive than one, comprehensive project at Johnson St. Bridge, where other work that can be integrated into the full seismic package can be done as part of a single project.

Some of the other work on the Johson St. Bridge has to be done now so it makes sense to do the whole package now. The impacts of extended closures required for the one project would be magnified either by doing the two at the same time, or one after the other. Both are a disaster in slow motion, but with the Bay St. bridge thrown in because it's "cheaper" (that's only plausible if you are leaving the Blue Bridge alone), the pain would be extended over a wider area or a longer time frame - neither are appealing scenarios for our transportation network or our economic vitality.

Here's a longer answer, and if you want more info on the Ashtabula Bridge in Ohio, mentioned in previous posts, the links follow the letter.


Thanks Ginna,

Seismic vulnerability is just one of the many factors recommending replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge.

The trigger for work is the immediate need to replace mechanical and electrical systems, compounded by our knowledge of its seismic vulnerability. Deterioration of other superstructure elements are also evident and should be repaired or replaced. It makes the most sense to combine all necessary works into a single project. Other things on our decision checklist included road safety improvements and the opportunity for a new structure purpose built to better accommodate alternative modes, particularly cycling and walking.

We have to rebuild the piers in any event, so any potential cost savings of shorting the project from a an 8.5 to a 6.5 earthquake will be incremental at best, not the orders of magnitude critics seem to assume.

Bay St. was upgraded to then current seismic standards and may stand in a significant earthquake, while the Johnson St. Bridge will not. Resilient emergency response systems provide redundancy wherever possible. Providing a Johnson St. bridge crossing at the most current standards will provide for that in a cost effective and efficient manner.

Cost effective because because shifting any incremental savings from the necessary Blue Bridge work scaled down a couple of points on the Richter scale would not provide the full funding necessary to do similar work on Bay St., which is also otherwise functional. It needs no other work at the moment that would necessitate a rebuild.

Our engineers also do not recommend refurbishing only the superstructure while leaving the foundations as they are. The investment for that work alone is extensive and costly and they will want to protect those investments to the extent possible. Why would you paint the house when the foundation is crumbling?

The other issue associated with the seismic vulnerability of the old bridge looks beyond the immediate hazards of an earthquake. The closure or collapse of the bridge will be an economic catastrophe for months, if not years following a seismic event. Once the immediate needs of dealing with death, injury and the damage to or failure of other critical infrastructure is in hand; the longer-term project of reconstruction and economic recovery will require a functional Johnson St. Bridge. After the 1989 California earthquake, studies indicated a net positive benefit for investments in earthquake preparedness and mitigation measures (including seismic upgrading of critical transportation infrastructure).

While many of the consequences may not be a direct liability of the city, our responsibility is to protect the viability and vitality of our downtown businesses and other industry that depends on the bridge (Point Hope Shipyards depends on the bridge going up, for example, and some plausible scenarios could see the channel blocked or the bridge locked shut for a period of time).

Bridges at Ashtabula and in Lorain in Ohio suffered long-term closures (not because they collapsed but because repairs were more extensive and time consuming than anticipated), but it is worth noting that those closures were tied to business failures in those communities.

Those projects are also relevant to the issue of cost escalation. Current estimates for refurbishment are Class "D" and less reliable than those for the Class "C" replacement project. Reasonable contingencies were provided for in that estimate, while the uncertainty associated with refurbishment will be greater both from the lower level at which costs were estimated, and the potential unidentified deficiencies that a bridge of this age and complexity may reveal. (The Ashtabula Bridge is a good example of hidden problems exposed after work began. Gears were found to be worn out and the bridge was closed for more than a year). *

Thus far our preliminary risk assessments suggest that the economic impact costs could exceed those of any capital project for refurbishment or replacement. Business failures that may result from extended closures after an earthquake (or for the necessary refurbishment work) will be expensive for the city as the tax base erodes or is compromised for a period of time.

In short, dividing the considerable funds needed for a primary, comprehensive project, and then over two bridges, is not cost effective nor an efficient deployment of resources.

As further work is done on the more comprehensive planning, design and costing of the refurbishment option, I'm confident it will confirm that replacement is the most fiscally and economically sensible choice. It is already clearly the most sustainable option.

See more about the Ashtabula Bridge:

Ashtabula Bridge “disaster”:

News story notes on business closures:

Notes on legal claims:

Wikipedia says bridge closed for more than a year (March 2008 to May 2009)

Also of interest – another Ohio bascule bridge, the Charles Berry in Lorain, closed overtime for repairs and hit local businesses hard.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dipping my toes into provincial issues

Tax policy is a useful tool for rewarding good behaviour and discouraging the bad. We have been doing it for years with tobacco and alcohol taxes and over the last several years, starting to shift some taxes to carbon emissions or providing incentive programs to conserve energy, water etc.

In 1981 in British Columbia, the Social Credit government removed sales taxes on bicycles, the Minister of the day suggesting that "it is consistent with a healthier, quieter and more energy efficient society". Remarkable for the era, as the reputation and composition of the Socred government was one where the cabinet was made up of used car dealers happy to spread suburban sprawl across the province.

The measure was supported by the opposition NDP, whose leader Dave Barrett would have been well acquainted with the advantages of cycling as both a means of transportation and a positive benefit to individual and community health. His government (1972 to 1975) took the first steps towards establishing the Galloping Goose trail when they claimed the abandoned rail corridor for future recreational use. It would be almost 20 years before that visionary project started to physically take shape, but the stage had been set.

Coincidentally, Barrett's son Joe was a pretty fast racing cyclist, no doubt exposing the father to a subculture that may have inspired some support for the sport. Joe went to Europe on Canada's junior national team and burnt up the roads in Belgium before returning home and joining one of the very few sponsored teams on the road in the province. He still kicks my butt when we go for a fast ride together.

Lately, the tax exemption for bicycles has been targeted in the new Harmonized Sales Tax recently introduced by the federal and provincial governments. New bicycles will be hit with a 7% price increase, the full impact of the sales tax on a previously exempt class of products. Elsewhere in the economy, the projected HST impact is a bit below 1%, a big enough inflationary hit, but for bike riders, that impact will be a much sharper sting.

I was in the bike business (in Ottawa) in the 1980s, and being a government town, government policy always had a more amplified affect on our business than perhaps elsewhere. So when wage freezes or public service cuts were implemented, we felt the impacts. I left the business in 1989, but the store survived until another big round of federal civil service cuts put the place out of business in the 90s.

Back at home here in Victoria, the impacts of the HST on bike businesses may be significant. It's a pretty healthy industry, but every dollar counts on the small margins bike stores make, and those in the business are there for the passion more often than the money. It's going to hurt them.

More importantly, at least from a public policy perspective, the tax is counter-intuitive to the government's stated goal of reducing carbon emissions and helping to address climate change. Transportation is a signficant source of our greenhouse gas problems and if we hope to shift people to more sustainable habits, we need to help them along. A punitive tax is not a good way of doing this.

To add insult to injury, motor fuels are exempt from the new tax. It's a great benefit for drivers. How does that help us meet our objectives on climate change?

It may not be too late. The province does have the option of identifying product that they want exempted from the tax and can ask the federal government to allow the exemption. They've done so with motor fuels and some other goods, but if we want to level the playing field on transportation, bikes deserve the same break. It makes no sense to give carrots for driving and beat cyclists with the stick of tax policy.

You can join the protest on Wednesday, March 3rd at the provincial legislature. Lana Popham, MLA for Saanich South is holding a rally on the steps starting at 12 noon. Let's help her send the message to the government that we need sensible tax policies that reward activities we want to promote and help address issues of health living and environmental responsibility.

See more about the issue at:

I'll be there. Hope to see you with your bike.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Homes or tent cities

Victoria city council has lately been in the news for our efforts to buy a number of the bankrupt Travellers Inn properties. It's a bold initiative that, if successful, will add to our portfolio of diverse options aimed at housing the homeless and growing the supply of more affordable housing.

Over the last year we have done a lot - projects complete or in progress include a small development to increase and improve secure housing for women in transition, supportive housing for people recovering from alcohol or other substance addictions, non-profit rental housing, a floor of apartments for people with mobility challenges, a secondary suite program, and some below market rental and ownership options. More projects will be on the way.

It's been a deliberate choice and one that might grate on some of those who believe we should be dedicating some of your tax dollars to managing a tent city in one of our parks. I disagree. I think the money is better spent on real housing and I've put up a new piece about the issue on my website at to talk more about it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Posting replies on the Johnson St. Bridge

More bridge discussion has been posted in the replies to comments on a previous post. It goes to some of the issues around cost and safety.

We are doing more work on refurbishment options, which should give more pause to those concerned about the costs of any project. While those who are concerned only with preservation, the costs will be largely irrelevant, but for citizens concerned about the costs, the escalating tab for refurbishment will be instructive. Various approaches are being considered, and different changes to the scope of work assessed to address the very real challenges of fixing a bridge that should be retired. Council will be presented with some of those costs soon.

In the meantime, people are taking some issue with my using my wife (Suzan) as an example of for whom I must provide a bridge for. She uses the bridge twice a day and for anyone else who is a regular traveler on the bridge, I am sure that you will want it as safe as possible.

Our duty as councillors is to make sure that, given the condition of the bridge, we do the most complete project to ensure that it is not only functional but that it is built to withstand an earthquake to the extent possible. We are the most seismically vulnerable city in Canada and that dictates a high standard. For me, protecting the life of our citizens is paramount, and we must upgrade to the highest standards.