Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stormy weather - rain gardens and storm water managment

I'll be following this one too. Storm water managment is key to an integrated approach to shoreline health and sewage treatment.

We've done some rain gardens in Victoria and other municipalities in the region are doing some too - check out Craigflower Rd in Esquimalt where a project I helped design (for bike lanes, better transit stop connections and an improved walking environment), includes bio-swales for storm water managment along the Gorge Vale Golf Course. It's a nice piece of work and the new look road is a breath of fresh air. I've been working with Esquimalt to extend the design to Admirals Rd and, in Victoria, elements of the design will continue along Craigflower through the Vic West Transportation Plan.

Local residents want more rain gardens in public spaces so I'll be working that into our infrastructure plans where I can.

Here's a story from Portland on the issue:

Take the virtual tour of projects in Victoria's capital region at:

Don't want to say I told you so but . . .

Global warming - cars and trucks are the biggest problem. Read the NASA report at:

Lawyer throws cold water on guerilla sharrows

Several months ago I criticized anonymous activists for painting guerilla "sharrows" on Hillside Ave. in Victoria. I said that it was irresponsilbe and now a U.S. lawyer is laying out some of the legal rationale that informed my reaction.

I didn't ask, but the opinion piece just came up on the news service of the Sightline Institute, a web news service that covers environmental issues around "Cascadia", the colloquial name for the pacific northwest of Canada and U.S.

"Sharrows" or shared-use arrows are a new road marking treatment that has been appearing on streets around North America; we even have a few legal ones in the Victoria area. They have been implemented by municipal engineers after careful study and consultation with cycling advocates. The projects are endorsed by the respective councils in those municipalities where they are in use, just like those in the many other cities in North America that are test driving the idea.

The "sharrow" looks like a riderless bike with two "chevrons" (or a couple of roof peaks if you like), that suggest a direction of travel. They are typically used in situations where marked bicycle lanes won't fit in a narrow travel lane, or in some spots where a transition or conflict exists. The suggest good road position in situations where they are used, and remind drivers where they should expect to see cyclists in the traffic flow.

Soon they will be approved by the Transporation Association of Canada, an organization responsible for developing guidelines and standards for all manner of road markings and signage for traffic control, management, information etc. Professional engineers and municipal practitioners run the show and they study and test models at home or from abroad (usually the U.S.) to confirm their applicability in Canada.

Sharrows have been accepted by a TAC committee, but we are still waiting for official endorsement or gazetting to give them the stamp of authority needed to make them routinely available for cities and their engineering departments. Once that is done, they will likely start appearing along many roads around the county, and many projects have, at least conceptually, been planned for the capital region.

In the meatime, some of those frustrated with the slow process of evolutionary engineering and public consultation (the guerillas) have gone out to paint their own. *Nearly every municipal bicycle project in Victoria and beyond goes through some thorough and useful engagement with the actual users of all those facilities, (cyclists themselves).

I talked about the design issues at length, and nothing is as simple as it seems. It's not just "slapping some paint on the road" (a familiar, if simplistic solution also proposed by saviours of the Johnson St. bridge), but as complex and technical as any other traffic control device.

Engineering issues aside, the legal framework has always been relevant to the "cause", and "do it yourself" bike facilities are still a bad idea. Check out the short, concise summary of arguments from U.S. attorney Kenny Ching and you'll get at least the legal part of the picture. It couldn't be more clear.

See some sharrows at:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Housing the homeless

Portland is working on a project to provide services and support for the homeless with a new centre that seems in many ways like Victoria's "Our Place". There are a lot of good ideas flowing from Portland's efforts and some of those we haven't yet incorporated into our plans to end homelessness in Victoria are worth a look.

More at:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Housing Innovations

I'm always keeping my eye out for different ways to approach housing - Victoria's tight market has eased a little and at the city we've invested in hundreds of units of affordable or supportive housing options, as well as provided more incentives for smaller private sector options like secondary suites.

Another initiative is Victoria's tax holiday program for downtown residential that has been helping developers rehab heritage buildings to make them habitable (the program makes the necessary seismic work economically viable). Just as an aside, that's also a little something for those critics who complain about other seismic projects on the premise that downtown will collapse in an earthquake anyway - it won't.

Back to housing and this little nugget from south of the border. Co-housing is a growing movement around the continent and something that fits Victoria's culture. For those interested in the concept, here's a story from Seattle's Publicola news site.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sticking it to the poor

University of Victoria Political Science Professor Michael Prince wrote a good piece on another of the victims of the provincial budget. For minimal savings but significant impacts, the BC Liberals are again sticking it to the province's most disadvantaged citizens.

It's not enough that we live in some of the most expensive real estate in Canada - but we have the lowest minimum wage and the highest rate of child poverty. Our income assistance programs reveal a big gap between what people get in support and what they need to live on - I'm sure even some of the development industry are frustrated that those programs aimed at providing or subsidizing housing don't cover their real costs, and that's making it harder for them to justify doing business in the rental or affordable housing market.

The choices will be hard for too many. Dental care or food (of any sort)? Shoes you can walk in (if a disability requires special footware), or paying the phone bill?

We need to provide, and at least at the municipal level some councils, including ours, Vancouver and others, are trying to fill some of the gaps in housing, access to health care, and a host of other services that the province should be paying for.

Prince writes eloquently about the impacts of saving nickels and dimes on the backs of the poor. It's worth reading.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A disaster in slow motion

Reading some comments in the media about the condition of our Johnson Street Bridge, I thought I would share a couple of lines from the condition assessment that reference the deterioration of the mechanical and electrical systems. This to counter suggestions that I'm just being "alarmist" by pointing out that some of the essential systems are nearing the end of their service life and the need to address those problems is immediate.

While the surprise that left the bridge stuck open for a short period was only a blown fuse, it is indicative of the general condition of various elements of the systems that keep the bridge operating.

The Delcan report said that:

"Corrosion is pervasive and the coating has failed. Pack rust is forming between plates of built up members."

The mechanical system is in relatively good condition but needs specific repairs. Many of the mechanical elements are obsolete and it may be difficult to find replacement parts.

The motor brake system should be replaced; and

The electrical system is obsolete and should be replaced to avoid unscheduled bridge closures."

Last week's incident left the bridge stuck open for only 30 minutes, but traffic quickly backed up around downtown and in Vic West. One of the possible refurbishment strategies would close the bridge for several months, although that may be less likely given how unappealing that would be for our transportation network and our downtown economy. It is, however, the least costly of several refurbishment options (but that too has some potential external liabilities).

Other options include some or partial closures or nightwork (which has been discarded as intolerable for our downtown and Vic West residents). I do have a picture of the traffic headaches of a lane closure on my website ( Go to the "Blue Bridge and Climate Change" page and have a look.

The "alarming" possibility of "unscheduled" closures is very real given the condition of critical systems. Other, similar bridges, of a similar vintage, have been stuck for months (Ashtabula Bridge and the Charles Berry Bridge, both in Ohio) and those have been accommpanied by serious traffic problems and, perhaps more importantly, significant negative economic impacts in the affected communities. References are provided on my website or elsewhere on this blog. It could happen here.

We don't know what will happen next, but we will need to be prepared for some major headaches if something else, however minor, goes wrong. In the meantime, the city continues to work through more detailed estimates for possible refuribishment projects so that citizens can make a comparison with the replacement project offered before Christmas.

Sticking it to the HST

Spoke at an anti-HST rally about the unfairness of the new Harmonzied Sales Tax that applies now to bicycles but exempts motor fuels.

It's counter-intuitive to talk about fighting climate change while reducing taxes on the most siginficant source of greenhouse gas emissions - motor fuels - while increasing taxes on one of the solutions - bicycles.

We need more carrots and fewer sticks. Supporting sustainable transportation is important not just for the environment, but also for individual and community health. Getting people active helps reduce the load on our overburdened health care system too.

My speech at the rally is now up on You Tube. Many thanks to Saanich South MLA Lana Popham for organizing the event and keeping the pressure on.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Social Economy

Here's another site worth looking into. There's a wealth of information on key social policy issues in Canada and has hosted some local contributors, notably Ben Isitt, a former candidate for Mayor and a professor at the University of Victoria.

Anti-Racism Event

Local organizers are gathering people in Victoria's Centennial Square to raise awareness of racism that still infects our otherwise civilized society.

It's Sunday March 21 at 12 noon. More info at:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sorry for the gridlock, but . . .

Noticed in the press the other day some major roadworks projects underway around the region. Here's a bit about what's in it for bikes and pedestrians and how I helped to make them happen. While there will be some disruptions, expect some significant improvements when all the work is done.

E&N Rail with Trail project is moving forward. It will provide an off-road trail next to the railway between downtown Victoria and Goldstream Park. While it has a long way to go, some trail work has been done and new bridge projects are now underway. See more info on the project at As an advocate, I've been working on this project for a decade and had to fight hard to ensure funding for the project was in place. I've also been working as a consultant with the engineers who have designed the trail for the CRD. Rail with trail pictures, with external examples, at:

Craigflower Road, Esquimalt. Working with another engineering firm we developed a concept plan for bike lanes, traffic calming and stormwater management designs for this important corridor. Some work has been done between the Victoria border and past Tillicum along the Gorge Vale Golf Course. The new project starting in April will take bike lanes and other elements west to Admirals Road. Lately I've been doing counts to establish some baseline "before" numbers, that are required for funding partners. I also helped Esquimalt develop their successful application for $7 million in federal provinical funding to support the project. Here's more on Esquimalt projects, including others I helped to develop designs for.

Island Highway in View Royal will get a major overhaul that will extend bike lanes up 4 mile hill and work with the new bridge projects for the E&N trail. It's several months of work but will offer benefits for cyclists and pedestrians, and also a safer and more efficient route for drivers. Two way left turns will be part of this project - another one I helped to develop as part of the View Royal Transportation Plan and where I helped develop also their funding applications. $7 million goes into this one. Here's some of the Island Highway:

In Victoria work is moving along on Esquimalt Road, a project we developed through our Cycling Advisory Committee, something I pushed to establish 10 years ago and where I sat as chair for numbers of years. This "road diet" will be completed sometime in April. Here's another Victoria project I worked on that will give you an idea of what Esquimalt Rd. will look like.

See you on the road.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Putting the brakes on the spin cycle

One of the persistent criticisms of the city's Johnson St. Bridge project has been that the plan was pulled out of thin air when federal and provincial infrastructure funding came calling.

The path to the actual decision is much more routine.

In 2007 the city commissioned a condition assessment, preparing for the day 10 to 15 years after the last round of painting and repairs was done in 1999 when project engineers suggested the day of reckoning for the bridge would come sometime in that time frame.

Municipalities do have a duty of care to maintain their infrastructure to protect public safety and ensure operability. Assessments and subsequent repairs are the regular, routine responsibility that arises from that duty, and failure to do so may expose local governments to liability claims if something goes wrong.

The project reported out only after the 2009 election, and though it was nowhere to be seen in the campaign, the engineers were quitely doing their work in the background while public attention was focused elsewhere.*

(*A sidebar to the election discussion: I can't speak for other candidates, but I did spend some of my 2 or 3 alloted minutes at various all-candidates meetings talking about the need to address our infrastructure deficit - that problem of worn out roads, bridges, pipes and other municipal assets that will pile more costs onto every city in the country. I also spelled out pretty clearly my preference for re-orienting our transportation systems to support more sustainable choices, like cycling, walking and transit.)

The report to council did come and it is up on the city's website for all to see ( The need to do something was clear and council chose replacement, not because it was a means to profit from new programs for infrastructure, but because it seemed the most sensible of the two options before us. It was timely to be able to apply for funding, but none of us were looking to add tens of millions to our budget just to secure one or even two thirds of the cost of the project.

That said, it would have been irresponsible not to apply for the funding and staff worked overtime to prepare a submission. That we were succcessful with our federal application indicates that we had a well thought out project to address a genuine and critical need.

We'll be facing a referendum in the fall on a new borrowing for our bridge project. It will be for a "must do" project that should, if we can make the right choices, provide a safe and sustainable transportation facility well into the future. I'm looking forward to that rational discussion.