Friday, July 13, 2012

Fresh letter to the city on bike parking - the low hanging fruit of bicycle facilities, but so hard, it seems, to get it right.

July, 2012

Mayor and Council
City of Victoria
1 Centennial Square
Victoria, BC
V8W 1P6

Re:  Bike parking and the city of Victoria

Last year Victoria completed and adopted a bicycle parking strategy designed to identify policies, legislation, guidelines, hardware choices etc., all in aid of increasing the supply of bike parking in the city and improving the parking hardware and services cyclists have access to when they visit downtown or other destinations around the city.  The new strategy will as well help to ensure that best practices are available to guide development of better storage at homes, workplaces or other destinations where people may travel in numbers.

Working with key stakeholders in downtown business and community groups, the city also introduced a new “Victoria” rack that sits in front of city hall and has lately been installed at many other locations around downtown.  The rack is aesthetic, functional and is now a signature piece of Victoria’s new street furniture.   That project, alongside a program of identifying and testing out “bike corral” locations, (where bike parking has replaced a handful of on-street parking spaces), is delivering more bicycle parking where it is needed and helping to raise the profile of cycling as a viable transportation choice.

The “Victoria” rack was unveiled by the Mayor and has been enthusiastically embraced by cyclists.  Through a unique engagement process that connected cyclists using the new racks with the Downtown Victoria Business Association and cycling organizations, refinements to the design have been introduced to improve the rack design.  More work needs to be done to build on the momentum founded on this partnership and to catch up to the increasing demand for bike parking created by a growing interest in cycling as a preferred means of travel for more and more trip purposes in Victoria and around the Capital Region.  New infrastructure investments like a more bike friendly Johnson St. Bridge, the E&N rail with trail, and new bike lanes in the city and surrounding municipalities are also helping to increase participation.

An installation plan that will replace numbers of outdated racks, expand the supply of bike parking downtown and pilot more new locations for on-street parking corrals has been completed by our task force and we are now looking forward to your continued cooperation to complete this element of the project.   Too many examples of old technology can still be found on city streets and many gaps remain where demand far exceeds the number of rack spaces available.  It creates frustrations for cyclists and often also presents hazards to pedestrians, poses operational problems for city workers, or damage trees or other street furniture installations.  We hope that the city can continue to work with us to celebrate another step in advancing elements of the city’s bicycle master plan by taking the bicycle parking strategy through to the next phase.

The benefits of providing well placed and high quality bicycle parking downtown reach well beyond the cycling community.

·         More and better bike parking invites people to travel to work or come downtown to shop by bike, go the movies or theatre or get to many other destinations that can only be found in downtown Victoria.  That adds to our economic and cultural vibrancy, it relieves traffic congestion for people who must or who choose to drive, and makes it easier for them to find accessible, convenient parking.

·         Well placed and well-designed racks also help make our sidewalks and pedestrian spaces work as intended.  The use of trees, utility poles or poorly suited street furniture for informal bike parking can impede pedestrians or create hazards in the walking environment, especially for those with mobility challenges or sight impairments.  Bikes can also damage trees or otherwise hamper city operations – bikes locked to garbage receptacles are just one example of informal bike parking that may interfere with the work city crews do to keep our streets clean and our downtown tidy.

Completing current initiatives to install more “Victoria” racks is one important step in implementing the bicycle parking strategy council adopted last year.  We are asking also for your ongoing cooperation to continue our work to implement other elements of this important city strategy.

Our downtown bike parking task force will continue to work with business and leaders from the cycling community to monitor the delivery of bike parking downtown, to identify new locations and new strategies to keep up with the growing demand for racks and security, and help roll out new installations.  In support of that initiative we are requesting that the city continue to participate in our task force, and follow through with the actions and deliverables identified in the city’s bicycle parking strategy, as well as continue to work on those ongoing measures that council and staff need to pursue to support a more comprehensive implementation plan.

We are looking forward to

·         Working with Parking Services and Planning to build an alternative transportation fund proposed to follow the retirement of the capital costs of implementing the pay by space vehicle parking system.  The city should allocate some of those funds for installation of more and better bike parking racks and enhanced security and weather protected facilities where practicable.

·         Continue work on parking variance exchange programs to recover some of the value-added benefits that are associated with reductions in vehicle parking requirements for new developments.  Some of the proceeds of such a program could be invested in a retrofit program to provide incentives and best practices guidance for owners and managers of older commercial and multi-unit residential buildings that missed the bicycle revolution and need help in building solutions for better bike parking and storage, and for other destination facilities.

·         Introduce legislation to add destination facility requirements of change rooms, lockers and showers for new or refurbished commercial, institutional or other public and business construction into zoning bylaws to supplement the rack formula requirements adopted by a previous council.

·         Work with our task force to establish more prescriptive and appropriate guidelines for hardware choices or rack designs, as well as installation schemes  to ensure that bicycle parking is functional, convenient, secure and aesthetic, and also ensures practical delivery of the number of spaces identified in site or building plans, or for which hardware choices have been designed for.

·         Add a function to inspections to ensure that developers deliver on requirements identified in their building and/or site plans.

Our task force is happy to work with the city to help design further implementation plans for the bicycle parking strategy, provide letters of support for external grant applications and provide on the ground feedback to help ensure installations meet the needs of cyclists. 

Available programs may include:

·         Green municipal funds from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities or Gas Tax funds administered by the Union of BC Municipalities.

·         New funding options being explored by the CRD.

·         Various provincial programs that may be available to leverage investments in cycling infrastructure.

We look forward to working with you to help more of Victoria’s citizens make the switch to sustainable transportation.


John Luton, Executive Director
Capital Bike and Walk

Partners in this initiative include:

·         Capital Bike and Walk Society
·         Downtown Victoria Business Association
·         Bike to Work Week
·         Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition
·         Mountain Equipment Coop
·         City of Victoria

Friday, July 6, 2012

Photo:  Raised bike lane, No 3 Rd, Richmond, BC

Fine Tuning the Bridge

The Johnson St. Bridge and road approaches will be back in the public eye on Saturday.  Another open house will be held at Swan’s Hotel, within spitting distance of the bridge.  Turnout for the last open house was good.  Much feedback was provided for city project managers to incorporate into design features, particularly around the public realm.  For cyclists and pedestrians, a much better level of service will emerge on the new bridge.  Still the opportunity to tweak designs to reflect current understanding of target travel markets among cycling populations should not be ignored.

Pedestrians are being well taken care of, though a keen eye needs to be cast on the harbour pathway elements, new sidewalks on the downtown side, and the timing and connections through crosswalks that will help make foot travel more comfortable and convenient.  Now is the time to ensure that we get the details right.

For cyclists though, something is still missing.  To be sure, the new bridge offers a dramatic improvement over current conditions, and the features incorporated into the project a clear winner that helped secure endorsements from the cycling community that were key to the successful referendum.  Despite skepticism from some commentators, the much improved level of service for cyclists is likely to generate significant increases in the number of cyclists crossing the bridge every day.  On occasion, the numbers already exceed 4,000 trips a day – almost 20% of all vehicle trips counted on the bridge.

At every occasion though, when bridge designs were presented to council, or when I had the opportunity to share my ideas with staff and engineers, I pushed for a more emphatic design that would provide better physical separation from adjacent traffic on the bridge and along approach corridors.  It doesn’t have to be a cycle track like Hornby or the Dunsmuir projects in Vancouver, but there are other, more simple treatments that must be considered. 

Raised bike lanes are cheaper and more easily implemented than these more aggressive designs.  They make sure cars stay in their travel lane and raise cyclists a few centimetres above the vehicle lane, a few centimetres below the sidewalk.  It still features a “roll-over” curb that allows cyclists to move off the facility when or where they need to change lanes or direction, and it would still work for emergency vehicles when the situation requires it.

As the city works with firms that have made it this far in the process, they need to propose options for fine tuning pricing and design elements, and they should at raised bike lanes for the bridge deck and road approaches.  No doubt it adds some cost and complexity to a design that has faced enough challenges already, but support for shifting travel choices has always been key to the project and support in the community.

It won’t sit well with my colleagues who remain on council, nor, certainly, some who have taken my place around the table, that I am proposing another cost escalator, but there is an option.  Thus far the Province of BC has contributed not a penny to help build Victoria’s new bridge.  They recently regurgitated their fragments of cycling infrastructure funding programs and an innovative treatment like raised bike lanes should be eligible for support.  A sensible approach, though currently absent from program criteria, would have the province fund most of the cost of those improvements to help implement what is really an innovation rather than a routine project.   It might help them better design projects on their own bridges or provide a model for other municipalities so it may serve more than just local needs.

We need to get creative here – the bridge is designed for a 100 year service life and we can expect bicycle transportation to grow and maintain a very significant share of traffic using the bridge.  It’s not a major scope change requiring a new referendum or, like the illusory simplicity offered by those who would start all over again, a significant impact on project schedules.  It’s a feature that can work and can usefully help achieve city, regional and even provincial objectives.  It’s an option that deserves to be back on the table.