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.

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