Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Old news in no news . . 

Candidates continue to talk about "forced" increases in the budget for the Johnson St. Bridge.  Like other "new" information, the facts present a rather different picture, and one that has been available readily enough in the public realm.

For most of the term of the current council, I've been attending meetings where project teams have been reporting on progress of the project or bringing scope change requests to the table.  Some of the changes have indeed, added to the cost of finishing the bridge.  None, however, have been force fed to those making choices, though those who have lost those votes might believe otherwise.  Certainly those candidates who have their own agenda, and who have, if at all, observed from a distance, will likewise represent good decisions as a road to ruin.

A case in point, and there are a few big ticket items that are similarly missing from the spin cycle, is those new features that could not have been anticipated when we chose to opt for replacement over a more risky, if not futile, attempt at refurbishment of the existing bridge.

Sometime after our referendum the federal government announced a new shipbuilding program.  It will bring new work and bigger vessels to a variety of yards on the west coast, and our own Point Hope will take on some of the projects and leverage new investments in their operations.  A new graving dock with 250 new jobs attached to it has been in their plans and, with the new contracts and a new, more secure tenure on their property (another story that needs sharing), they are planning to add value to Victoria's marine industrial economy.

The prospect of larger vessels sailing through the channel between the bridge piers demanded some substantial changes to elements of design, not the least of which will be fendering to offer protection of the asset should a larger vessel encounter troubled waters or otherwise get a little too familiar with the bridge.  Engineers recommended, and a majority of council agreed, that adding fenders to the piers would be useful, if not essential, to protecting the city's investment from harm.  Those who imagine themselves as opposition, rather than just a minority voice at council may continue to simply say no to anything associated with the new bridge, but that would be foolhardy, to say the least.  A more skeptical observer might even suggest that in so doing, the critics misread their role on council and, instead of paying attention to getting the city's work done, continued to fight a referendum long ago lost.

Council could have chosen to ignore the advice.  No one was forced to adopt any of the changes.  But that would have been foolhardy, if not irresponsible.  Those new costs were added to the budget, in public, after a full debate and follow the vote of the majority of those elected.  Nothing forced, nothing hidden, nothing resembling an overrun.  Just a clear choice made to protect assets and ensure the city's investment would enjoy the same protection any business or homeowner would want for the durable goods or operating equipment they need to run the show.  Truth be told, those costs will be covered well enough by the new assessments and new jobs being brought into the city.

Had I been at the table, and I'm always paying attention, I would have made the same choice.  Don't trust your city with those who would sell you short to look good on paper.  It's penny wise and pound foolish.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Myth busters and missing links . . .

In the wake of a convenient “release” of information about costs of the new bridge, some of the facts missing in the story line may help to paint a more complete picture than that offered by those with a more pointed political agenda.

Today’s big myth:
There was never a $35 to $45 million dollar project.  Those figures were provided in the condition assessment completed six years ago, proposing a notional budget for a drab, off the shelf bridge to replace the existing structure.  The report spelled out, by the way, that the numbers provided should not be used for budgeting purposes.

Council of the day chose a more complete project – one that included on deck bike lanes, an expanded bridge to accommodate the Galloping Goose trail, another, fixed bridge connection to link the Goose to and from the new E&N rail trail, a cantilevered sidewalk to provide better levels of service for pedestrians and those with mobility challenges, and a road realignment to dispense with the “S” curve, which generated an average of 40 reportable collisions a year. 

Council also looked for a project that would allow the current bridge to remain open until completion of the new crossing to keep traffic of all sorts flowing between downtown and points west, critical to the health of the city’s economy.  One could imagine that those choices would provide a rather different cost picture than those thumbnail estimates.

Journalists covering the story or provincial ministers privy to any city request for funding might have been at least exposed to those rather different project scenarios, even if the implications didn’t sink in.  Self-inflicted forgetfulness is always a good strategy, I suppose, but the facts have been there all along.

Council also responded to the less than enthusiastic public response to creating a replica of a cookie cutter highway interchange with a structure that would provide a more aesthetic gateway to bookend the city’s harbour.  Past generations of city builders did as much for our heritage; we owe it to future generations not to devalue our city by dropping big box suburban sensibilities into the heart of Victoria.

That project concept, at the very least, was very clearly presented to the public, vigorously challenged by those attached to the old bridge, and, despite protestations to the contrary, Victorians had their say, and voted their approval in a referendum by a substantial margin.  The former Minister, to be fair, lives far enough away from the bridge that she wouldn’t have a had a vote to cast in that referendum, so perhaps wasn’t paying attention to the details presented to those who did.

More myth busting to follow.  Stay tuned.

Every vote counts . . . 

Transit is a big issue in the Capital Region, and nowhere are the challenges more acute than in the bus bays and along the routes that connect students between home and their studies at the University of Victoria.  Pass ups continue to be a problem, and students have been left by the side of the road watching full buses pass by.

Flashback a few years and some of the problems were more entrenched and some issues that might be behind us were very current.

When I sat on council from 2008 to 2011, the province appointed those nominated to sit at the Regional Transit Commission.  I was picked by Victoria's Mayor Dean Fortin to the seat at the table, but the province, governed by a Liberal government unsympathetic to councillors who also happened to hold an NDP card dragged their feet for more than a year before the mayor's persistent harassment had them relent and finally file the Order in Council necessary for me to fulfill those duties.

For students at the University in particular, the appointment couldn't have come at a more perfect time.  At the city we had been working through our "Late Night, Great Night" strategy, one element of which was trying to ensure options for those who traveled between homes at residence or around the region with all that downtown has to offer. Just as critical was the need to find students holding jobs in our bars and restaurants a safe ride back home after a late night shift.

More suburban sensibilities that held the balance of power at the Commission were dragging their feet.  They weren't prepared to spend a nickel more to improve service, and didn't care much, it seems, for the needs of a growing student population whose transportation choices didn't fit in a driveway and a three car garage.

The issue came to the table again at the first meeting after I took my spot and the UVic students society were there to give voice to those frustrated by the slow pace in evolution of transit services.

When the vote came to extend late night service to UVic and other neighbourhoods around the capital where student populations are high, my vote made all the difference.  I cast in favour of the service expansion and late night buses started rolling around the capital.

Transit is still feeling the pressure of a growing university population and will likewise be challenged by new projects that will add more students to Camosun College.  The governance model still lacks for more robust local control.  We need to wrest control of local transportation decision making from the province, where no expense will be spared throwing money at cars and trucks to save lower mainland drivers some commute time, but precious little ever finds its way to Victoria and the Capital Region, where our problems may be smaller, but no less frustrating, and our choices to transport ourselves may not always sell cars for Liberal backers.

A regional transportation authority has been talked about for years, and more needs to be invested in walking, cycling and transit to catch up with the travel choices of new generations and move us towards a more sustainable model.

A single vote made all the difference when it was needed.  Every vote counts, every time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Johnson St. Bridge project, Victoria, BC

The view from here . . 

Contrary to not so popular opinion, Victoria’s Johnson St. Bridge project continues to move forward.

Construction on site is moving at a brisk pace and, despite the critics, many local elements are falling into place.  Bascule piers have been dropped in, roads realigned and underground work that should have fallen into separate budgets have also been completed on the downtown side.

To be sure, no small amount of ink has been spilled of late as elements of the project run into turbulence.  Cost and design issues are the subject of disputes between contractors, constructors and distant fabricators who have, at least, agreed to eat their costs and focus on delivering the product they were asked for.   Some asks remain unresolved, though the city remains in possession of a contract, and disagreements may be sorted out between private sector providers who can look for compensation on their side of the ledger.  The city shouldn’t have to pay for their missteps or private disputes. 

Some on council remain committed to more posturing than problem solving, and the loss of some staff midway through the project left some key controls unattended to.  Not a cause for celebration, no doubt, though most had the good sense to follow through with interim project management recommendations to right the course of the project when it became apparent that private contractors couldn’t solve issues on their own.

All in, the time contingency, at least, remains intact, and funding agreements with the federal government will be met, even with projected delays.  Do it fast or do it right – I would choose the latter.

The challenges identified by the project manager, at least for those who attended council sessions where issues were reported out, are serious enough, though none fatal to the delivery of a bridge supported by a majority of council and endorsed by democratic referendum before the last election.  The very specific comments of the city’s latest hire prescribed less panic than those who are elevating their rhetoric in the run-up to election day.

Cost dissection is a challenge for those determined to advance their own version of the math, but the reality is that nothing of new costs represents a bad investment or an easily foreseen circumstance such that finger pointers can claim out of control inflationary pressures.

Protection of a secure data line feeding info to the military was purposely left off the table until a private sector player decided that that project could proceed, as long as the city paid the freight.  Not a stretch to suggest that the risk of higher costs for damaging the line would have exceeded by far the agreement to pay for the work.  Even more problematic might have been the potential liability headaches the city could have faced if the old bridge were to collapse in an earthquake.  Damage to that line might have been a drop in the bucket in the overall scheme of things, but no doubt well in excess of city costs to move the line to accommodate the new bridge.

Extra dollars invested in protecting your investment from larger vessels now likely sailing into the shipyard after a new federal contract was awarded to various suppliers is also a good deal.  The long term business plan now emerging for Point Hope will return millions in new jobs and tax revenue never possible with the old bridge.  As the saying goes, the city should be run more like a business.  On this one, at least, the business case is about as solid as it gets.

There are those who will deliberately misrepresent scope changes as costs eating up contingencies, but that is not quite accurate.  For those on council who can do the math, choices made were deliberate adaptations to changing circumstances, not blindsides generated by mismanagement.

It’s a steep hill to climb back to the council table, as some have noted, though more are looking forward to a new bridge, and it is coming, than some of those who are convinced otherwise.

I expect that, should I be so lucky to win a seat, I’ll have the opportunity to pay more attention to the job at hand, and spend less time looking for my next career opportunity.   Always up to the task.

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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Campaign 2014. Putting sustainability back on the table

Aiming to get back to work
For the last few weeks I've been putting together another run at Victoria City Council and The Capital Regional District Board.

I've been hard at work in the community on issues over the last few years, but I've thought that the council table has missed my voice and the region needs practical approaches to some of the major issues and challenges we face.

People have been positively encouraging and I'm honoured to have their confidence.  I hope that their support translates into the thousands of votes I will need to bring back my commitment to the city and help us build a more sustainable future.

Getting coverage is challenge in a city where the media is focused on the mayor's race and many other local politicians are working on their own campaigns.  If they cover one, they have to cover them all and they sometimes lose track of how many people are out there in the field.

Getting my issues out there and giving voice to those in the community who are looking to the future means taking matters into my own hands.

I'll be profiling my agenda and the issues that our community is bringing to the campaign here on my blog and on handy, quick response facebook page -

I did put out a news release, always a little longer than some, I guess.  Local issues are hard to cover in a sound bite, a news clip or a quick paragraph printed in the back pages of the city daily or the neighbourhood weekly.

Here's the release they missed, but I hope you don't.  There is a lot of work to be done to build a sustainable city, and I hope I am up to the task.  Looking forward to the campaign, the energy I get from working the issues and the task of convincing a busy electorate to take time to think about their future and that of their children and getting out to vote.

Keep your eyes on this site to find out more.  Always have lots to talk about.

For Immediate Release
October 2, 2014

Luton aims to put Victoria back to work as he enters council race

Transportation consultant and former city councillor will contest for a seat at the table for the November 15 municipal elections in Victoria.  He is also putting his name forward to represent the city at the Capital Regional District.

Luton said that he will put his experience working on council and in the community back to work on the opportunities and challenges Victoria faces in term ahead.  “Victoria has a new sustainable transportation plan”, said Luton, “but we need to put our plans into action”.

Luton also says that the city’s many other plans need to move from the table to the street.  “Livability is key to our appeal as a destination for visitors and for new economy businesses increasingly attracted to the Victoria lifestyle. “

He points to new developments around the Legislature, land swaps that create new options for a people oriented waterfront and the need to “right size” parking requirements as practical challenges a new council will need to address on development and transportation issues.

At the same time, Luton said that we have to get back to some fundamentals in the city and across the region on issues like homelessness.  “We’re seeing seniors struggling, our shelters oversubscribed.  We can’t solve those issues with reckless budget cuts or solve everything with barn raisings and bake sales.”

Regionally, Luton says the sewage debate needs to move forward.  He supports a fully public model, saying that more privatization undermines transparent, accountable management, and threatens the essential public ownership of our water resources.

Luton says that pressing infrastructure renewal has to be funded by building a more vibrant city that brings people, jobs and services downtown.  “New developments we gave the green light to created more options to live and work downtown and allowed the current council to keep taxes affordable.” 

He says that the region needs someone at the table experienced with diverse transportation solutions that respond to changing times and addresses the fundamental challenges of climate change.  “When I last served on council and the transit commission I tipped the balance to provide better services for students and our “Late Night, Great Night” strategy”.  He says his energy is needed to help push regional transit solutions critical to the city’s new economy.  “Transportation is clearly an area where an integrated regional model makes sense.  We need to build a model that responds to local, regional needs as a counterweight to provincial control of strategies and priorities.”

Luton has been endorsed by the Victoria Labour Council and is working to earn the support of citizens and community leaders in the weeks leading up to the November election.

For further information:
John Luton at 250-592-4753 or 250-886-4166 (cell)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Crosstown Traffic: Bike trips and the Johnson St. Bridge

Beer discussion.

While bike facilities will draw traffic, they must serve destinations that are trip generators for cyclists, and most will have not much tolerance for out of direction travel, unless for some compelling reason.

Recently published research suggests that those facilities not so purposeful will draw occasional or recreational use but are less likely to fundamentally alter travel choices to grow cycling significantly.

The discussion revolved around connections to the Johnson St. Bridge, a project that at its inception aimed also to improve conditions for cycling across a weak link in the regional cycling network.  Many other deficiencies pointed to a new bridge over any attempt at refurbishment.  Strong support from the cycling community and my own efforts to ensure, at the time, the most practical and achievable facilities on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, helped to confirm the decision made by council.

Some challenges were understood but not so far easily solved - I could only push so far to incorporate everything I might have wanted on deck and in the surrounding road network.  None were sufficient to support the folly of delay or ill conceived rescue work aimed at preservation of a museum piece over a functional centrepiece of our transportation infrastructure.

Still, there are some now who, because they didn't get everything, may have just as comfortably settled for nothing.  They would do a disservice to those many who will find the new bridge light years ahead of any levels of service hitherto enjoyed on the icon of the old blue bridge, (which, of course, was black for the first decade I was riding east from home in Vic West.

I took the morning a few days back to conduct my own count and observe the patterns of travel on the "delta" side of the bridge - where streams of traffic disperse travelers around downtown like so many rivulets depositing what the river of traffic has streamed into the core.

3 of the 445 cyclists I counted over an hour passing through my observation post were not wearing helmets.  There's $75 worth of lost revenue for the police who can't, it should be noted, be everywhere all at once.

Including those leaving town - against the predominant flow of morning traffic, 13 distinct destination streams were found, though most heading outbound were coming from the south along Wharf and not so many along Pandora (a route that will show higher numbers, no doubt, when I go out again to record the afternoon patterns.)  Still, that is a lot of different boxes to check and analyze.  Keeping up with the count (and, as always, snapping some pics to illustrate the story), kept my fingers busy.

Of those heading into town, more than half headed south immediately upon exiting the bridge, another third continued east, though their end points could have taken them perhaps both north and south into downtown as much as they might have been headed to other destinations served by Johnson St. as it cuts through the city.

The pattern speaks to the pressing need to connect more effectively the new Goose that will spill bike traffic into downtown when the bridge (not to mention the E&N trail) are complete.  That will be a new project, as will new concepts for Wharf and harbour pathway connections will be as next steps take shape.  Wharf has no easy fixes, which is partly why it does not top the priority list for new investments the city's bike plan envisions.

A separated cycle track on Pandora is at the top, and two designs will be assessed, though destination travel analysis would indicate that a couplet with Johnson is a more complete network approach than the two way fashion statement some would prefer.  Engineering challenges will be daunting enough given the inconsistencies in available right of way along the corridor, though it will still be worth extra work (and extra money) aimed at conceptualizing the two way option. Understanding that trip patterns will be at least as important as the symbol provided by a two way cycle track must inform the analysis.  I am less certain than some that the two way concept is the silver bullet.  It has many blemishes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nothing to see here . . 

A sparsely attended meeting of Victoria’s council sitting in committee heard from project managers on the progress of the Johnson St. Bridge.  Those coming to watch a train wreck were no doubt disappointed.

Recent reports notwithstanding, budget and time lines appear to be on track and critics are muted by the steady onslaught of the uncomfortable facts.

The question had to be asked again, though answered more than once or a thousand times, about maintenance of the old bridge.  While wrestling through the forecasts for touching up paint or recoating the bridge, the point seemingly had to be made that, had old blue been painted more diligently, it might have lasted longer.  The answer, as always, has been as consistent.  The old bridge, was state of the art, 90 years ago, using plate steel and rivets to create the structural members the define the structure.  Consulting engineers in attendance, like those that had come before, schooled the studiously uninformed, that the design rendered any scheme to coat surfaces between plates, at best, irrelevant, and, for all intents and purposes, near impossible in any event, at least in situ.

As those who have followed the project and who understand at least the basics of metallurgy, the existing bridge, despite some initial hopefulness, has never been a good candidate for refurbishment, whatever the scheme.  The steel is so compromised by the rust and corrosion of a salty environment and the damp winters of the wet coast that almost nothing of the original bridge would remain after the rust might have been scraped off, lead paint and all, into the water below.

The same voices who began their term insisting that an iconic bridge was too rich for Victoria are now as insistent that no expense be spared to ensure that the trail crossing that will connect the E&N trail to the Goose and the new bridge has all the architectural panache of the bridge project they once insisted would serve as well if it were a replica of the Spencer Road overpass.

Different storylines emerged that counter the recent and familiar noise from other critics.  Routine maintenance and schemes for replacement of load bearing mechanical elements of the bridge are designed into the management plan for the future of the new bridge, not, as some might have it, a sudden and surprising change to the lifespan project for the bridge, which remains at 100 years.  Proxies at the table were left looking for minutiae around how bearings might be replaced or paint touch up work might be arranged. 

The use of one sort of grouting or another to sandwich steel surfaces subject to loads and friction were revealed as  likewise commonplace, well protected from the elements encased within the structure where operational requirements demand.  Nothing to see here, and not so much to report, more than that most all of the 4,000, give or take a few, movable bridges across North America are using much the same elements of design. 

Engineers put paid to the notion too, that the mechanics of the bridge are untried or untested.  They went so far even as to share that the key elements of rollers and bearings, racks and pinions and the like were so commonplace as to be available off the shelf, should one or another piece require replacement.  That too, is designed into the bridge.  Due diligence will require maintenance, maybe repairs, perhaps replacement of some of those movable parts that will wear over time.  Unlike the current structure, however, everything is designed with maintenance and durability in mind.  The old bridge, not so much.

Rail service, as much as we would have liked to include it in the first go round, is protected, at least conceptually.  The right of way remains and, should a revival demand a downtown station, the logistics of approaches from the west side will be easy enough to construct, even as those most attached to bringing the train into sight of the city centre decry the expense of public space design that might require some rearrangement should a station be required or tracks need to be laid.

More practical approaches might be explored where a new station location that harkens back to the ‘70s, when rail served, more practically, deeper into Vic West.  Locations have more generous space that might be afforded a station, parking would be more readily available, transit connections could be designed, and local development would be anchored by passenger rail or long haul commuter services.  Not that the rail is operating yet, but the prospect of revival, however shaky, would best be served by functional realities more so than political posturing.

All of the noise around design milestones and the impatience with those elements still incomplete revealed some stark contrasts in approaches.  The public realm west of the bridge that will reclaim land currently supporting the dysfunctional S-curve is rightly unfinished on paper.  As much as the concepts of land use have been driven by community desires for more park space, it remains most crucial that the public be involved in the more detailed design that can follow the more immediate need to finish the bridge and road connections that will service the new crossing.

Further on up the road, or the trail, so to speak, the E&N rail trail continues to emerge alongside the increasingly decrepit track bed, though many of us still hope the train will be rescued as promised.  It will connect to the project and, truth be told, I would rather not have detailed design completed without having a good look at both functional design and architectural expression.  I’m uncomfortable enough with the continue characterization of the link as a “pedestrian” bridge, when it will also serve commuter cyclists and other wheeled travelers who will require different kinds of geometrics than those needed for foot travel alone.  I’m sure everyone involved understands this, but it needs to be spelled out as a design driver as the project proceeds.

Road links and fresh works connecting Harbour Road across to the Ocean Pointe Hotel are already in progress, and the ramp down to the road from the current E&N trail piece are fenced off for the next several weeks.  More effort could have been made to design better detour arrangements and more pointed communications, but it will be very short term, and the promise of dramatic improvements to cycling facilities that are central to the new bridge will draw more traffic despite new ideological skepticism emerging among some in the cycling community.

Something new will be emerging as city staff and project consultants work through the change order demanded by the contractor hoping to squeeze more money out of their fixed price deal, but that wasn’t ready for the council gabfest.  No doubt it will be fuel and fodder for the naysayers who aren’t much interested in the facts in any event.  While some may be journalists in their day jobs, they’ve lost any sense of objectivity on this project, leading the charge in opposition whilst pretending to be mere reporters.   Guess you have to give them credit for being consistent.

Project team members turned aside questions that had been raised about the ethics of designers assessing the changes.  They reminded council that their r professional credentials demanded that they provide accurate and fair information, and that anything they turned in would be run through city staff and were subject to audit, in any event, by federal funders who have a lot of skin in the game and have, thus far, found everything in order.

Me too.  I read all 483 pages of the report and voted yes for a new bridge.  Didn’t forget also, to read page 484 too – that’s the one where the referendum results showed the voters of Victoria made the same choice.  Haven’t seen anything new that indicates it was the wrong one.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jobs sailing in to Victoria

There's not a lot to support in the province's decision to abandon the Capital Commission and sell off key assets to finance operational debt.  This trade of lands for those the city owns at Point Hope, however, is one of those exceptions that make good sense. 

During my time on council I was also pressing the case that we sell Point Hope the leased lands to give them certainty for at least some of the investments they had then mapped out.  I hope they proceed with the graving dock they planned that would allow more and larger vessels to come into the yard, creating new and better jobs than I am expecting from the more shaky LNG industry that some operations will service. 

There will no doubt be some who strike the match and light their hair on fire, insisting, wrongly, that the land should be saved for housing or a park.  Both of those soapboxes are too shaky to stand for long.

For the city, the new provincial properties along the other side of the harbour will help to consolidate the city’s holdings on the downtown waterfront, and make it easier to advance a harbour pathway project that has been in the works for years.  That will be a welcome and well used public space that gives hope to the idea that we can stop providing viewscapes for empty cars and give more of our waterfront back to our citizens.

Back on the other side, the Point Hope lands have always been a liability more than an asset for the city.  They cannot be used for housing – too contaminated from near a century and a half of industrial activity that would make reclamation uneconomic.  For health reasons, you simply cannot build housing on toxic sites.  Why would we ask those who need affordable housing to absorb the costs or the risks associated with who knows what buried in the fill?

As a park, it doesn’t have a lot to offer – it would be isolated and less appealing than the new and better park space the city has already planned into the local neighbourhood south of the new bridge and taking advantage of land reclaimed from the soon to be redundant “S” curve (a sticky issue for those that insist traffic calming is so well served by preserving accident generators).

For the shipyard, the lands will be an asset.  They can consolidate their property, cap the site, contain the contamination and keep on doing what they do best - serving dozens of vessels from near and far who check in now again for minor repairs or major work.  Those who might believe it’s but a pittance to fix might cast their eyes towards the BC Hydro lands where tens of millions of dollars have been, and continue to be spent, on one of Canada’s most toxic pieces of land.  That’s not something the city needs to take on.

Point Hope can take this to the bank – as an owner better than a leaseholder, to secure the financing they need to build their business and create jobs you can count.  Both the shipyard and the city also escape the conundrum of the landlord also being the regulator of the lands and eliminate any conflict over the watchdog role.

Not to be undersold also is the planning that went into the bridge project – some elements of design were added late to the plan to allow Point Hope to pull in bigger, wider vessels.

I’m sure the deal will be the “focus” of some critics but this is a good deal for the city and for the sustainability of our community.  We need to be a working city too and this is a big boost for our marine industrial economy.  Our marine highways, despite the efforts of some, aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, and the vessels that ply our coastal waters need their marine garage.  It’s here at Point Hope and it’s about to tool up.

Kudos to Mayor Fortin and the city for making this work.

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