It’s an issue that makes Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps want to cry.
For the past few weeks, local businesses have been claiming a lack of downtown parking is driving customers away and have been calling on the city to invest in parkades. Those tensions continued to mount last week after news broke that dozens of parking spots will be lost with the addition of bike lanes as part of Biketoria, a multi-million-dollar project to implement an all ages cycling network by 2018.
Helps has received a number of emails from people — some angry — claiming a lack of parking is making it difficult for them to shop downtown and bike lanes will only make it worse.
“I feel like crying when I feel that people think that I don’t care about seniors or people with disabilities because we’re supporting Biketoria,” Helps said during a meeting Thursday, adding Biketoria is not for seniors, people with disabilities or those who live far away.
According to Helps, the project will improve parking accessibility in the long run by encouraging a number of residents in surrounding neighbourhoods to cycle, instead of driving into town, therefore freeing up more spaces for those who need it.
“If (Biketoria) goes well people who would otherwise drive, who would otherwise be filling up that parking spot, they’ll be biking and therefore those spots that would have otherwise been filled up…their cars will be at home in Fairfield, Vic West, Oaklands. They won’t drive into town. It will free up more parking for those who need it,” she said.
Last week, staff provided council with an update on the cycling network.
Councillors voted in favour of including Wharf Street (from Pandora Avenue to Government Street) in phase one of the Biketoria network as it “has a higher potential for increasing cycling mode shift,” according to a report to council.
Staff are also working on designs for the Fort Street bike lane, which could include a bi-directional fully-protected bike lane with signalized intersections for cyclists at a loss of 30 parking spots.
Most councillors were in support of moving ahead with a bike lane on Wharf Street in phase one, but lamented that Biketoria has become wrapped up with the issue of lack of parking in the downtown core.
Coun. Pam Madoff believes the project has taken the brunt of people’s frustrations, when more spaces are being lost to the boom in development than to cycling lanes.
“A lot of folks have very significant concerns and I don’t feel that they are acknowledged and it does a lot of disservice to bring these two together …The overall issue is parking downtown, it’s simply a matter of supply and demand,” she said, noting she comes downtown at least 30 to 40 minutes before an appointment in order to find parking.
“There is a real downside in losing hundreds and hundreds of parking spaces and I think we have to acknowledge that, be clear that Biketoria may only be a small portion of that. In my opinion, we’re reaching a real turning point in how they see the downtown and accessibility downtown and that’s our responsibility that we need to deal with.”
When complete, the first phase of the cycling grid will consist of 5.4 kilometres of fully-protected bike lanes.
Following the completion of phase one, the second phase includes the construction of corridors along Kings Road (Government Street to Fifth Street), Government Street (Pandora Avenue to Bay Street), and Vancouver Street (from Pandora Avenue to Kings Road).
The next two phases include the addition of 16.1 km of bike lanes connecting neighbourhoods, services and surrounding communities.
In October, construction began on the city’s first fully-protected, 1.2-km bike lane on Pandora Avenue from Cook to Store streets and is expected to wrap up in the spring.