Less than two months after the opening of the two-lane dedicated bike lanes on Pandora Avenue, another major bike lane development for the downtown has passed a major hurdle.
On Thursday, Victoria city councillors, sitting as committee of the whole, moved forward the bikeway project planned for the north side of Fort Street from Wharf to Cook streets. As a compromise, rather than including the controversial removal of 18 parking spots in the 500 and 600-block of Fort, the plan allows for eight spots to be retained near the Bay Centre, plus a taxi loading zone.
The $3.19-million project, which is similar to the Pandora bikeway, has faced opposition from business owners concerned about the loss of parking, access for delivery trucks and emergency vehicles, and accessibility for people travelling by cab.
Mayor Lisa Helps said while people tend to be most concerned about the things that impact them directly, council’s job is to look at the big picture and make decisions that are best for the city in the long term.
“We made a significant and positive compromise by keeping the parking spots on the 600 block. I know that was a sticking point for a lot of businesses and we listened to those concerns,” she said. “I’m very happy with the outcome. This is a forward-looking project that’s good for the long term. It’s a plan that is really meant for people and their quality of life.”
The bikeway project will include new pavement along the Wharf-to-Cook Street strip, 23 new bike racks and the installation of bike corrals. It would also see new motorcycle parking added in the 600-block of Fort, new passenger and commercial loading zones, nine new boulevard trees and a reworking of pedestrian crossings at Langley and Broad streets and the 700-block of Fort.
The project gained initial municipal approval in principle in May 2016, but by February, Helps was coming under fire from critics in the business community who claimed they had not been sufficiently consulted. Following a meeting hosted by the Downtown Victoria Business Association, the mayor acknowledged that the city had to do a better job of taking business concerns into consideration during the design process.
Staff returned to the process and reported that, although there was not public consensus on the project, many concerns and suggestions were taken to heart before they developed the final plan.
The cost of retaining the parking spots and the modification of the streetscape in the 600-block was pegged at $500,000. That will be covered initially out of city reserves and repaid, with interest, using the estimated $60,000 a year in revenue generated by the spots, ultimately making the amendment cost-neutral.
The change would require the narrowing of the sidewalk in the block by 0.6 metres, the removal of boulevard trees and some light standards, but will retain a continued sidewalk width of about two metres.
The project requires final approval by city council and is slated for completion by early 2018.