The downtown Victoria bike lanes are a contentious topic; on one side they’re focused on safety and green transportation, on the other they’re invasive and expensive.
City council and staff are aware of these facts and in a Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe prompted City engineers to speak of the lessons learned in the Pandora Avenue and Fort Street bike lanes.
Director of engineering and public works, Fraser Work, was candid in his response.
“If I could go back in time, I would want to re-frame at a staff level that this is about safety,” he said. “A lot of questions come up about ‘why not simply add more painted lanes’ that have such a lower cost … that’s not what this is about. From a staff level I’m most interested in the safety for all cyclists that move in and out of traffic.”
Work said the bike lanes come up in conversations a lot, and even among his own family members he gets a little heat.
“‘Blow em up!’ those were my parents words,” he said. “My parents will never use the bike lanes … But, this is not a project that aims to make it more convenient or comfortable for a small group of cyclists. This is a program to make it safe to cycle in the city.”
When looking at past processes and designs, City manager of sustainable transportation planning and development, Sarah Webb, said there were several different lessons learned.
In terms of design, she said Pandora Avenue ended up having too many concrete barriers.
“On Fort, we looked at different ways to increase permeability of the project and only use concrete curbs at key intersections,” she said, noting that they opted for more paint and bollards where they could.
She also said the Fort lanes provided city engineers with a lot of insight on better ways to control traffic signal timing, something they continually tweak.
For Work, one of his most significant lessons was in regards to public engagement.
“In essence, we have to have more detailed conversations with key stakeholders, and re-architect the engagement process from what we learned with Pandora and Fort,” he said.
Brad Delleburr, manager of transportation and infrastructure design, echoed these thoughts.
“A much as we have open houses, talk to people on the street … the story is really difficult to get out to the general public,” he said. “What these facilities are, what they’re going to achieve … conversations around bike facilities are not going to end any time soon.”
Council members all spoke of the difficulty small businesses had amid construction, and that the City could provide better signage for businesses to let the public know they’re still open.
A large problem for Fort Street was that while lanes were being built, some underground infrastructure was also being updated, adding to the construction time.
“I totally recognize that, but if we hadn’t done that now … there would have been some kind of leakage … or 10 years from now we’d have to do the underground infrastructure,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “I know it’s been terrible, but it’s not all about the bike lanes.”
At the end of the day, Works acknowledged there were many needs to be met.
“There are no silver bullets,” he said. “We have to have a multifaceted approach.”
Coun. Thornton-Joe said that the bike lanes also came up in her dinner conversations, and that even when people like the lanes, there are frustrations about cyclists themselves.
“Hopefully we can continue to learn and share,” she said.