Underpass to nowhere draws residents’ ire

Pedestrian walkway through bridge “wheels” will be blocked until harbour pathway built

Vic West residents are upset to realize that the pedestrian underpass

Vic West residents are upset to realize that the pedestrian underpass

In the lead up to the 2010 referendum on the new Johnson Street Bridge, a pedestrian underpass featured prominently in the city’s imagery and talking points.

Renderings showed people walking through two enormous “wheels” upon which the rolling bascule bridge will rotate to its lifted position.

The unique walkway will let people pass from the north side of the bridge to the south, connecting with a harbour pathway intended to one day hug the downtown shore of the Inner Harbour.

It’s an amenity still in the eventual plans – but not anytime soon, leaving Vic West residents feeling misled.

“Residents wish to see the linkage completed as shown in the drawings,” said Diane Carr, a Vic West resident, in an email to the News.

Project director Mike Lai, however, said there has been no change in project scope.

“I think we were pretty clear that this will accommodate future connections to the future harbour pathway,” he said. “In reality the harbour pathway on the north side is not there, so there’s nothing to connect to at this point and time.”

The pedestrian underpass through the bridge “wheels” is included in the $77-million project estimate. It will be built at the same time as the new bridge.

However, Lai said pedestrian access to the deadend will be blocked until the harbour pathway is eventually built by the city.

“This bridge is going to be here for 100 years,” said Lai. “I would expect they (the parks department) will construct the harbour pathway as priorities and funding permit.”

Bernie Gaudet, chair of the Vic West Community Association’s land-use committee, frames the problem in terms of citizen engagement.

“Information related to public policy and projects should be easily accessible … (and decisions should include) meaningful input by key stakeholders,” he said.

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon sees the underpass as a safety issue.

“This (pedestrian underpass) was what was shown to us before the referendum,” she said. “I voted on the new bridge because of the walkway underneath.”

Currently, many pedestrians dash across four lanes of traffic at the downtown entrance to the bridge, to avoid a circuitous route including several traffic lights.

“It’s dangerous,” said Gudgeon.

The city plans to improve the situation for pedestrians once the new bridge is built.

As the roadways are reconfigured, a new sidewalk will be added to the west side of Wharf Street. It will allow pedestrians to cross from one side of the bridge to the other without having to cross to the commercial side of Wharf Street.

“It will be a much straighter route,” said Lai.

On Nov. 20, 2010, residents voted in favour of a borrowing bylaw which gave the city permission to borrow $49.2 million to replace the bridge.