Unwelcoming gateway to the west

I was a bit crushed to see the City of Victoria back away from its plan to add a cantilevered multi-use trail to the Bay Street bridge.

Ever tried cycling across the Bay Street bridge? If not, let me tell you, it’s terrifying.

Passing a cyclist on the narrow bridge is no easy feat as a driver, either. Walking is only slightly better. The bridge’s solitary sidewalk, pressed up against fast-moving traffic on the span’s south side, makes for a pretty unpleasant stroll.

The result of all this unfriendly infrastructure is easy to see.

Almost nobody crosses the bridge unless they’re sitting comfortably in a vehicle. That’s especially true after dark. Add the slightly seedy elements of Rock Bay’s industrial park to the fact there are zero witnesses in sight and you’ve got a no-go zone.

All of these factors flashed through my mind the day the City of Victoria announced it was closing the rail portion of the Johnson Street Bridge due to an unexpected level of structural decay.

The out-of-the-blue closure back in April changed the dynamics of rush-hour traffic quite a bit for the 22,000 folks in Vic West and Esquimalt, and many more from points further west.

It forced all cyclists onto the Johnson Street vehicle bridge, slowing traffic for cars. The new light at Harbour and Esquimalt roads aggravated the problem. Drivers rerouted to the Bay Street bridge, slowing down traffic there as well.

And then there’s the dreadful possibility that the deteriorating Johnson Street vehicle bridge will suffer the same fate as the rail bridge.

The city is counting on it lasting until 2016, when the new bridge is expected to be completed, but I’m not confident.

For all of these reasons, I was a bit crushed to see the City of Victoria back away from its plan to add a cantilevered multi-use trail to the Bay Street bridge, known formally as the Point Ellice bridge. The project had been slotted into the city’s draft capital budget for 2011. This week, the updated budget document shows it has been pushed it back to 2016.

It’s bad news for me as a Vic West resident. But I think it also fails to acknowledge the importance of the bridge as one of only two routes to the downtown for the city’s fastest-growing neighbourhood.

Two major ongoing developments flank the Bay Street bridge’s west entrance. Both cater to a bike-friendly demographic and market their location as an easy walk or cycle to the downtown, and yet, the nearest bridge doesn’t accommodate these trips.

There’s a cheeky map of Victoria circulating on social media.

It divides the city into quadrants based on common stereotypes. “Hippies” live in the Fernwood area, the “Old, sick and dying,” cluster in the Rockland area, and James Bay is dubbed “Gay Bay.”

Vic West takes the moniker “Island of Poverty.”

That’s not entirely accurate. Vic West has improved a lot over the decades, but only very slowly.

I’m not surprised Esquimalt and Vic West have had a hard time shedding these stereotypes. A welcoming gateway to the west would totally change the perception of these areas.

rholmen@vicnews.com