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John Luton’s Second Letter

[I received this lengthy reply from John Luton a while ago now. Many interesting points.]

Hi again Saren,

Although the issues may be moot after the counter petition submissions are counted, here are some additional responses to your points.

 I would not support replacement of the bridge if it were only to provide a better level of service for cyclists and pedestrians.  It is the other deficiencies, particularly seismic, that dictate replacement.  That said, a new bridge that did not provide improvements for cyclists and pedestrians would be unacceptable to me.  I made that clear to my colleagues and to our engineering staff and that helped inform the details of the design, not the choice to replace or refurbish.

 If the bridge were structurally and mechanically sound, a separate bridge could be constructed, albeit at considerable expense ($10 million plus) to complete links between the Galloping Goose and E&N trails into downtown.  Given that the province just completed a cantilever bridge structure on the Canada Line Bridge to accommodate bikes and pedestrians, at a cost of $10 million (and to serve lower bike and pedestrian traffic volumes), and that as part of the Gateway Program spending an additional $50 million on other regional bicycle facilities in the Lower Mainland, investing in bike and pedestrian facilities to that order of magnitude here in Victoria is not an unreasonable expectation.

 With respect to your comments on on how much impact new and better facilities would have on cycling traffic, your assumptions are not consistent with experience here in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America.  Significant improvements, like those that are essential to the new bridge, are associated with dramatic increases in cycling traffic not only at the “point of impact” (that would be just the facilities on the bridge), but radiate across transportation networks.  Trips will not begin in Oak Bay, Saanich, Esquimalt, etc. when the bridge figures into the journey.

 Adding cycling facilities to Portland’s bridges for example (leaving aside the technical issue of what works on their bridges vs what is possible on ours), generated growth in bicycle traffic to orders of magnitude (bike traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge has gone up 400% since separated facilities were added), and connecting bike facilities (on-road bike lanes connecting southeast neighbourhoods to the bridge and the bridge downtown) also saw significant growth in bike traffic. 

 What was key, and has been critical elsewhere, is fixing the pinch points or removing key barriers that discourage bicycle use.  Current cycling populations (like you or me), are instructive to a point in assessing what cyclists can do; but we offer little value in instructing public agencies what people will do. 

 We are reaching the saturation point for the numbers of  relatively confident transportation cyclists who will suffer some inconvenience and a less than ideal level of service (the extent to which facilities provide comfort and real or perceived safety dividends).  In order to attract the kind of numbers that we need to shift to cycling in order to reach objectives we have collectively established (and that I helped to develop), we will need to get beyond the “low hanging fruit” of easily done bike lanes and other facilities (better bike parking, trails on old rail corridors etc.), and now face the challenges of reorienting our key pieces of infrastructure to give a much broader demographic the kind of comfort level they need to make cycling a viable choice for them. 

 Not only does this strategy work, but to do otherwise would be to fail to address the future needs of our citizens and undermine our commitment to evolving a more sustainable transportation mosaic in the region.  For very modest investments, growth in cycling has been, between 2001 and 2006, 23% for journey to/from work trips, and 40% for all trip purposes.  No other transportation capital investment programs in the capital region have been as successful.  For about the same amount of money we plan for the new bridge, you can fund the transit system for one year, and each year they gobble up more, but are nevertheless growing ridership very modestly.  Walking trips are falling (new middle school model is responsible for that), and vehicle traffic across the region is up very marginally (thanks to Bear Mountain and other rapid developments in the big box suburbs).

 80% of the 40,000 trips a day by bike are in the core municipalities and as much as 10% of those trips cross the bridge.  We’ll need to grow that to 100,000 trips or more over the life of the Regional Growth Strategy (the horizon is 2026), and without the kind of improvements envisioned for the bridge crossing, that will be difficult to achieve.  Given average trip distances by bike and comparing total annual trips with average mileage etc. of average motorists etc., the avoided GHG emissions of reaching these objectives will be on the order of 25 tons a day, every day.  That won’t save the planet, but it would be a significant local contribution to a cumulative effort.

 To find out more you’ll have to sift through the CRD’s Origin and Destination surveys at www.crd.bc.ca but I will also try and load up more on one or another website or blog.

 With respect to our other facilities, we are in planning to replace the Crystal Pool and our engineering department is assessing space allocation requirements at City Hall to help inform planning for seismic work.  All levels of government and the private sector are working on various projects to address seismic deficiencies of buildings and other infrastructure (my daughter just returned to Margaret Jenkins School after an 18 month seismic upgrade).  Not all of the challenges of upgrading to current seismic standards will be achieved all at once, but is incorporated into every project where new construction is contemplated and in many projects where restoration or upgrades take place (many downtown heritage buildings for example, cannot be occupied above the first floor until seismic reinforcement is completed and our property tax relief program for heritage buildings is designed to provide financial assistance to developers to complete seismic work).

 The necessity of complete seismic work is triggered by our responsiblity to conduct regular assessments of our critical infrastructure (and municpalities are clearly responsible for transportation infrastructure, unless otherwise claimed by the province or assigned to the federal government – air and marine traffic).  Identifying deficiencies triggers a responsibility for a duty of care that is reasonably well spelled out and I don’t believe that we can prescribe standards for the private sector or other agencies that we won’t ourselves adhere to.

 Morally, accepting that deficient infrastructure presents a possibly fatal threat, is not defensible.  That’s not necessarily legally binding; the province pays out claims on rockfalls on provincial highways rather than fix the problems); but that’s a line I won’t cross, nor will most of my colleagues on council.  Whose life will we sacrifice and at what price will we allow infrastructure we know to be potentially hazardous to remain in some state of disrepair?  The awards in the I-35 bridge disaster in Minneapolis suggest that the liability costs may be signficant.

 The Bay is not quite the example I was thinking about when suggesting that our economic liabilities may also be signficiant.  More relevant may be Point Hope Shipyards where business would disappear overnight should there be a bridge collapse or some level of failure that blocked the channel or left the bridge closed for some length of time (the bridge getting stuck has been clearly identified in the Delcan report as a potential failure in an earthquake of some magnitude – not  necessarily the big one).  Failure to at least address these deficiencies at minimum could be very expensive.

 I had thought I had put up some references to economic liabilities on the blog or webpage, but I couldn’t find it either.  I’ll add the information to the economics piece I am working on (so far 6 pages), but the reference is to the Canada Line construction project in Vancouver, where public agencies and their private sector partner chose “cheaper” cut and cover options for the subway over more expensive tunnel boring.  So far, one merchant has been awarded $600,000 by the courts who found that the public agency and their partners saved their money at the expense of someone else, essentially creating only a nuisance that impacted the business whose owner sued.  There may be as many as 50 other businesses lined up to make similar claims.

 See: 

Vancouver Sun story

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Cambie+Street+merchant+wins+damages+Canada+Line+construction/1635935/story.html

 and: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Transportation/2009/05/27/CambieWins/index.html?commentsfilter=0

 That could be enormously expensive and informs our approach to the bridge project.  Refurbishing the bridge is potentially cheaper than a new bridge (though refurbishment  is much more vulnerable to cost escalation), but will require some lengthy closures.  Our advice is that the “go cheap” strategy exposes the city to potential claims for economic dislocation where the Cambie St. decision acts as a precedent.

 The cost issues paper should be up at www.johnluton.ca within a day or two.

 Your impression of the sewage referendum is better than mine.  I moved to Ottawa from Victoria in 1979 and only returned in 1994, so I was watching local developments from a distance. I do believe that sometimes governments need to act without reference to a referendum and I think the bridge makes that case.  The safety and viablility of our key transportation infrastructure is not an optional project, but essential to the duties and responsbilities (and liabilities) of municipalities.  People will not always like what we choose but at least for my part, my commitment to strategies that I believe to be effective innoculations against the potential impacts of climate change is stronger than my instinct for political self-preservation.  On the liability issues associated with one or another choice, we have a wealth of information the suggests to us that replacement is the most prudent and economically sensible.

 Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

 John Luton