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John Luton’s Fourth Letter

Thanks again.

My enthusiasm has worked well enough to advance many of the cycling projects around the Capital Region and it has been the most successful strategy for any transportation mode supported by public funds.

That said, enthusiasm alone won’t get us very far in dealing with the issues on the bridge. I’m only one vote on council and on this issue, to the extent that cycling and walking issues are a factor in asssessing our options for the bridge, the issues for council are as follows:

What is the nature of our commitment to sustainable transportation?

The answer lies in our own community planning processes, and neighbourhoods like Vic West have been emphatic in their support of traffic calming and in community design features that make walking and cycling more viable and more appealing for residents. At another level, we are parties to the Regional Growth Strategy, which outlines modest targets for growing cycling and walking, at least in part because preserving or expanding a transportation network that favours automobility is not sustainable and unaffordable. We have also signed on to a provincial Climate Change Charter that commits municipalities to reducing the carbon footrpint of their own operations as well as that of their citizens. Since 60% of emissions are from transportation in the region, shifting transportation modes to more sustainable choices is critical to meeting those objectives.

What is the impact of bridge options on shifting transportation choices?

As noted in previous discussions and through references to various sources, the provision of dedicated facilities is critical to growing cycling and walking for transportation and the patterns of success that are correlated with the design features incorporated into the new bridge are consistent across North America and elsewhere in the world.

Legal issues

With respect to the legal issues, I cannot share in camera information provided to council by our lawyers. Suffice to say that my comments on the Cambie St. case are not unequivocal. The relevance will be up to the courts to decide, but the issue is not related to any earthquake, but to the nature of any project works that may have an impact on businesses that rely on our transportation network. Shifting costs to other stakeholders to minimize our costs may expose the city to some level of liability.

Earthquake threats are not particularly relevant to the discussions of the I-35 bridge, but it is legally relevant. It is the duty of care required of municipalities to regularly inspect and to ensure operability of infrastructure in their care. The legal issues involved are not earthquake specific, but rather it is the issue of, whether it is a heaving sidewalk that creates a tripping hazard (municipalities regularly pay out claims on this one), or a bridge that is seismically vulnerable, municipalities are required to address deficiciences or hazards identified by inspection.

We have no contract with Point Hope, other than those related to their tenancy on city land. Access to the upper harbour is required of us by the federal government, which has jurisdiction over navigable waters. We are required to not impede passage, and doing so by neglect (the bridge electrical system is on the brink of failure and the potential for the bridge to be locked in position may be the consequence of even a small earthquake), would be a fairly transparent demonstration of negligence, for which we would most certainly be sued, and can, with some confidence, predict that we would, as a city, be held liable.

Seismic upgrading is not optional. Citizens cannot by referendum or otherwise require of or give permissions to governments to disregard the law. A referendum, for example, could not have instructed the town of Walkerton to forego water treatment to save money while endangering their citizens. Likewise, we are ordered by the province to treat our sewage and cannot now refuse to do so despite the protests of citizens who dispute the science or who oppose the signficant additional tax burden they will be obliged to shoulder.

Seismic vulnerabilities are outlined in the Delcan report on the city’s website at

Those that continue to believe this fiction will be in for a rude shock. If a referendum is defeated (and both replacement and refurbishment will incur significant costs best financed by borrowing), we will have to dip into capital reserves and raise taxes to replenish those funds (capital reserves are required for any number of ongoing asset renewal programs from rusted out lamp-posts to worn out garbage trucks).