Blue Bridge “Road Diet” – Test the Idea

Update: has a petition on this issue, that you can sign here.

I saw this article last night on the Times Colonist website, in which director Ross Crockford argues that the City “should at least try closing one lane [on the Johnson Street Bridge (JSB)] to cars and converting it for use by cyclists before rejecting the idea.” Here’s a link the organization’s letter to City Council: The Case for Trying Two Lanes on Victoria’s Johnson Street Bridge. They make the case that switching one of the three lanes on the JSB to two bicycle lanes would probably work, would cost less than other options being considered and would not prevent other options from being implemented later if it was found to be unworkable. They offer several suggestions about how surrounding intersections and approaches could be resigned and re-engineered, something that will have to happen in any case. (Whether or not the bridge is even replaced or refurbished, a lot of problems could be solved by dealing with the problem intersections/approaches, like the labyrinth where Johnson, Pandora and Wharf streets meet on the east side of the bridge, or the bicycle approach from the Galloping Goose on the West side, which forces cyclists onto the rail/pedestrian crossing.)

(See the letter for better photo illustrations of the problems at each end of the bridge.)

As the letter puts it,

A greater principle is also at stake here. Governments have a duty to thoroughly explore simpler, less-costly solutions to problems, before throwing millions of dollars at more expensive ones… Experimenting with a lane reduction on our bridge will show residents that our city is willing to innovate, to improve facilities for cyclists, and to make the best use of taxpayers’ money at the same time.

As Evan at Make Victoria Better is fond of pointing out, great cities test good ideas, find out what happens and keep the ideas that work. I couldn’t agree more.

This entry was posted in Automobiles, Cars, City Council, Cycling, Downtown, Esquimalt, Land Use, Newspaper Coverage, Pedestrians, Photographs, Planning, Research, Vic West, Victoria. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Blue Bridge “Road Diet” – Test the Idea

  1. Evan says:

    Hey Vincent,

    I have been meaning to write about the JSB, but keep flooding myself with other ideas, instead.

    I see this road diet as having huge potential for the JSB. And, yes, I will say again (ha), why not try it out and keep it if it works?

    So much of transportation planning is counter-intuitive. Let’s hope our politicians have the strength to stand up to detractors and try something progressive, like this.

  2. John Luton says:

    The lane reduction scheme proposed for the Johnson St. bridge sounds appealing and provides another opportunity for the Blue Bridge preservation campaign to advance their agenda.

    Money isn’t the issue here. It’s all about saving the bridge and that was explicit when the counter petition campaign celebrated their success.

    Analysis and computer modeling of system performance has been done extensively over the last decade or so. As an advocate for cycling and as then President of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, I worked with the city seeking solutions to accommodate the growing volume of bicycle and pedestrian traffic pouring into the city from the Galloping Goose even then, long before the urban trail segments were complete.

    Analysis included looking at traffic schemes and engineering solutions, like a cantilever addition to the bridge to add capacity for trail users. Both were found to be not feasible.

    You don’t always have to undergo a test run of a traffic system design to understand whether or not it will work. In this case, the proposed “road diet” (something I have helped bring to Fort St. and Esquimalt Rd in Victoria), does not provide the imagined solution.

    First, “road diet” lane reductions are typically 4 lanes to 3, not 3 to 2. The 4 to 3 configuration provides a two-way, left turn lane down the centre of the road (both Fort and Esquimalt have included this feature), to drain traffic that typically disrupts flow and reduces capacity. Capacity is also supported at intersections that are critical to the success of such schemes, and both Esquimalt and Fort St. again have additional lanes at key intersections to support the traffic demand. Both of those streets also carry a little more than half the traffic carried on the bridge – substantially higher volumes would most likely cause these schemes to “fail”.

    Failure shows up in a number of impacts. For the Johnson St. Bridge, that would show up in frequently blocked intersections on the downtown side during afternoon peak hours. Wharf St., Yates St., Pandora and Store are all feeding traffic towards the bridge and halving its capacity would force queues into the intersections at these streets. A signal at Yates and Wharf will do nothing to relieve that problem. Going out of town the “garden hose” is trying to force flow through the “drinking straw”, with predictable results.

    Conversely, traffic flowing into downtown has the reverse pattern to help disburse incoming traffic in the morning. The “drinking straw” is feeding the “garden hose” and it works well enough.

    Comparisons with Vancouver’s Burrard St. Bridge project are an appealing if simplistic foil for the preservation campaign. Burrard works for different reasons. First, there remains two lanes outbound, so capacity reduction was one-third, not one-half as proposed for our Johnson St. Bridge. That is much easier to manage than the scheme promoted by the Blue Bridge campaign.

    Those two lanes are also immediately supported by additional capacity south of the Burrard Bridge on Burrard St. and First Ave. into Kitsalano. Traffic is absorbed and flow can continue. That’s not so easy on the Johnson St. Bridge where the traffic “delta” is at Tyee and Esquimalt, where commuters have two options and road design provides capacity to accommodate these movements. Esquimalt Rd has 4 lanes at the intersection (1 through lane each way, a short left turn pocket south onto Tyee into the Songhees, and the continuous right turn lane that flows from the Bridge onto Tyee). Only at this juncture are the volumes sufficiently split to allow for the new Esquimalt Rd configuration.

    Another option provided by the Burrard St. Bridge project is the unused capacity on Granville St. For traffic coming into or leaving downtown Vancouver, that bridge is close enough for vehicle drivers to choose that option if frustrated by the slow movement of traffic onto the Burrard Bridge outbound in the afternoon. Victoria has no reasonable alternative that would provide a comparable level of service here. Bay St. doesn’t serve well the same downtown destinations supported by the Johnson St. Bridge and, in any event, has no spare capacity. It has trouble enough already handling the traffic volumes there today without trying to absorb those that would be tempted by blockages on the Blue Bridge, and those commuters would be scurrying through congested downtown streets looking for an all too imaginary uncongested route to Bay St. to avoid delays at Johnson. Even now additional capacity by way of providing a dedicated left turn lane west of the bridge to reduce the all too frequent incidence of through traffic darting into the right turn lane to leapfrog left turners.

    As much as I,as a long time cycling advocate, would like to reduce vehicle travel and steal space for bikes on our roadways, I’m enough of a realist and with experience helping to design many of the region’s bike facilities, to know that this scheme won’t work. Notwithstanding the “Eureka” moment of the critics, we’ve been through this analysis thoroughly over the last decade and there is nothing new that would make it work.

    There are a couple of other flaws worth noting with the snake oil being sold by the preservation campaign. Most of what is proposed for cyclists and pedestrians won’t provide a significantly better level of service, at least not cheaply.

    Adding anything to the surface of the bridge deck, however slight, challenges the fine tolerances of the counterweights, electrical and mechanical systems of the bridge. It’s all been designed to lift the current weight of the bridge. All of those systems would have to be reworked, at some significant cost, to accommodate the additional weight and, perhaps more complicated, the “wind sail” affect of a much larger unperforated surface area presented when the bridge is up.

    For road cyclists, the extra space would be welcome, though the flimsy bollards proposed provided not much comfort compared to Burrard’s concrete barriers. For trail users, the maze is no better than the existing “tangled octopus” presented today. It’s a frustration for most cyclists using the trail and the bridge and one of the reasons a new bridge has (with notable exceptions) such strong support within the cycling community.

    Integrating trail cycling traffic into the road network would remain a problem, and for several decades, with any refurbishment project. Impacts on downtown traffic and business will be significant, if not severe, with the lane reduction proposed.

    Don’t expect, also, that vehicle traffic is simply going to disappear. Our population is growing and even with fantastic growth in bicycle travel (23% growth in commuter cycling from 2001 to 2006, and probably as much again when we recount in 2011), vehicle travel in the region is growing. While traffic on the bridge has been relatively stable, growing density in Vic West and residential downtown will add some pressure to those numbers. Our friends in the environmental community are also promoting electric, plug-in hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles so we can sustain a more guilt free habit, and the automotive industry is responding. Expect cars to be around for some decades to come.

    We’re spending almost a million extra dollars to explore refurbishment in more detail and any project will cost several millions more as a result of delays that now have cost us the most favourable interest rates. We can stall some more and threaten the $21 million we’ve secured from the federal government to help pay for the right project.

    At the end of the day, remember that first and foremost, the Blue Bridge has a functional purpose that trumps its architectural value. It has to carry traffic safely and efficiently and will serve best if it can accommodate the travel choices we envision for the future. That is best served by a new bridge designed and purposely built to provide a more complete facility that offers better levels of service to cyclists and pedestrians in particular, something our citizens have indicated is at the top of their list. However many “new” ideas we may have to make “Franken-bridge” work, it will remain a bridge for cars and trucks that may satisfy those interested only in preservation, but as a key feature of a diverse and integrated transportation system, it will remain a liability rather than an asset.

    I’ve got more on this an other issues on my own blog at

  3. Yule Heibel says:

    There is no magic in reducing from 4 to 3 versus 3 to 2 when we’re talking about a tiny little bridge.

    Since we’re talking about the bridge specifically, John Luton’s attempt to obfuscate the issue by talking about the need for a middle (left turn) lane is downright absurd. Where would traffic in that middle lane on the bridge turn to? The water? As for the lane configurations on Esquimalt Rd., those are already reduced and work just fine.

    Repeat: We’re talking about the span of the bridge, Councilor, not about the entire road network. Just try a “road diet” on the bridge for a week or two to see what happens.

    Again, I ask you: why would a reduction from 3 lanes to 2 NOT work on the Johnson Street Bridge, given that we are talking about an extremely short crossing that has absolutely no need of a middle lane for turns?

    Lastly, Luton writes blithely about the Johnson Street Bridge’s functional value trumping its architectural value. Well, the fact is that it has architectural value and that its functional value is pretty darn good and could be modified relatively cheaply. What doesn’t have great functional capacity right now is the Bay Street Bridge, which furthermore carries all of our city’s vital services (Telus phone, BC Hydro electric, Terasen Gas, and CRD WATER!), yet the city has no plans to improve the seismic safety of that bridge or to make it better for cyclists or to for motorists. It’s a disaster, and when the big one hits and that bridge goes down, who cares if a new JSB is standing but all the water, power, phone, and gas lines are kaput?

    And what did Mayor Fortin, CAO Stevens, and ex-Dir.Eng. Sparanese tell Ross Crockford and me when we asked why the Bay Street (aka Point Ellice Bridge) wasn’t being upgraded? It’s because those services aren’t “owned” by the city, and Victoria can’t get those other stakeholders to the table. What a pathetic excuse for leadership we have at city hall these days. Just because the city doesn’t own the vital services attached to a bridge it does own, it’s willing to let that bridge degrade/ neglect upgrading it? …Wow.

  4. Yule Heibel says:

    Podcast of today’s Stephen Andrews’- hosted CFAX interview with John Luton & Ross Crockford here. Must-listen – love how Andrews probes the issue.

  5. Pingback: » Commenting around Yule Heibel's Post Studio © 2003-2010

  6. John Luton says:

    Esquimalt Rd is not, as suggested, reduced to two lanes west of the bridge. That configuration is west of Tyee, an important distinction, since several thousand of the vehicle trips accounted for by bridge traffic turn onto Tyee and make the lane reduction feasible from that point west.

    Nobody is suggesting a left turn lane on the bridge. The capacity provided for by the additional lane (on Fort or Esquimalt) is simply not accounted for in your analysis of capacity for thelane configuration scheme you have proposed. The volume of traffic using Fort or Esquimalt where the “road diet” has been applied is reduced by the numbers that leave the traffic stream via the left turn option. The destination is irrelevant; what is important is that it brings down the numbers.

    The length of the bridge is also irrelevant. The extra lane configuration is in place to Tyee in order to absorb the traffic volumes that are traveling west into Vic West and Esquimalt. Without that capacity they will back up into downtown intersections while they wait for traffic to clear on the bridge. In afternoon peak hours, this problem will be chronic.

    The bridge is not an isolated piece of infrastructure that operates under its own dynamic. It is a critical link in a network of streets where design choices will radiate well beyond the immediate location of any single segment.

    The proposed traffic scheme doesn’t work and doesn’t offer anything of real value for cyclists and pedestrians. Better signage? That’s your magic bullet?

    Having won the point and compelled the city to examine in detail the costs of refurbishment, and having it peer reviewed by an engineer with experience both on this bridge in particular and other heritage projects, the bill for saving the bridge far exceeds the cost of replacement.

    Cost escalation was quite predictable, given that Class D estimates (which are normally at a low level of confidentce) did not cover any of the changes in scope analyzed to ensure a fair comparison to a new bridge or the very real challenges of refurbishment.

    Other than further, and costly, delays, testing an unworkable traffic system design does nothing to address the obsolete electrical and mechanical systems and won’t deal with the seismic vulnerability of the bridge.

    So what’s the city to do? I’m happy to follow those advising the least cost option and go for the new bridge.

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