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Bicycle traffic soars after new Johnson Street Bridge opens

Bicycle traffic in and out of downtown Victoria has exploded since the opening of the new Johnson Street Bridge, says Mayor Lisa Helps.
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Cyclists cross the new Johnson Street Bridge. April 2018

Bicycle traffic in and out of downtown Victoria has exploded since the opening of the new Johnson Street Bridge, says Mayor Lisa Helps.

“The bike counter on Harbour Road at the beginning of the Galloping Goose [trail] has gone from 1,500 people per day to 2,500 people per day since the bridge opened,” Helps said.

“Obviously I can’t even speak … that’s so staggering. I think we knew it would have some impact, but to see that much more traffic because there’s now a safe way to get downtown is really something.”

Bridge project director Jonathan Huggett said that anecdotal observations point to a huge increase in activity — pedestrians and cyclists alike — in the area. “It’s almost become a social gathering area,” Huggett told councillors during a bridge update.

“I see groups gathering all around the bridge and leaning over on the hand-rails looking at the ocean. The old bridge never had that feel to it. You always felt you wanted to get off it as fast as you could whereas this one, people just seem to want to hang around on it.”

Edward Pullman, president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, said the old bridge could best be described as a hazard for cyclists, especially those lacking confidence.

“Being forced to ride in traffic over its cheese-grater surface made for a very rattling experience for many, especially compared to the high-quality, low-stress riding of the Galloping Goose trail,” he said. “The large jump in ridership demonstrates both the higher safety and comfort of the new bridge and how the old bridge was suppressing ridership from people refusing to use it. … We are also extremely confident that there will be an even larger increase in ridership once the downtown protected-bike-lane network is complete.”

The new bridge has smooth bike lanes going each way adjacent to motor traffic lanes. There’s also a multipurpose section on the north side of the bridge that can be used by both pedestrians and cyclists.

Councillors were told that it will likely be at least the end of June before bridge builder PCL Constructors Westcoast Ltd. vacates the site.

The bridge’s south-side pedestrian walkway hasn’t opened yet. That can’t happen until the old bridge is hauled away and excavation of both the southeast and southwest plazas is completed, Huggett said.

A massive crane known as the Dynamic Beast, brought in for the job from Vancouver, removed part of the old bridge last week. The giant crane is expected to return about May 22, and five large sections of steel are to be lifted and taken away for recycling.

That steel has to be removed before excavation for the southeast plaza, also known as the Northern Junk plaza, can begin, Huggett said.

The city is finalizing a study comparing the lighting on the old and the new bridges in an effort to reduce impact on wildlife. A consultant’s report has concluded there is an increased risk of excessive wildlife predation due to increased lighting and that could lead to changes in fish-feeding behaviours.

Recommendations include reducing risks by lowering light intensity during part of the year to limit impact on migrating fish, city staff say.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com