Bay Street bridge upgrade: $2 million needed to give bike plans a push

As work begins on replacing the Johnson Street Bridge in coming months, life for cyclists on Victoria's other main bridge isn't going to get any easier.

The city has a $5-million plan to upgrade cycling and pedestrian routes on the Point Ellice Bridge (also known as the Bay Street Bridge) and even has $3 million tucked away in its capital plan.

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But until funding is found from senior levels of government to make up the $2 million shortfall, the project cannot go ahead.

The intent is to put a proper sidewalk on both sides of the deck and to add a cycling lane on the south side, said Dwayne Kalynchuck, city director of engineering and public works.

"We'd widen the bridge deck for better usage by cycling and pedestrians," Kalynchuck said. "We've applied twice now for provincial programs but, unfortunately, in both cases we've been turned down.

"But we do still have the money in the budget so we'll once again seek funding if available through any program to see if the project can come to fruition. ... Certainly if we got funding we'd move forward with it."

Coun. John Luton, who is also executive director of the Capital Bike and Walk project, said: "What it would do is cantilever sidewalks off of the bridge, so you could take out the existing sidewalk so you could paint bicycle lanes on the bridge itself."

Luton said the Point Ellice Bridge is a key link in Victoria's cycling network, but, while not dangerous, it is "uncomfortable for cyclists," he said.

"The strength of any cycling network pivots on the weak links. ... If, in the middle of your journey, there's this intimidating bridge, you may decide not to start. You may say until that bridge is up to my level of comfort, I'm not going to ride.

"The Johnson Street Bridge is that barrier for some folks and the Point Ellice Bridge is another barrier, and it's critical to any regional network into and out of the north end of Victoria."

The problem is going to be exacerbated once work starts on the Johnson Street Bridge, beginning first with the dismantling of the rail bridge, which is currently used by many cyclists, Luton said.

"One of the problems we're facing is when we dismantle the rail bridge for the Johnson Street Bridge project, you suddenly take away -- not an ideal crossing for cyclists by any means -- but certainly one that's used by thousands of cyclists a day in the better weather," Luton said.

"When we take that away and are putting people onto the very uncomfortable road bridge on the Johnson Street Bridge you're either going to push people off their bikes or push them to other routes."

He said some cyclists on the Point Ellice Bridge are uncomfortable on the roadway so they try to use the narrow sidewalk.

"The issue is more about how do we shift people's transportation choices, and unless you give them attractive, appealing supportive facilities to complete their journeys then they simply are not going to make that choice."

Luton wonders if the city might be able to look internally for more funds to make a start on Point Ellice. Currently, just about the only available provincial funding for cycling infrastructure in the Cycling Partnership Infrastructure Program which will share in projects to a maximum of $100,000 a year.

"They've cut the funding for [cycling] programs to the point where you'd have a hard time buying a can of paint," Luton said.

The federal government has said it is not extending its stimulus funding.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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