Cook Street bike lanes bring worries about fewer parking spots

While design of Victoria’s first protected two-way bike lane is taking shape, concerns are being raised about the proposed bike network eliminating scarce parking as it stretches into urban villages.

Worried about parking loss in the Cook Street Village, local merchants there have submitted a petition opposing any protected bike lanes if they mean removal of parking.

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“It’s a very important issue to our members, our community. They are very concerned about it and both pros and cons are coming in,” said Don Monsour, president of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association.

“The bone of contention is Cook Street through the village where parking is limited right now. Those merchants that have shops there are concerned about losing clients because there’s nowhere to park.”

The association has not taken a position on the issue, but works as a conduit to feed neighbourhood concerns to council.

The network envisions a “hub” of major bike routes running east, west, north and south in the core. The hub routes are connected to what are being called “spokes” of bike routes that reach into the neighbourhoods.

Mayor Lisa Helps said that every major city that has introduced a dedicated bike network has faced pushback at the proposal stage.

“It’s because [they] can’t imagine it. And it really is hard to grasp,” Helps said, adding the city probably hasn’t done as good a job as it might in “talking about the Bike-toria network in general and then working with individual village centre stakeholders on what we’re calling the spoke part of the network.”

While pushing ahead with the city’s first two-way separated bike lane on Pandora, the city will take a little bit more time in areas of sensitivity, such as Cook Street Village and North Park Village, to meet, explain and listen, Helps said.

Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition spokesman Ray Straatsma said concern from area businesses is understandable. “They so often think car parking is essential to the success of their business,” he said.

But Straatsma said there are a number of studies showing cyclists shop more often and are “active patrons” of local retailers. “Local businesses often overestimate how many of their customers arrive by car,” he said.

Helps said that under proposals in consideration, some parking will be lost, but the actual change probably will be more of a shift of parking away from the curb. “With a lot of separated bike lanes it goes sidewalk, bike lane, parking, car traffic. So the right of way right through the village is limited, but our engineers say that it is wide enough in most places [so] the parking isn’t going to be lost. Some spots will [be lost], but parking will be moved out further with the parking-protected bike lanes, which is what they are called,” Helps.

Coun. Ben Isitt said the most challenging “pinch points” are going to be in the village centres and it’s going to require engagement with both business owners and residents on the bike route designs.

“From the controversy in Cook Street Village, more work is required on the design and I believe the city will reach out to the businesses and the residents,” Isitt said.

“Right now there’s questions over what to do with parking, but also the centre turning lane. I think on the road itself is where we have to look. I don’t think constricting the sidewalk space would make a lot of sense. So what it probably involves is some sort of a design charette,” he said.

Isitt said parking is at a premium through the city, but wondered “how long are we going to let cars hold our community back?”

“I think we do have to transition to more human powered and less carbon intensive forms of transport,” he said.

Helps says it’s a “huge infrastructure change” that is “challenging,” but said: “It’s a core project of this council that we hope to have implemented by 2018.”

Victoria council has voted unanimously to dedicate $7.75 million from its accumulated gas-tax revenues to cycling and pedestrian improvements over the next four years.

To ensure the bike lanes are in the right places, the city has been reaching out to residents through a variety of measures including open houses, salons and pop-up bike lanes.

Meanwhile, design of Victoria’s first two-way bike lane — a 1.2-kilometre stretch on Pandora between Cook and Store streets — is now at 60 per cent and will be fully completed by March. The hope is to go to tender in March with construction beginning in April.

The 3.5-metre all ages and abilities route will be separated from vehicle traffic using bollards and paint and will cost an estimated $2.09 million.

While it was originally thought that 44 parking spots would be lost in its construction, city staff now estimate that the loss will probably be closer to 32 spots.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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