Public art, poetry could adorn Johnson Street Bridge's pedestrian underpass

A pedestrian underpass to be built under the Johnson Street Bridge could be designated a “special place” and include poetry — possibly projected onto the underside of the bridge, city staff suggest.

The poem entitled Croxxing, written by former city poet laureate Janet Rogers, could be incorporated into the $544,000 project, staff say, noting that the poem was originally intended to be incorporated into a Heron Cove pedestrian bridge project that was deferred.

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Options include having the words stamped into the concrete bridge deck, applied using thermoplastic on the bridge deck, projected on the underside of the bridge and incorporated on a removable wall feature, says a staff report to councillors today.

Recommendations on how to proceed with the public art component, including costs, will be discussed at a later date and can be installed after the project is complete, staff say.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she definitely supports poetry but is unclear what staff mean when they suggest the underpass be designated a special place and doesn’t envision a huge expenditure.

“I don’t know if I picture a giant public investment. I picture a plaque with a poem on it,” Helps said.

“I don’t support an exponential amount of money being spent on poetry on an underpass underneath a bridge. I don’t think that’s a reasonable expenditure.”

Under the city’s art in public places policy, one per cent of civic construction project value is set aside for public art, meaning $3,200 in funding is available, staff say.

The proposed underpass is already 90 per cent designed. The budget includes $320,000 for construction, $3,200 for public art, $32,000 contract administration, $80,000 contingency and $76,000 engineering and design.

The 30-metre-long pedestrian underpass is not considered part of the bridge project but instead is seen as an extension of the David Foster Harbour Pathway, Helps said.

It will link the new Janion Building public plaza on the north side of the bridge with the future Northern Junk public plaza on the bridge’s south side, on the downtown side of the harbour.

The new wheelchair accessible pathway will consist of two segments — a suspended steel bridge with concrete topping at the north end connecting to the Janion Building waterfront plaza and an on-grade brick paver pathway connecting to the Northern Junk Plaza, staff say.

The David Foster Harbour Pathway is a five-kilometre waterfront pedestrian route between Ogden Point and Rock Bay. City staff say the underpass costs can be offset by a $100,000 grant from the Trans-Canada Trail Foundation with the balance coming from the Harbour Pathway Capital Budget.

The city named the pathway after Victoria-raised musician and producer David Foster in 2013 and endorsed a $40-million vision for the walkway that includes development of 11 “special places” or enhanced landmarks along its route.

Helps doesn’t believe the underpass should be considered a special place.

“I don’t think under a bridge is a special place. There are beautiful places along the harbour that are special places so I don’t support that being one of them.”

Eyebrows were raised recently when councillors approved a sculpture depicting orcas reimagined as 11 stylized surfboards as the public art component of the bridge replacement project.

That $250,000 sculpture, created by city artist-in-residence Luke Ramsey in collaboration with city Indigenous artist-in residence Lindsay Delaronde, is designed to be interactive, with opportunities to play recordings of First Nations drumming and singing.

Meanwhile, watchers of the bridge project might recall an early concept design featured a walkway running through the bridge rings and connecting with the shore on the north side. That vision has long since been lost through a “design optimization process” staff say.

There will still be a walkway through the rings but it will not connect to the shore on the north side. So people can walk out through the rings but then have to turn around and walk back.

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