Comment: Richardson Street plans merit more than a veneer of consultation

A commentary by a concerned Victoria resident.

Much ink has been spilled over the city’s plans for Richardson Street, particularly over the past few months.

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Thoughtful leadership would take the moment to pause, and to give a fair public hearing to the matter.

Thoughtful leadership would seek to understand what is driving the conflict, and would seek to find a remedy to it, a solution that better meets the needs of everyone.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, thoughtful leadership is in short supply.

The city has said that it consulted. That the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association held public events and that the results of those events were in support of the Richardson Street plan.

It was a veneer of consultation that lacked the substance needed to move the project forward without conflict.

Genuine consultation would mean that the plans would be widely accepted, and that the debate would be largely put to bed except for those on the fringes of the dialogue; namely those who would banish cars from our fair city entirely and those who would put an eight-lane freeway through Fairfield.

The solution advanced is satisfying to only a very few — some who likely reside on Richardson, and many avid cyclists who will see what is now an OK cycle route as a collector street transformed into yet another sleepy enclave of the city with only residents and cyclists using the road at a moderate pace.

The solution that has been advanced leaves many with valid concerns over the impact of the plans on the community as a whole.

The plan neglects the elementary-aged children who attend Sir James Douglas and Margaret Jenkins schools, redirecting thousands of cars a day onto Fairfield Road.

It neglects the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as it increases the commutes of those who will still be driving by between four and seven minutes.

It neglects those who live on quiet residential streets near Richardson by redirecting traffic onto their streets.

It neglects those who might need emergency medical care or fire response.

It neglects public transit users, affecting their commute times and routes.

It neglects our neighbours in Oak Bay.

Lastly, it neglects the taxpayers of Victoria by failing to put the $1.4 million cost toward the best use, which might have included better support for school crossing guards, better bus stops, better crosswalks, and improved accessibility for those with disabilities.

Indeed, the solution as proposed, rather than bringing our community together, is dividing it further.

It is pitting many cyclists against every other user of our roads — and it needs to be paused and given the thoughtful consideration and planning it deserves.

Transforming a city amenity, like a collector road, from one use to another is like a rezoning of land use. It merits extensive consultation and public hearing, with all impacted. A mere veneer of consultation is not good enough. Simply asking those who are likely to support the plan, rather than all of those who will be impacted, is not good enough and undermines the cohesiveness of our community.

The 1,400 signatures collected already on a petition asking that Richardson stay open to motor traffic, and that the plan go back for a rethink, is indication that we need leadership to push the pause button on this project.

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