Congestion is our friend

April 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm | In cities, green, johnson street bridge, land_use, transportation, urbanism | 4 Comments

On March 31 Gordon Price spoke in Victoria about what he calls Motordom, or “auto-dependent urban form.” Motordom basically is the generative transportation paradigm that has shaped urban form (and dominated urban planning) since at least the mid-20th century. It’s now perhaps finally coming to an end (albeit with many many loose ends).

I’ve been intending to write a proper blog post about Gordon’s excellent deconstruction of Motordom.

However, … just a quick note today that touches on another transportation-related event I attended on Tuesday night (April 6), Going Beyond Gridlock- Green Party Sustainable Transportation Forum, because it fits so neatly both with some of the points raised by Gordon Price as well as with my concerns around a local issue.

At his March 31 presentation, Gordon noted that congestion is our friend. When roads are congested, the solution to that problem isn’t to build more roads. Instead, let the congestion be the impetus for developing transit and for giving people choices that let them get out of their cars.

At the April 6 meeting, every single speaker agreed that solving transportation problems does not mean building more roads, but rather taking car lanes away: transforming them into cycling or multimodal lanes.

No one at Gordon Price’s March 31 lecture could answer his question (in the photo, above), “Where is there a good example of an urban region that has successfully dealt with traffic congestion by building more roads and bridges?” Especially when he added the qualifier, “A place we want to be more like”?

And everyone at the April 6 Green Party-sponsored transportation forum agreed that building more roads fails to lead to transportation solutions that are sustainable. Everyone instead agreed that taking car traffic lanes out of the urban grid and converting them to cycling, multimodal, or transit lanes was the more sensible thing to do.

The obvious question for the City of Victoria is then: why don’t you apply this line of thinking to solve multimodal transportation issues on the Johnson Street Bridge? Specifically, why not look to Vancouver’s example?

In Vancouver, the city took a traffic lane on the Burrard Street Bridge and turned it into a cycling lane. In Victoria, we could easily try the same approach with our historic Johnson Street Bridge – an approach already suggested by Councilor Geoff Young, but poo-pooed by the Mayor and his friends on council. The latter include Councilor John Luton, who spoke at the April 6 event in favor of getting people out of their cars and preferably onto bicycles or other sustainable transportation options instead. He even made a point of showing images of the Johnson Street Bridge, which he considers a key piece in Victoria’s multimodal puzzle – except in Luton’s mind, only a new, expensive bridge will suffice.

It’s funny that those same politicians will flock to hear Gordon Price, applaud the critique of Motordom, agree with other sustainability experts that the best strategies include removing car traffic lanes from the grid, …yet adamantly maintain that the relatively tiny Johnson Street Bridge crossing has to stay at three car lanes. Come on, people: give your heads a shake. Take a lane out, remove the slippery steel deck, re-deck it with fiberreinforced polymer (FRP), and give it over to bikes. (Note: “Since FRP bridge decks are still considerably more expensive than concrete decks, they are basically competitive where light weight, corrosion resistance, and/or rapid installation are demanded. Accordingly, competitive applications are mainly found in movable bridges, historic bridges, and urban environments.” [source/PDF])

Much cheaper than a new bridge, better for the environment (think of all that new concrete needed for a new bridge, and the steel manufactured in China and brought to Victoria with bunker oil burning freighters – how sustainable is that?), and much better for the local economy (fixing the bridge would employ local people, building a new one would not).


  1. Hear, hear! I doubt taking a lane away would have a drastic affect on traffic flow. I wonder if Price has an opinion on the bridge issue here?

    Comment by Robert Randall — April 9, 2010 #

  2. Yes, I don’t think taking out a lane would have a big effect on car traffic at all, and it would help cyclists immensely. Not sure Gordon Price has an opinion either way – it would depend on what he knows about the bridge’s historical value.

    Comment by Yule — April 10, 2010 #

  3. Taking away a lane seems like a simple enough solution, but it’s not a solution for the Johnson St. Bridge.

    Google “Road Diets” by Petwer Lagerwey and Dan Burden to get an analysis of the limits of lane reduction projects. The authors are both advocate4s for better walking and cycling so they weren’t looking to defend space for cars – just trying to find out what are the practical limits of taking away travel lanes and reallocating space for bike lanes or other uses (like better pedestrian facilities).

    The volume on the Blue Bridge is several thousand vehicles a day over the observed limits of actual road diet projects in North America. The likely result in Victoria would be to push traffic back into downtown streets and cause several nearby intersections to “fail” – gridlocking some of downtown traffic on an ongoing basis.

    For a local example, look at Fort St. where we did take away a travel lane ( a project I helped to develop), and accommodate existing capacity. It has gone from 4 lanes to 3, keeping the centre lane for left turn movements. You don’t need the left turn option, clearly, on the bridge, but it does demonstrate how road diets work in practice locally. Fort St. has a little more than half the volumes that cross the bridge every day. I don’t believe that Fort would work at double the current traffic volumes.

    Burrard St. in Vancouver is successful because vehicles have a nearby alternative (Granville) that has unused capacity as well as additional capacity south of the bridge to accommodate the steady, if slower flow of outbound traffic.

    On the Johnson St. Bridge the outbound flow will have fewer opportunities to be absorbed by the capacity of destination roads in Vic West. One lane works inbound because the “drinking straw” is feeding the “garden hose” – traffic is disbursed up Johnson, onto Store, down Wharf and up Fort. Outbound it will be impossible for the “garden hose” to feed the “drinking straw”.

    The other challenges will include access to the Ocean Pointe Hotel ramp, which would be cut off by the elimination of one lane, and the need to provide crossings for cyclists (two ways) using the repurposed lane (Burrard St. still uses conventional flow patterns).

    Providing safe, purpose built bicycle facilities does increase the likilihood that people will choose cycling and in some cases, those increases have been dramatic (in local as well as other North American projects) Objectives in the regional growth strategy include shifting people to more sustainable modes so finding a solution at the bridge is critical to achieving that goal, especially since a new trail will likely add significant numbers of additional bike trips to the system.

    The proposal to elminate a lane on the bridge to facilitate this has been assessed over the last decade or so and found not to be feasible.

    On the other issues of costs, employment impacts and the carbon footprint of materials, some good points are made and I expect that the current detailed examination of refurbishment strategies can help to evaluate those.

    For a link to the road diet research and more commentary, some of it repeating my comments here, follow the older posts on my blog to January 9th and read the “Road diets and bridge capacity” post.

    Comment by John Luton — April 12, 2010 #

  4. John, you write, “The proposal to elminate [sic] a lane on the bridge to facilitate this has been assessed over the last decade or so and found not to be feasible.”
    Some thoughts on this: You sound very sure of yourself, but everything you say is based on theory, and not on any kind of observed experiment – because the experiment hasn’t been tried and because you and your pro-replacement friends don’t want to try it. At the same time, based on theory, you insist that you know what will happen if a lane were removed. I challenge you (council) to try it on an experimental basis to see what will happen.
    Your use of passive voice in the above quote grates on me, frankly. I’m a big fan of active voice, so that people / readers/ listeners know who the agents are.
    So who told you that this “proposal …has been assessed [by whom?] …and found [by whom?] not to be feasible”? City staff? If so, I suggest taking a step back.
    Because I was at that April 23 city council meeting where city staff – specifically Engineering – presented its report on the Johnson Street Bridge, a report allegedly based on the Delcan Report. I can tell you that, personally, I have never been privy to such a biased reporting out as I heard that day. The whole time, I was sitting there, wondering, WTF? What the hell? Where did this come from, out of the blue? And all of you around the council table sat there like sheep, taking it in at face value. Unbelievable.
    Not until the Delcan Report was released (after we at JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG screamed loud and hard to have it released) was the bias obvious: the Delcan Report is very very good, and it does not come out in favor one way or the other for replacement or refurbishment.
    Yet the City of Victoria’s Engineering staff did everything it could that day, in my personal opinion, to make it look as if the bridge is beyond repair and – to finish the assassination – that any attempt to repair would destroy its heritage value. As I said, I have never before witnessed such a biased report cloaked as “objective” reporting out.
    Not until Geoff Young became – rightfully! – indignant about the city staff’s outrageous document, “Johnson Street Bridge by the Numbers,” did anyone on council start to question what the heck our civil servants, whose salaries we pay, are up to – and at whose behest.
    So pardon me if I don’t believe your passive voice statement, “The proposal to elminate a lane on the bridge to facilitate this has been assessed over the last decade or so and found not to be feasible.”
    Nor am I willing to follow your drinking-straw-and-garden-hose argument. What could happen instead is that people choose a different way to leave downtown. I live just off Fort Street, on that stretch that had bike lanes added. The squawking about that was pretty loud initially. But you know what? Drivers adapted. Let’s just take a lane from the JSB and see if after several months drivers don’t adapt here, too. I bet they would. And for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen as much traffic on the JSB as I’ve seen on Fort St.
    By the way, this was before your time, but you should know that this bridge is specifically named in the City of Victoria’s own documents on heritage as a “character-defining element.” So, with regard to the City’s 2005 document, “Inner Harbour Precinct” (part of “Community Heritage Register”) we read this in the “Statement of Signficance” (under “heritage value”):

    The Inner Harbour Precinct of Victoria, British Columbia, consists of a naturally protected harbour surrounded by an expanse of shoreline property. This precinct includes a number of historic waterfront buildings and sites and is identifiable in particular by the area of land surrounding the Inner Harbour Causeway. The precinct is defined by Belleville and Quebec Streets to the south, Johnson Street to the north, Wharf Street to the east, and the Songhees First Nation’s coastline to the west.

    On the next page, under “Character-Defining Elements,” we read the following:

    The character-defining elements of the Inner Harbour Precinct include:
    * The boundaries of Belleville and Quebec Strees to the south, up to the Johnson Street Bridge to the north, Wharf Street to the east, and the Songhees First Nation’s coastline to the west.

    One really wonders how come your council colleague Pam Madoff is M.I.A. on this issue. You are proposing a radical make-over of what it’s no exaggeration to say is the corporate or “brand” face of Victoria.
    People are pissed off. They don’t trust you, and they don’t trust the staff that has led you this far.

    Comment by Yule — April 13, 2010 #

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