Architecture
March 28, 2018

This Week in Victoria – 3

This week, selected items and observations from a short trip to Victoria.
Back in 2016, Dan Ross reported on Victoria’s first protected bike lane on Pandora Street here.  Since then, as reported here, the City has moved towards a complete active transportation network in the core – notably on Fort Street, just now nearing completion.

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While I didn’t have a chance to get on a bike and explore it all, here are some shots which demonstrate the commitment the City is making:

Pandora at Government

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Pandora looking west to new Johnson Street Bridge

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Fort Street lane waiting to open

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Frontage lane at 525 Superior Street – a new provincial government office building

Inside the building, there are large bike rooms with lockers – but the designers provided parking capacity based on counts of use in other buildings with departments that were consolidated in this new one.  Guess what?  With better facilities, the numbers of cyclists so increased that the architects are trying to figure out to repurpose space for the demand.
Another lesson: this nicely designed bike ramp in the centre of the stairs leading to the bike rooms isn’t used all that much.  There’s a car ramp immediately to the left, and cyclists use it instead of having to dismount and carry their bike up the stair ramp.

 

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This week, selected items and observations from a short trip to Victoria.
The Victoria I grew up in was a product of the 1940s and ’50s.  Literally: this was the house my father had built in 1946 on return from the war.  Cost: $7,000, with a Veteran’s loan.  (In 2017 dollars: $102,000)

It is astonishing to me how much of that era is still intact.  Almost nothing has changed on the surrounding blocks, not even the corner store down the street.

 
Bringing my Vancouver eyes, I can see that era is coming to an end.  Land values are rising as the decades-old housing stock decays.  In some neighbourhoods, like Cadboro and Cordova Bays, it means the original house, regardless of condition or suitability, must be demolished and replaced with a development that maximizes the allowable density and provides all the amenities expected for million-dollar-plus accommodation.
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Three:

The same conundrum: the loss of more affordable housing (small houses on large lots, especially), a change in scale and character of the community, discomfort with speculation and empty homes – but a resistance to anything that might lower property values or tax the spectacular gains that one generation lucked out on even as they complain that their children can’t afford to live in the neighbourhoods they grew up in.
This is not the Victoria that established residents want, but it looks increasingly like the one they will be getting.

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Gord Price: Spent a few days in Victoria to deliver a talk for the District of Saanich as they begin local area planning revisions for Cadboro and Cordova Bays.  In my extra hours, I had a chance to check out a few places in my home town.
The first observation: in some ways Victoria has changed not at all.  It still seems to be demographically weighted to the older and retired.  (At a restaurant in Broadmead, an affluent suburb of Saanich, among the hundred-or-so diners almost all were in their 50s or above, and 100 percent were white.)  On Government Street downtown, Murchies tea shop still looks like the setting for a Barron cartoon*:

The extraordinary landscape of southern Vancouver Island, with Gary Oak and Arbutus prospering in the drier, milder landscape of rock outcrops and ridges, is still the defining feature of this self-conscious Eden.

However, the built city is changing, particularly in the blocks on the immediate west side of downtown:


Victoria, when I was growing up there in the 60s, knew what it didn’t want: anything that looked like downtown Vancouver and the West End.  Understandably, given its first taste of highrise development:

But after downzoning James Bay and providing no alternative for residential growth (and certainly not tall buildings), the City saw its downtown suffer with the growth of retail elsewhere, cutbacks in provincial-government employment and the economics of seasonal tourism.  It then looked to Vancouverism as a model, and the results are evident.

 
*Sid Barron was an editorial cartoonist for Victoria and Toronto newspapers, who had a gentle touch and a sharp pen, able to delightfully caricature the British-influenced culture of post-war Canada.

The site proposal being referenced in this decades-old cartoon is a waterfront parking lot on the Inner Harbour – still, as far as I know, contentious and unresolved.
 
 

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While in Victoria last week I checked out progress on the city’s first on-road protected cycle lanes on Pandora Street. After public consultation last year, stakeholders approved this two-way, $2-million concept on the north side of the road from Cook Street in the west to Store Street/Johnston Street Bridge in the west – about 1.2 kilometres.

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2015 approved concept

 
After a public RFP process last year, the city commissioned Boulevard Transportation to deliver final designs, which are due this spring (Full disclosure: my transportation design team bid on this project and scored second. I’m 100 percent over it. Doing fine.).
The city ran a successful pilot project for this concept last year to test the idea out, both for operational logistics and public engagement. I’m a big fan of pilot projects; and am generally impressed with how the city got its ducks in a row, communicated its impact analyses, and delivered this initiative along a major arterial roadway with a loss of 75 on-street parking spaces. Commercial Drive cycle lane opponents take note: the world did not end and nobody was driven into penury.

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2015 pilot project – temporary lanes

 
At present, Boulevard and the city are working through the details; including what type of physical separation will exist. Two options are:

Planters

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Raised concrete curbs

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So what progress has been made? Designs are nearly complete. Construction is to start this summer. Ultimately, this stretch east of Blanshard Street will look something like this:

facing west toward Quadra Street

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And this:

Facing east toward Blanshard Street

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Council’s ‘sort of last-minute’ instructions that the cycle lane be “fully protected through intersections” is throwing a little kink in the designs and cost, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. As seen in downtown Vancouver, this means: 1) installing cycle signal heads and 2) replacing and redesigning all signal phases and signal heads to hold right and left turns when cyclists have the green.

It’s only money.

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Simon Button, a young engineer and urban chicken enthusiast in Victoria, sends this dispatch on the topic of gentrification in the country’s oldest Chinatown. 

The ‘g-word’ has long been a topic of heated debate in the world of neighbourhood development.
One project in Victoria seems to have rejected the negative connotation of the ‘g-word’ and presents its heritage building conversion to the public as “a gentrification project”. This is either an extremely tin-eared development team or one willing to embrace the positive side of the debate. Maybe both.

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The conversion project will be connecting a group of heritage buildings in Victoria’s Chinatown, providing street level commercial space on both Pandora and Fisgard. The buildings on the two parallel streets will be connected by an interior courtyard and their height will not change. The condos upstairs will apparently be priced around $300K, a price tag which is likely achieved by having a floor area of only 400-500 square feet and not providing any parking.
To me, the advertising of this as a gentrification project seemed to be either a misuse of the word gentrification or alternately a very honest declaration of intent from the developer. Or perhaps the word has developed a broader use and is not quite as provoking as it once was.

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From The Daily Scot: .


On a trip to Victoria this past summer I met up with my buddy Steve Mark (above left) for a “slow ride” around his favourite hoods, many including pubs.
He told of how he and a group of fellow cycling enthusiasts get together under the group banner of Bike Rides Society for a random and leisurely peddle.  
I asked Steve to share their story with PT Readers, he kindly obliged:
 

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There is something quietly brewing in the picturesque neighborhoods around Victoria.  Taking a cue from Vancouver,  where Bike Rides Society was first established, fellow cyclists are exploring the urban landscape on two wheels.   The focus of the mellow cruises is to bring together old friends, welcome new ones and explore the path less taken.
I first attended a Bike Rides Society event in Vancouver a few years ago and was blown away by how much fun it was to ride through the city with a group of friends.  I knew I had to introduce this concept to my hometown of Victoria.
The rides are loosely scheduled every two weeks.  There is no set route or destination and you won’t find any spandex on this ride.  It’s focused more towards exploring new neighborhoods and finding that perfect view for a “road pop” and then on to a neighborhood pub.
 
Taking in the sites in McNeil Bay:

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Over the past few years I have met so many new people.  Friends always bring their friends and that the whole idea.  Stephanie, a recent transplant to Victoria says “As someone new to town, it’s been a great way to network and get connected with other young and active people. It’s how I found out about the Bike Salons and the research out of UVic on bike safety”
We have even done a few theme rides. Here we are on our “Double Denim” ride.

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I came to Victoria back in 1993 to attend Uvic.  I studied Urban Geography and was always amazed at all the distinct neighborhoods with their own flavor and character.  It was on a bike that I had the opportunity to explore and become intimate with each area.  The mild climate, topography and proximity lend itself for year round biking.  As the home town of BikeMaps.org, cycling is woven into the culture here and the City of Victoria is going through great efforts to improve cycling infrastructure and safety.
 
Enjoying some beverages and post-ride grub at the Beagle Pub in Cook Street Village:

 
So if you feel like getting outside, exploring the neighborhood and meeting new friends “Come Ride with Us.”   Join our Bike Rides Society – Victoria Facebook Group.

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UPDATE: Chris and Melissa Bruntlett have a feature story on Victoria’s cycling plans in Vancity Buzz:

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The direction from mayor and council was incredibly ambitious: to consult, design, and construct a “minimum grid” of eight protected bike lanes – between 20 and 25 km. that would put nearly all of Victoria’s 82,000 residents within 400 m. of a route – before the end of their four-year political term in 2018.

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Story here.

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Ian picked this up from CHEK TV:

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Victoria tries ‘pop-up’ bike lane

Cyclists and pedestrians got a taste of new ways of getting around in Victoria Sunday, as a pop up project let people try out reconfigured streets around Beacon Hill Park and Cook Street to see if it makes life easier and safer.
The city erected a ‘pop-up’ protected bike lane on Cook Street, near Dallas Road.

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The temporary markers were taken down at the end of the day, and officials say the feedback received will be used for future infrastructure planning.

Video here.

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