Much of the City of St. John’s Cycling Plan has been sent back to the drawing board, it seems.
It’s a good thing cyclists are required to wear helmets, because the latest conflict in the ongoing saga of the City of St. John’s Cycling Plan is likely to have them banging their heads against a wall in frustration.
Things were looking pretty good. After an initially chilly reception from the Grand Concourse Authority, whose trails were a key component of the plan, and an excruciating wait for funding to arrive from the federally- and provincially-sponsored Newfoundland and Labrador Green Fund, phase one of the cycling plan was approved and ready to go. Phase one was to create two main corridors out of the downtown; one through the university, and out through to Cowan Heights, and one out the East End and onto the Virginia River Trail. This was to be done with painted bike lanes, and signage designating certain roads as cycling routes.
But something happened.
Because of what the city is calling safety oversights in the original plan, many of those routes had to be pared down and changed. The plans for the Virginia River Trail are also going back to the drawing board. This spells more planning, more paperwork, more public consultation sessions, and more delay for the much-beleaguered plan.
Consulting firm Hatch Mott MacDonald drew up the original document. A different firm, Halifax-based Delphi-MRC, were hired on to implement it. Before they began, Delphi-MRC did a risk assessment of the plan, focusing on traffic volume and speed. Their research showed that many of the plan’s proposed routes weren’t actually safe enough to accommodate bike lanes.
They sought a second opinion, that second opinion agreed, and then they approached the city with their findings.
“There were a lot of problems because of the traffic speed and volumes on some routes,” confirms Robin King, the city’s Transportation Engineer. “The bottom line is that we can’t use the network that [Hatch Mott MacDonald] proposed. But we’re glad that we caught the problems.”
King isn’t sure why the Hatch Mott MacDonald plan didn’t pick up on these issues. “The criteria for their risk assessment are here, on page 34 of the Cycling Master Plan, and traffic volume is there,” he says. “It could very well be that their thresholds [for safety] were different. But there are routes in here, like Torbay Road, with horrendous volumes.”
“I’ve asked them about it,” he says, “but I haven’t gotten an answer. I’ve had no official response from them.”
As for why it was approved by the city in the first place, King says it’s a matter of trust. “You have to rely on the consultant and the work they do,” he explains. “But, yeah, I have been questioning myself, maybe I should have been more diligent.”
Hatch Mott MacDonald have offices all over North America. John Leonard, Senior Project Manager at the St. John’s office, says he was entirely unaware that there were any problems with their master plan. “I don’t know anything about it,” he says. “It’s surprising to me that they would find any problems with it.”
“I do know that they got another engineering firm to do the implementation,” he continues. “We bid on that job as well, but we didn’t get it.”
So maybe these stalls and mishaps are common when one party makes the plans and another party carries them out? “No,” says King, firmly.
Delphi-MRC have since selected and assessed new routes. Many of them are residential, and stand to lose parking on one side in order to make room for the bike lanes. Residents on these streets have yet to be notified about the situation, hence the need for another round of public consultation and council scrutiny.
As for the Virginia River Trail plans, they’re back at the designing stage.
“It’s not going to change too much,” says King, “and it should stay on budget. It’s looking like we might be able to do a bit more with it, actually.”
These changes, too, will have to go back through the public consultation and council approval process. To add even more pressure, if the work on the Virginia River Trail isn’t completed by the end of the year, they’ll lose the cash set aside in the budget for the purpose.
“Public information sessions and consultation will likely happen over a three-day period in early June, where we’ll discuss the parking affected by the on road bike lanes and the Virginia River Trail. And hopefully it will all go smoothly.”
The city paid Hatch Mott MacDonald $50,000 to design the first cycling plan. King points out that there was still a good chunk of useful information in it: “The feasibility study for the Grand Concourse Authority, for example.”
Despite the setbacks, King remains confident that we’ll have an impressive system of bike routes by the end of the summer, as originally projected. It won’t be as large as he would like. But, as he points out, it’ll be a lot more than we have now.
“You just have to stay positive,” he says. “If you start getting negative, nothing will get done.”