Downtown Courtenay business group opposed to bridge cantilevers

The Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association has voiced its opposition to council’s decision to include cantilevers in repairs to the 5th Street Bridge. Instead, the DCBIA is asking for a re-think of a pedestrian crossing at 6th Street.

“This addition (cantilevers) is not going to create a safer place for people to ride their bikes past pedestrians walking along the bridge simultaneously,” DCBIA president Jenny Deters said at Tuesday’s meeting. “In fact, we think it could be potentially more dangerous, especially with the lack of infrastructure currently leading up to and off the bridge. Encouraging cyclists to take a direct route down 5th Street squished between parked cars could cause increased collisions and injuries. This is counter-productive in our eyes, and we are struggling to understand how this small and less-than-effective upgrade to the walkway warrants an additional two months of hardship to the community, and $2 million to taxpayers.”

Cantilevers will add $2 million to an estimated $6.3 million to recoat and renew the bridge deck, and increase construction from six to eight months. At committee of the whole June 24, Couns. Manno Theos and Doug Hillian opposed a motion from David Frisch to include cantilevers in the rehab project. Theos suggested exploring the scope of building a new bridge, estimated at $25- to $30-million. In a separate motion from Wendy Morin, council directed staff to explore options for a potential pedestrian crossing from 6th Street to Simms Park. The construction cost estimate is $2- to $4-million.

Deters noted that City staff did not recommend cantilever extensions. Particularly troubling is the extra two months of construction time, which could affect three seasons of sales to downtown merchants.

“There’s no grant funding available for it, so the $2 million burden would be completely on taxpayers,” Deters said. “Adding an additional four-and-a-half feet to each side of a bridge that already has a pedestrian walkway will not increase tourism, add beauty or even provide increased safety to cyclists, but the 6th Street crossing could potentially do all those things.”

READ: Merchants question….

Theos commended Deters for illustrating his thoughts on the issue.

“This will be an issue that is going to end up defining this council,” he said. “If we end up going the route we’re going, it’s going to be a hurricane for many of the councillors that are sitting at this table.”

Theos notes the downtown core is struggling to re-gain its feet after the Complete Streets project on 5th.

“We’ve claimed that the downtown core was one of our biggest issues of importance. If we fail you now, we are going to be judged three years from now.”

Frisch said that council is trying to balance the needs of the entire community.

“I think that cantilevers is one of those pieces that is wise to do now, instead of putting off,” said Frisch, noting a draft Transportation Plan outlines $130 million worth of infrastructure projects. “When we talk about something like a $2 million add-on to a bridge, it seems like a lot of money, but in the big picture, when you talk about an asset that’s going to last a very long time, sometimes you can see there’s great value.”

He also notes that council is looking into the option of a 6th Street pedestrian bridge.

“There are high hopes that we find funding for that, but it’s not a guarantee,” Frisch said.

Theos said the 5th Street option will eliminate the 6th Street option.

“When you have one investment in infrastructure that’s significant, you’re not going to be making two investments,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

Coun. Will Cole-Hamilton harbours safety concerns with a bridge at 6th Street because it would take pedestrians through an isolated, densely wooded area of Simms Park.

“I’m confounded as to how to make the 6th Street option a safe option for all hours,” he said.

“I actually feel safety concerns on the current bridge,” Deters said. “I would argue there’s safety issues on both after dark, in that area.”

Coun. Melanie McCollum has heard repeatedly from bridge pedestrians who do not like sharing sidewalks with bikes, especially at the lunch hour.

“These are people that are using our downtown area to spend their money,” McCollum said. “It’s not vehicles driving through 5th Street that are spending money, it’s people that are out of vehicles and are enjoying downtown. We can’t just prioritize getting vehicles over the bridge, we need to find ways that all the users of the bridge will be well served. I see this refurbishment as an opportunity to address the shortfall in the design that we are stuck with.”

She added that widened pathways are addressing a gap in transportation, not promoting bike usage along 5th.

Though not opposed to cantilevers, Hillian voted against them because he is a longtime proponent of the 6th Street option — which in years past was considered a “flight of fancy” — and which would minimize the hit to downtown.

“One way or the other, we’re going to have a one-lane bridge for a number of months in the next couple of years,” said Hillian, who thinks cantilevers will be a tourist attraction on an otherwise unattractive bridge.

Cantilevers are not yet a done deal. Council will consider the matter further at the Sept. 16 meeting when staff have reported back with further details.

Project updates are available at www.courtenay.ca/fifthstreetbridge.

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