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Victoria council geared to approve Fort Street two-way bike lanes

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Victoria councillors are expected to give the green light this week to a new two-way, separated bike lane to run on the north side of Fort Street despite continued concerns from businesses in the area.

The $3.19-million project, similar to the two-way separated bike lane that opened last month on Pandora Avenue, has faced opposition from downtown businesses worried about loss of parking and problems loading and unloading goods and passengers due to road narrowing.

Angst among business owners over the proposed bike lanes reached such a fever pitch this year that Mayor Lisa Helps wrote letters of apology to 120 merchants along the street, promising better consultation.

Now, with the final design and a staff recommendation to go to tender on council’s agenda on Thursday, some of those merchants say the consultation amounted to little more than lip service.

“There’s been no real request for our input. Any changes that we would be allowed to make would be just minor esthetic changes like throw a bike rack here or put a planter here,” said Jason Cridge, owner of Cridge Family Pharmacy. “We had no input whatsoever on the large-scale design of the bike lane on this street so a lot of owners are just disenchanted.”

The new bike lane is to run from Wharf Street to Cook Street. The design reduces the 500 and 600 blocks of Fort to one vehicle travel lane.

Rob Simon, of Paul Mara Jewellers, said the single travel lane could create a nightmare of congestion as motorists try to parallel park or as businesses receive deliveries.

“I look at this and [they] say that we’ve engaged them as merchants and it just seems as though they did not listen to us,” Simon said, adding that he’s not opposed to cycling, but the design on Fort doesn’t make sense. “If it doesn’t work, it’s going to have to be reassessed and we’ll find a council that’s more friendly to business.”

Helps said she is confident that once the bike lanes are in place, business concerns will evaporate as more customers ride by their businesses on bikes. “Is it hard? Yes. Are businesses opposed? Yes. Is construction going to be challenging? Absolutely. The next four or five months will be challenging. But we know from evidence from around the world that when this kind of infrastructure is built, businesses benefit.”

She said staff have evaluated the commercial loading zones and are convinced the proposal will work. “Our staff have worked inch by inch across the block with the commercial delivery folks and they found that they are going to make it work.”

The 500 and 600 blocks of Fort bear the brunt of parking loss and will see 18 parking stalls removed. Thirteen other stalls will be eliminated elsewhere on the 1.2-kilometre stretch.

An option costing an additional $500,000 would modify the north side sidewalk in the 600 block, preserving eight parking spots or providing another travel lane, but staff recommended against it, citing heavy foot traffic in the area and the high cost of the change.

A staff report says the recommended design “reflects a series of stakeholder feedback and comments, but is unable to accommodate all requests due to safety, costs and design trade-offs.”

The Fort Street cycling corridor will be separated from traffic using a combination of paint and bollards, parked vehicles and concrete barriers. There will be dedicated traffic signals for cyclists and green paint will be used at intersections and driveways.

Other elements include repaving of bike lanes; improvements to existing pedestrian crossings at Langley, Broad and in the 700 block of Fort; relocation of the parklet in the 700 block; addition of nine new trees; 23 new bicycle racks, 10 new public benches; three new audible countdown signals; bicycle corrals; new motorcycle parking in the 600 block; new passenger and commercial loading zones; and replacement of some of the sidewalk in the 700 block.

Helps has told staff she wants the project started no later than Sept. 30.