Thursday, November 18, 2010

Last Night's Forum about the Johnson Street Bridge

I went to the Focus Magazine hearing into the matter of the Johnson Street.  I am going to present things as I saw them and not from the point of view of rah rah.  I am voting No and I will post a number of piece on why I am voting No later today.    Here are my observations:

There were about 200 to 250 people in attendance.   The crowd was older and it was one I would call left of centre.   Many of the usual suspects were there but not a very large representation from other parts of the community.   The youth were not there, the business community was not there and only limited parts of the right of the spectrum were there.  

The idea of a hearing was a good idea and approach, unfortunately the moderator did not choose to be neutral, I can understand wanting not to be neutral, but it takes away from the concept of being a citizens's hearing into the issue.

The four presentations were good and I learned more about the bridge.   David Broadland of Focus made some interesting relevant points about the cost estimates, it reinforces in me that the replacement bridge is suffering from optimism bias and is much more likely to cost in the range of $100,000,000 when all is said and done.  I have to admit I did not go through the estimates in the detail I should have as I missed several glaring things within the estimates.   In looking through the estimates again here is what I see as the ranges:

  • Gold Standard Refurbishment - $45 - $80 million (there is within the refurbishment estimate a lot of wiggle room and could lead to a much cheaper cost - detailed analysis tomorrow I hope)
  • Replacement - $90 - $110 million

Geoff Young outlined how council came to the place they did and it more or less lined up with what I expected to here.   Council rushed because of the hope of some money and then could not back down from a decision they had made.   They avoided asking the questions needed to get the answers that might call into question the replacement option.

I had not thought about the issue of the loss of heritage bridges in BC which was raised by engineer Michael Roberts.   For example, I thought the Alexandra bridge in the Fraser Canyon was nicely protected, turns out that this is not the case.   As much as I think the bridge is ugly, I can see the case for why it should be protected to protect the history of the City, province and country.  I would love to a talk by him about heritage bridges.  He also showed some slides of amazing signature bridges, one being the Sundail Bridge in Redding California.

Michael also raised the fact engineers need clear directions or costs go way up and there is a new way to assess bridges when it comes to seismic standards, I can not remember the exact name, but it was performance based.  I would love to look into it some more to understand it.

Ross Crockford was the only one with nothing substantively new for me, though he found some great newspaper headlines from 1900 to 1920 dealing with the bridge project back then.

The audience was rather self congratulatory in their selflessness in wanting to save the bridge, but the people were talking with a lot more emotion than facts.  The idea was that it should be the hearing the City did not hold but very few people really treated it like that.   This was much more of rally to save the bridge.

There were eight candidates for council in the audience and five of them spoke before I left, I know two of the others did not speak and the last one I am not sure about.    I wish the candidates had stepped aside and let more of the public speak, but I understand the need they have to speak to an audience.   It did mean I did not speak and the specific issues I raise were not covered last night by anyone, I will post them here online later today.

I have a concern about a lot of the supporters of the bridge, too many people are looking for some sort of conspiracy in this process and I see nothing that makes me see any organized conspiracy going.   Focusing on this issue starts to make people look a bit crazy.  It also means people are raising issues that are not accurate.

There was on gentleman that raised a number of very specific points about the replacement bridge and the current assumptions about it that I found very interesting, I can not remember the details but it had a fair amount to do with seismic issues.

The turn out was much larger than any of the City sessions on the bridge which says to me that the people motivated on this issue are voting No.   The fact that the split for No is 75/25 left - right in my opinion means that Marianne Alto is backing the wrong side in the debate.
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