Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Rail crossing as part of the Johnson Street Bridge

The Johnson Street replacement project is already a very expensive project, the biggest capital project in the history of the City of Victoria.   Adding a rail crossing as well does not make sense for residents of the City of Victoria.

My friends over at johnsonstreetbridge.org are arguing for a rail bridge to be built, I can not agree with them on this.

The existing E&N line has way too many problems for it to be make sense for transit use.  As I have noted in the past, the terminus is not a useful spot, the line has too many level crossings, the right of way is too narrow, and there is not the scale of demand for transit to make it close to as cost effective as buses.

The obsession with rail transit in this region is reaching seriously delusional levels.   There are still no business cases to indicate that any form of rail transit in any part of this region is a reasonable use of transit resources.    The cost of rail transit will be huge, really huge.

Back to the bridge, since it is those of us who are taxpayers that are expected to pay for it there has to be some indication of a benefit.   As far as I can see use by people in the City of Victoria would be almost nil.   In fact if it is used for transit, it would mean bus services being cut for people in the City of Victoria to pay for the very large operating costs of rail, there are numerous examples in the US of transit systems that have cut bus services to manage the operating costs of rail lines.

The rail line has been available over the bridge for decades and decades but there has been no move by the public to make use of the trains.   It is a piece of infrastructure that no one wants to use.   If there were say a list of 30,000 commuters from the Westshore that committed to use rail and signed a commitment to pay for it through an obligation to buy transit passes for several years, that would be an indication of support on the ground for the idea.

This point is very, very important.   There is no indication of large numbers of people currently driving to work now that would change to rail transit.   Virtually no one is coming forward and saying they want to stop driving their car and get on a train.   People all over the region are saying "if you build it, they will come".  That is not the experience of cities in North America.

If the rail line is important for Langford and Colwood, let them pay for the rail bridge.   They choose not to amalgamate with the City of Victoria which means the the City of Victoria should not be building infrastructure for their needs when it has much more important infrastructure needs within the City.   Langford can afford to make Goldstream Avenue beautiful, it could afford to build the rail bridge.

The argument is that rail travel is much greener than cars or buses, but this only works when the trains are full and the line is used a lot, neither of which could happen in this region.   There simply are not enough people living on the Westshore to fill the trains.  

A much more effective way for the City of Victoria to improve the general environment would be to increase the density within the city.   Allow more condo and apartment buildings.   Allow buildings much smaller set backups so more can be built.   Allow almost all subdivisions of residential lots and in fact give people a tax holiday if they subdivide.  Allow more home based businesses.   Set a goal of having the City of Victoria grow by 3,000 people per year, effectively taking all the population growth for the region.

Also, why would we be trying to keep this rail bridge when it is not slated to be part of the transit system?   The BC Transit rapid transit project has chosen a route and it is along Douglas Street.    There is no possible justification to keep the E&N line when there is a different rapid transit line being developed.

It would be a financially stupid decision for the City of Victoria council to agree to pay for the rail bridge, my hope is that financial reason prevails on Friday when they decide on this.
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