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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Icon or Eyesore?

Johnson Street Bridge from Mermaid Wharf, Victoria, Canada
Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, CanadaBefore I leave the Johnson Street Bridge for the pleasures of the Dragon Boat Festival this weekend I thought I might attempt to summarize some of the issues. Briefly, City Council has decided to replace this bridge and has applied for substantial funding from other levels of government. However, there is growing concern that this is not a good decision nor has it been arrived at in consultation with citizens. Issues of concern include:

  • Is there a need to replace the bridge?
    The city's engineering department says the bridge is safe. But it clearly needs a substantial refurbishment. A seismic upgrade seems necessary also. The estimate for repairs/upgrades is around $25 million, though the accuracy of this estimate has been challenged.
  • Is the bridge an important part of Victoria's image? This is very much a matter of opinion but many non-residents consider it to be an unusual and interesting feature of the city. Recently there was a full page photo of the bridge in an international airline in-flight magazine and there are numerous photos of it online. It is an unusual bridge.

  • Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, Canada
  • Does the bridge have heritage/historical significance?
    Built in 1924 to a design by Joseph Strauss, a noted bridge designer, its heritage status would seem to be beyond question but I will refer you to an article by Architectural Historian Yule Heibel for a thorough discussion of this issue. Insofar as personal history is concerned, there is no doubt the bridge has nostalgic associations for many Victoria residents.
  • If it is to be replaced will its replacement be attractive?
    Even people not particularly in favour of keeping the bridge are concerned that the design of the replacement will be characterless, in a modern overpass style that will add nothing to Victoria's image. If it were well-maintained the present bridge would be much more attractive than in its present dilapidated state. If it were lighted at night it would be striking.
  • Financing
    The estimate for a new bridge is currently set at $63 million vs. $25 million for repair/refurbishment of the old bridge. However, most of the funding for a new bridge is expected to come from other levels of government under current incentive programs, so that the two options (repair/replace) would cost Victoria taxpayers roughly the same. There is some concern that if the external funding were not to materialize the city's residents would be left facing a large debt. There are also people who feel that replacing the bridge is not as important an issue as homelessness, for instance, and that we should be dealing with the city's urgent human social needs before investing more in infrastructure relating to cars.
Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria, BC, CanadaI have probably not done justice to any point of view in the above summary. All these issues and others are discussed in depth on the Johnson Street Bridge Victoria website and on the Vibrant Victoria Forum. Please feel free to correct any errors in the above or comment with your opinions and additional information.


ms toast burner said...

Very nice photos, Benjamin - as usual.

"nor has it been arrived at in consultation with citizens"

This is precisely my beef about this city. So much that occurs here is decided FOR us, instead of in conversation with us. And often to the benefit of the tourist industry over the quality of life of residents.

I think this is what's happening with the bridge. I suspect the suits at City Hall figure the JSB is not 'pretty enough' for Victoria's image.

That may sound very simplistic but previous City decisions don't really offer me much evidence that there are more complicated thought processes going on there.

"Insofar as personal history is concerned, there is no doubt the bridge has nostalgic associations for many Victoria residents."

Count me in as one of those.

Carolyn said...

Great photos Benjamin and information. I usually end up in Victoria once a year and stay down by the inner harbour and I love the Johnson Street Bridge. We are way to quick to tear down and rebuild something else which will not stand the test of time or have any character.
We just became incorporated four years ago and there is much that is happening which is good of the visitor or "potential" business without enough thought given to the people who live here everyday and pay taxes and patronize the local businesses...governments at all levels seemed to have forgotten who they work for.
So there!

Dean said...

I am really surprised that any rust has been allowed to develop on the JSB. It spans saltwater and obviously vigilance would be necessary to prevent it.
The Golden Gate in San Francisco has a crew that is constantly painting it. Once finished, they go back and start again.

Kim said...

Your balanced article and very fine photos are worthy of a national magazine. Kudos on this!

PS, before reading your post and really looking at your shots I hadn't realized what sort of bridge it is. . . a bit of a light blue larger twin to the Ballard railroad bridge that spans the ship canal near the Locks. Chuck featured it recently on One A Day - Mostly Seattle, and I have in the past as well.