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  • Letter from readers


    Take down a parking lot and put up a paradise

    I sent this suggestion, which relates to Leslie Campbell’s recent editorial, to both NDP and Green Party leaders on July 10, as well as to City Hall.

    I would bring to your attention the fact that we in James Bay and other areas close to Downtown appreciate that both market rate and low-cost housing units are needed in our city.

    Parking for government officials and employees is rightly provided on a large asphalt-covered block, bounded by Kingston, Superior and Menzies streets, and these vehicles sit in the sun, rain and hail throughout the day. On weekends the parking lot is mostly vacant.

    I do not propose removing the parking lot. But I do suggest that at least one or more stories of housing units be built over the asphalt parking area. This would protect vehicles from the elements as well as derive income from rental of the suites. The green space where the Saturday James Bay Market is held could be left as-is for the enjoyment of new residents in the area and the new development.

    I and many others in the area would surely find an attractive architectural development much more pleasing to walk by than the present expanse of flat asphalt which is, in fact, an eyesore and an underutilization of valuable urban space.

    Dorothy Harvey


    Given your last editorial on affordable housing and Downtown parking lots, I thought you and Focus readers might be interested in a look at the website www.ZEDfactory.com. It is UK-based and promises low-cost homes—ZEDpods— with low energy bills, designed to be built over existing parking lots.

    Sam McCandlish


    Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution 

    Both of the articles “Tear down a parking lot and put up a paradise” and “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution” were most interesting.

    David Broadland suggests looking at Google Earth. I’d already done just that and was truly shocked how much of our city has been paved over.

    Broadland says that Victoria council’s bike lanes seem like “social engineering.” Some would call it leadership. If all the bike lanes are built for $16 million, that’s less than 19 percent of what we’re shucking out for the McKenzie Avenue interchange, and an even tinier part of what Stew Young regularly hoovers up for pavement in Langford.

    Copenhagen is indeed a good model for how far we can go with cycling. Looking at another European city, Ostrava in Czech Republic. Hardly anybody rides bikes, but 64 percent of people use the city’s tram, trolleybus and diesel bus routes.

    Trolleybuses work great in Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco. They’d also be perfect on heavily-used bus routes like Esquimalt, Quadra, Gordon Head and Crosstown. Have you noticed how noisy and fume-spewing diesel buses are?

    There’s one last way to get around, the only one which doesn’t need any mechanical aid at all. In Bilbao Spain, 60 percent of the population walks to work. Another surprising walker’s city is Paris, where unassisted footpower has a 47 percent market share.
    Have a look at the massive parking lots at UVic and Camosun, all empty for months in the summer, vacant public and private school lots, all the huge lots for employers like the hospitals and Dockyard. Victoria isn’t the City of Gardens, it's the City of Pavement.

    Louis Guilbault


    I appreciated David Broadland’s very detailed and disturbing article about Victoria’s new bike lanes, especially the costs involved.

    At my local cafe, when chatting with members of the Trippleshot Cycling Club before their regular Sunday ride, I was told they dislike the Pandora Street bike lanes, and those curbed on Cook Street near the Quadra turn, preferring a simple white line which they said “is less dangerous.”

    I read your informative, evidence-based Focus articles with great interest. We certainly need such well-researched journalism.

    Dvora Levin


    In his recent article and accompanying online video, David Broadland critiques the new Pandora bicycle lanes and the Biketoria initiative. While he presents a reasonable analysis of two survey methods, Broadland fails to mention the full range of data sources that informed Biketoria planning. Instead, his article implies that Mayor Helps and City staff used only these surveys to justify Biketoria. This is false. Broadland should speak to those who led Biketoria planning to learn about the extensive engagement, data collection, and analysis process it undertook. Biketoria involved a small army of urban planners, engineers, politicians, business people and community leaders—not to mention the sizeable public who support Biketoria, and voted for politicians who said they would enhance cycling in Victoria.

    Unfortunately, Broadland’s article also contains a few long-debunked arguments against cycling infrastructure. For example, his video implies that car emissions will increase because the Pandora bicycle lane will be underutilized. In response, any cyclist or urban planner would ask “well, how many people use a half-built bridge?” The intersection shown in the video is the end of the Pandora bicycle lane (at Cook Street) at one single moment-in-time on a single day. For someone with an interest in data collection methods, Broadland could use a refresher on how to conduct valid traffic studies— something he could learn from speaking with Biketoria’s leadership.

    Finally, his article suggests that many Victorians will never switch to a bicycle. While he cites no data to support this claim (even though relevant data exists), I encourage him to investigate any city he considers similar to Victoria that has pursued similar cycling infrastructure to Biketoria. Forget Copenhagen and Amsterdam; try to find cities that regret inviting in cycling. Through this investigation, I’m confident Broadland will warm to the range of benefits Biketoria will yield for Victorians. Who knows, he may even pull his bike out of the shed and give the Pandora bicycle lane a try.

    Critiques of government spending are in the public’s best interest. However, critiques should be balanced and include all the facts—not just those that support the author’s argument.

    Ross Graham


    David Broadland’s article on the wisdom of spending millions of taxpayer dollars on bike lanes gave valuable analysis to the debates I’m hearing all over the neighbourhood here in Fairfield. Most of us have one car, and do lots of errands on foot and by bicycle. Most of us are also appalled at the amount spent on the Pandora bike corridor. In Italy and in Spain, we noticed that bicyclists were protected by putting up a 10-inch by 6-inch cement barrier between the car lane and bike lane. In other cities, bicycles and pedestrians shared the sidewalk, with a paint colour showing which side was whose. Both formulas were a lot cheaper and safer than anything we have in Victoria.

    Poorly-thought-out spending is especially frustrating when we are told there isn’t sufficient money for more affordable housing, or food programs for low-income residents, or for subsidies/loans for solar panels, or for the city’s anti-violence programs for women and children. It also doesn’t leave us much money for regional transportation planning, a long-awaited dream of many living on the West Shore.

    I would be happy to provide a bus-only lane for the cost of some paint and a brush—thus giving the express buses in Duncan and Langford a chance to actually get Downtown and back faster, and convince more people to use them. This isn’t rocket science.

    Let’s give it shot.

    Judy Lightwater


    David Broadland’s article dismisses the findings from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) that 10.6 percent of City of Victoria residents cycle to work, implying that because it was a voluntary survey, it’s not good data. He then goes on to extensively use data from the 2011 CRD Household Travel Survey to make his argument that rates of cycling are significantly lower. What he fails to mention is that the CRD survey was also a voluntary survey. In addition, the CRD survey was based on a sample of 6172 households—about 3.5 percent of households in the region. By comparison, the NHS sampled about 30 percent of households in the region. So if Mr Broadland considers the NHS to be a poor data source because it’s a voluntary survey, how can he rely on another voluntary survey with barely one-tenth the sample size? Mr Broadland also ignores the fact that the 2006 Census included a mandatory question on commuting to work, and it found a similar result to the NHS—with 9.5 percent of City of Victoria residents cycling to work.

    Broadland’s article seems to imply that Victoria’s protected cycling lanes are just a pet project of Mayor Lisa Helps and were not based on evidence-based decision-making. Conveniently ignored are the hundreds, if not thousands, of cities across North America and around the world that are currently installing and expanding protected cycling networks. They are doing this, not as pet projects, but because the evidence in cities where these have already been implemented is that they lead to large increases in cycling by people of all ages.

    Steven Murray

    David Broadland replies: Steven, as I pointed out, the 2011 National Household Survey poses a single question about transportation to the person filling out the survey: What mode of transportation do you use to get to work? Respondents can choose only one travel mode, and only one per household. The NHS provides no information about how far they travelled, how other people in the household travelled, and misses all the other purposes for travelling—which actually constitute the majority of daily travel in our region.

    The CRD’s Origin Destination Survey is voluntary in the sense that when a household is contacted by phone and asked to participate, they can decline. If they agree to participate they are asked to provide extensive information about the travel behaviour of everyone in their household over a 24-hour period. This method is used around the world to understand the transportation dynamics of a community. The margin of error for the survey results is estimated at ±1.2 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. DB


    To Broadland, the installation of new, protected bike lanes in Downtown Victoria “carries a whiff of social engineering.”
    What is it, if not social engineering, that has fostered the supremacy of the private automobile for the past 50 years? As the planet and our province bake and burn, motorists are still subsidized, accommodated, and glorified—at the expense of public transit, biking, walking, and safe human-scale urban design.

     Broadland says that “Most people prefer to use four-wheeled motorized personal transport.” In the 1800s, most people preferred slavery, but thankfully it came to an end.

    He is worried about “that huge chunk of cash” required for bicycling infrastructure. It costs money to run a civilization. It’s about time that we who choose a healthy, non-polluting, practical form of transportation finally get a slice of the pie. Welcome to the 21st century, where people of all ages and abilities are able to traverse their cities by bicycle in protected car-free lanes.

    Anne Hansen

    David Broadland replies: Anne, the article states: “For people who drive a car, truck or van Downtown and don’t see themselves as likely to ever switch to a bicycle, the new situation feels like an attempt to force them to make a change they can’t or don’t want to make, and carries a whiff of social engineering.”

    That statement is a reflection of some of the positions expressed publicly about the Pandora protected corridor, which are controversial on a few levels. You missed the point of the article, which was not a criticism of bike lanes, but an appeal for a higher level of transportation planning that goes beyond simply responding to bicycle activists.

    My worry is not that a huge chunk of the Gas Tax Fund will be spent on bicycle lanes, but that none of it will be available to develop a realistic plan to mitigate our continued use of fossil-fuelled vehicles. Bicycles and walking have limited potential for helping us make the shift and meet our emissions goals. We need a huge investment in public transit. Please see “Difficult conversations on the steep descent ahead.” DB


    Here’s news for the Helps gang: The issue at hand is self-reliance, not telling the public how and where to live, and how and what to think.

    Hundreds of millions worldwide use cycling for transportation of kids, moving goods, shopping, schooling, getting to and from work—without bike lanes and patrolling brigades of police or intrusive legislation on what to wear. Utility is the focus, unlike the Helps’ model where public cycling has been hijacked.

    Victoria has over 450 kilometres of concrete sidewalks and more than 250 kilometres of paved roads for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to determine how best to use. The mayor, her troops of worthies, curators and lobbyists have determined themselves to be the seers in the mix, arbiters of the correct, ever ready to treat the public purse as personal finance.

    Come October 2018’s municipal election, send a message. No one should have to tolerate a repeat of this.

    Brian Nimeroski


    Over the years I have appreciated much of the analysis done by Focus, but David Broadland’s recent article on Victoria’s new bike lanes (“Mayor Helps’ 1.5 percent solution”) contains so many fallacies that it would be impossible to counter them all in a short letter. But here’s an effort to deal with a couple of them.

    First of all, I admit to being an “avid bicycle commuter” similar to Mayor Helps. I am also a 63-year-old man who became a dedicated bicyclist at the age of 56. I moved to “hilly” Victoria from San Francisco 8 years ago.

    Broadland claims that the 10.6 percent mode share of cyclists in 2011 used in reports to justify the new bike lanes is inflated. This may be, but Broadland’s metric—using the percentage of total miles travelled by mode—is just as flawed and seems designed to minimize the positive impact of cycling. It makes sense that bicyclists travel less distance than drivers do to accomplish the same things. After all, if you are bicycling you are much more likely to shop locally and unlikely to whip up to Uptown to save 20 percent on toilet paper at Walmart. Broadland’s metric penalizes us for this.

    Broadland criticizes the cost of the project—which he claims will be $16 million—over twice as much as the City says it will cost. In the eight years I’ve lived in Victoria, this is the first time that any entity has spent any significant amount of money on bike infrastructure. Meanwhile, just off the top of my head, I can count three significant projects for automobile traffic within the CRD in the last few years—the McTavish interchange at $24 million, the Johnson Street bridge project at $100 million and counting, and the McKenzie interchange project at at least $85 million. So that’s at least $210 million for car infrastructure just in major projects. Maybe even $16 million for something that promotes a clear social good isn’t so much?

    Paul Rasmussen

    David Broadland responds: Paul, these are all good points, worthy of further discussion. I have responded in detail to your and other responses in “Difficult conversations on the steep descent ahead”. Thanks to everyone for their letters. DB

    How to lose at bridge, and pool
    As usual, great articles on the bridge and other infrastructure projects which make me relieved to be living in Ladysmith and not having to deal with the outcomes of decisions from the Greater Victoria politicians.

    Re the Broadland and Crockford pieces, I was brought up to believe there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers. Local politicians are generalists, interested hopefully in serving their communities, and are not experts in any or many subjects. Hence the need for expert staff and consultants who should not be afraid to speak truth to power and to provide open and honest advice to their political bosses. Unfortunately the pols have not been well-served in these respects, staff seemingly not being knowledgeable and consultants preferring to obfuscate and pass the buck so that future contract opportunities are not compromised.

    That said, politicians are culpable by not paying attention to the project and financial risks, believing that any form of cost-sharing from the provincial and federal governments is sufficient to justify any new inflated, ill-conceived and multiple-objective project, while ignoring required maintenance and reports that say the sky is not falling.

    The process regarding the new pool definitely shows the pols have not learned their lessons from the bridge project and are indeed over their heads.

    Counter-cyclical government spending may seem out-dated, but why compete and pay top-dollar for projects such as bike lanes and bridges when the private sector is already going gang-busters providing more housing and commercial/institutional space and ultimately tax dollars for the local governments?

    Politicians should cool their jets, do some more data gathering and planning, and ask all the questions they like until they get decent, clear responses from their very high-priced help.

    Tony Beckett


    Recently Mayor Lisa Helps was interviewed on CBC’s On The Island morning program. I was amazed to hear that the cost overruns for fendering on the new Johnson Street bridge would not cost taxpayers any money because they would be paid for out of the City’s contingency fund.

    That’s like claiming the family holiday was free because it was paid for out of the savings account not the chequing account. 
    It’s scary to think we let these people manage multi-million dollar projects. If the contingency account is so flush with funds that this charge will have no impact, then City taxes have been historically too high. Otherwise, taxpayers will be on the hook for replenishing the contingency account so funds will be available when Victoria has a true emergency. There is no way the City can spend additional millions and taxpayers won’t be impacted.

    Steen Petersen


    Resurrecting music that got buried alive
    Dr Suzanne Snizek briefly mentioned a reference that weaves a strange thread from Jewish exclusion during fascism to Canada today. She said that “refugees fled to ‘friendly’ countries like Canada [where they] were not necessarily welcomed with open arms...”

    Prime Minister Mackenzie King turned away 907 Jewish refugees in the desperate 1939 MS St Louis’ journey. Hundreds perished in the Holocaust after the boat’s forced return to Europe.

    King met Hitler in 1937. Wikipedia has evidence King was sympathetic to Hitler. Many Nazis and their sympathizers fled East Europe, including Ukraine, after the war.

    The gifted Ukrainian pianist and patriot Valentina Lisitsa had her Toronto Symphony Orchestra performance axed in 2015 due to statements she made about the Ukrainian regime. She was not appreciated for being honest about the links between current Ukrainian violence and Western-denied Neo-Nazis.

    Read about the very disturbing history of Western support for fascism from World War II through the present in Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism by Dr Michael Parenti.

    Larry Wartels


    HPV vaccine discussion continued
    Dr Gina Ogilvie and I would like to respond to Alan Cassel’s response to our critique of his column on the HPV vaccine. I can assure readers that we do not feel obligated to defend vaccines at all costs. Rather, we hold the tenet that individuals should make decisions based on the balance of scientific information and not cherry-picked criticisms from vaccine sceptics.
    Following up on that point, we would like to address the statement that: “parents should be aware of the controversies surrounding the research around the vaccine, the many unanswered questions and the growing number of girls around the world who appear (my emphasis) to be harmed by it.”

    Logically, if a vaccine causes serious side effects, we would expect that these occurrences would be more frequent in those who received the vaccine when compared to those who did not. As we noted in our earlier response, scientific studies from different populations, over a period of nine years, and involving more than one million pre-adolescent girls, adolescent girls and adult women show that this is not the case. Events and conditions reported as side effects (such as auto-immune diseases— including Guillain-Barre syndrome and multiple sclerosis—anaphylaxis, venous thromboembolism, adverse pregnancy outcomes and stroke) happen just as frequently in unvaccinated girls and women of the same ages. These events are sad and tragic, but extensive study shows that they are not caused by this vaccine.

    Alan Cassels also states that so far there is no proof that the HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer. As we noted, there are excellent data from around the world that the vaccine effectively prevents the pre-cancerous lesions that precede all cervical cancers. We would not characterize these as “surrogate markers.” Not all these lesions will become cancers, but no cancer will occur without a preceding precancerous change. And, to conduct a study where we wait for women to develop cervical cancer to show the proof of the HPV vaccine compared to placebo would be highly unethical.

    Alan Cassels asks whether “given that 90 percent of HPV infections are asymptomatic and will clear within two years…is it possible that public health officials have reconfigured a small risk factor into a deadly disease?”

    Well—your readers can be the judge of that.

    Most infected women will in fact clear HPV infection; only a minority will have persistent infection leading to pre-cancerous changes. Most of these can be picked up through cervical screening and surgical procedures (colposcopies) will be used to treat these changes. In BC in 2014 around 16,000 of these surgical colposcopies were performed—procedures which, though clearly beneficial as they have been shown to prevent subsequent cancer development, are sometimes associated with complications for women’s future reproductive health, including leading to higher rates of low birth weight and preterm labour, as well as the inherent risks of the colposcopy treatment itself. Despite these interventions, in 2015, 178 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed, and 42 women died from it.

    Is this acceptable? It might be to Mr Cassels, but we think this is a cavalier attitude. There are good data that the HPV vaccine prevents 100 percent of infections with HPV 16/18, the most oncogenic (cancer-causing) types, and has been shown to prevent a substantial proportion (20-45 percent) of pre-cancerous changes in vaccinated women. These reductions in precancerous lesions avert many thousands of colposcopies and, it is reasonable to presume, will reduce the number of women developing cervical cancer and the associated morbidity and mortality.

    In BC alone, even with fewer than 70 percent of eligible women vaccinated against HPV, we have seen a substantial reduction in pre-cancerous cervical lesions in the young women vaccinated in grades 6 and 9.

    Given [this] are we really still asking “does this vaccine work?”

    Our real question and focus should be: “How do we improve uptake of the HPV vaccine, so that all young women (and men) no longer develop HPV-related cancers?”

    We assert, based on the evidence, that the available HPV vaccines are both safe and effective. We hope that individuals who are wavering on the question of having their children vaccinated will make up their minds based on fact rather than innuendo. We also believe that publicly funding this vaccine is a sound use of finite health care resources.

    Dr Perry Kendall, Prov. Health Officer
    Dr Gina Ogilvie, professor, UBC

    Alan Cassels responds: To write me off as a “vaccine skeptic” who cherry picks his evidence, and relies on innuendo is an ad hominem attack and the lowest form of debate. There are still major questions around this particular vaccine’s efficacy and safety. One should always question the major cheerleaders of any drug or vaccine, because as vigorously as they say they are striving to improve public health, the history of medicine is littered with good (but disasterous) intentions. AC


    “Undue hardship” for whom?
    A developer is seeking permission to build a five-storey, 14-unit luxury condo building (“The Quest”) on a 10,588 square-foot residential lot at 2326 Oak Bay Avenue in Oak Bay. The plan includes underground parking: the entire size of the lot will be excavated by prolonged and extensive blasting to a depth of 12 feet. All existing trees, shrubs and topsoil would be removed. Not surprisingly the proposal violates many Oak Bay Official Community Plan objectives. As well, the proposal would result in the destruction of a significant, protected, approximately 200-year-old Garry Oak tree at 2340 Oak Bay Avenue.

    The Advisory Planning Commission considered the proposal on July 4, 2017. The developer’s consultant and Oak Bay staff agreed the protected Garry Oak is healthy and has many more years of life left and the proposal would destroy the tree.

    Since Garry Oaks are protected in Oak Bay, any alterations to the tree must comply with Bylaw 4326. The relevant clause in this case states that the tree at issue can only be removed if “a requirement to construct the building or structure in an alternate location would impose an undue hardship.”

    The 2326 property was purchased by the developer for $900,000. It is estimated that the total list price for the proposed development will be approximately $13 million. Alternate proposals have been previously suggested for this site that would not require destroying the tree. The developer would still make a tidy profit—albeit not as large as the one he’d earn by destroying the tree.

    This begs the question: Is requiring a developer to earn a slightly smaller profit in order to comply with Oak Bay’s Tree Bylaw an “undue hardship”?

    Or is the true “undue hardship” our community’s loss of a majestic iconic symbol of Oak Bay and our commitment to the environmental benefits of protecting and enhancing an urban forest, pursuant to Oak Bay’s Urban Forest Strategy?

    Mike Wilmut, Oak Bay


    Development process broken
    My neighbours and I have closely watched the development application process for the Truth Centre Property at 1201 Fort Street. It’s made many of us realize our city planning and development process is utterly broken.

    Abstract Developments intends to transform the park-like area of almost two acres into a dense apartment condo and townhouse complex. Most of the trees will be replaced by two large and out-of-place condo buildings, and a row of ten, three-storey townhouses. In total, 94 units.

    The community has stated its overwhelming opposition to the scale of the development. The proposed six-storey condo facing Fort dwarfs anything in the area. The wall of 10 townhouses with little setback dominates the small street. The scale of a second condo apartment in the rear is too massive. The architecture does not reflect the heritage corridor or the surrounding homes. The removal of trees is inconsistent with the Official Community Plan and denies Victoria a much-needed urban greenspace. The impact to wildlife is sobering.

    City Council heard us, sending Abstract back to the drawing board to address questions of scale, height, and heritage architecture. But Abstract’s response was to increase the proposed units from 93 to 94!

    If this proposal is accepted, Mayor and council will be promoting overdevelopment and demonstrating their lack of respect for neighbourhood input—even after Abstract has ignored theirs. Let’s hope they can repair the broken development process by saying “No” to Abstract’s proposal.

    Chris Douglas


    Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan
    I am forwarding you a note I sent today to Victoria City council about tomorrow’s meeting of the whole to consider approval of the draft Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan:

    The survey was full of leading and misleading questions. The public consultations were insufficient and were more akin to telling us your plans than listening to the needs and wishes of voters. The time span between alerting the public to your plans and bringing forward a draft plan for approval has been woefully inadequate. There is simply too much information for residents of the neighbourhood to have reviewed in order to have understood your plans and commented in a meaningful way.

    I contacted all councillors; only three bothered to respond. I have reached out several times directly to the council representative for the area and have yet to hear from Councillor Coleman. None of this supports approval.

    Neighbours have made the same comments. The proposed plan has many components that will significantly alter the community and it would be in everyone’s best interest to take the time for full and meaningful public consultations. The City has not done that. To date, the process has not earned you social license to proceed, and in fact promises to further alienate the public, many of whom see this plan as emanating from outside the community to serve someone else’s interests. Under the circumstances I implore you not to approve the draft plan unless and until full and proper public consultations have been completed.

    If this council is sincerely committed to transparency, accountability and public engagement, here is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment. I recommend that you do so.

    Michael Bloomfield

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