New Bike Lanes, Plazas, and Pedestrian Scrambles - Part 2 - Wharf Street

If you are here, I am really hoping that you read the first installment of this two part series on the new infrastructure along Wharf and Humboldt Streets. If you haven’t read the first one, I would highly recommend going back and looking at that one now and then coming back here.

Okay, so for those of you that are meant to be here, as you saw last time despite some of the negative press parts of the new infrastructure outside of the DoubleTree Hotel has received, I actually thought pretty highly of what the City has built in the first section I looked at. It was well put together and felt for the most part, complete and tightly integrated into the surroundings. I am not feeling quite the same about the other half of this project along Wharf Street, but it is not all bad either. For this second piece I think that the best way to look at it is to break it down into parts: the bike lanes, the pedestrian environment, and the Johnson Street Bridge intersection. Each one I think has its own impact on the user and certainly for me has its own merit or lack thereof. So lets get started looking at the bet part of the work.

Wharf Street Bike Lanes

I know that if you primarily use Wharf Street as a driver, you likely are not a fan of the new set-up. But really there are very limited reasons why a Victorian should ever be using Wharf Street for anything other than a Sunday drive. I realise that if you are driving north out of James Bay towards Vic West, then Wharf is the logical route due to the limited left hand turns on the other main north/south options, but that has to be a really small amount of people that would be doing that on a regular basis. So that means that the rest of the people that are using Wharf are either visitors, commercial traffic or people okay with a slower route. For those limited types of drivers the road can still work adequately, but slowly. But that is not what I am looking at, this is about the bike lanes.

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So the bike lanes are very similar to the ones put in along Pandora Avenue and Fort Street. One of the really nice parts of it from a cycling perspective is how it is starting to tie the pieces that have been built together. It is great to be able to ride down Pandora, then along Wharf and then back up Fort Street. As the new Humboldt and Vancouver Street parts are completed, depending on how they turn out, I expect it will be easy to create several little circuits as you ride for fun or if you are heading downtown to shop for a bit.

Another great part of the new bike lanes along Wharf is that it seems the City is starting to realise that when they put in bike lanes like this they need to include a lot bike racks. This part of the network has a good selection of spots to stop and park your bike which was very nice to see. I know that there has been some consternation among some cyclists that there are too many pedestrian crossings and that it makes Wharf a slow ride, but these bike lanes are not meant to be race tracks, they are meant to provide a safe place to ride downtown and that means having to stop for pedestrians at crossings. Overall from a cycling point of view I think that this new work is a great success.

Pedestrian Environment

So the bike lanes are pretty great and definitely a worthwhile addition of infrastructure in my opinion. While the work was ongoing the roads were dug up significantly and I would have thought that the City would have taken the opportunity to fix up the sidewalks. There are some improvements, especially to the street crossings at Bastion Square, Fort Street and Yates Street. At Yates Street there is even an additional light that is beneficial to pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers. What was not touched almost at all though, was the sidewalk along the west side of the street, the one right next to the bike lanes.

If you have walked along Wharf Street recently, especially on the harbour side, you will get to experience one of the worst pedestrian environments in the city. I keep hoping this is because there are plans to allow significant development on the three harbour parking lots and Wharf Street will not be the water side road anymore and instead be a regular downtown street one block removed. If that were the case, I would likely not be so concerned about the sidewalk here. Still as it is this is the second most important pedestrian route after Government Street for tourists and it should look that way. In actual fact though, the way it looks is terrible. First, the length between Bastion Square and Fort Street has always been a bad sidewalk. It has a nasty looking railing and is very narrow strip of sidewalk. It doesn’t help that the view here is stunning so people are stopping all the time, making it near impossible to get through. One would have thought with the effort that was going into the bike lanes they would have planned to build something to extend the sidewalk over the parking lot or have removed more parking to give a bit more space. Perhaps the City should have bitten the bullet and turned Wharf into just a single travel lane going south so that the width could have been really opened up but they didn’t which is unfortunate.

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The sidewalk in the next block south, while not narrow (actually it is a good size), is barely a sidewalk and certainly an embarrassment for a city that is focused on tourism. Looking specifically at the sidewalk between Fort Street and the Homecoming statue you will find almost any material besides a properly poured sidewalk. There is cracked cement, lumpy asphalt, haphazard grates and ill-defined driveways. It must have felt awkward for the City Workers to be building a beautiful new bike lane next to this mess. I am unaware of any current plans to fix this section up either but I am certain that the answer the City would give is that with the plans for the Ship Point parking lot that the sidewalks will get dealt with at the same time. I am also aware of just how unlikely that project is ever to come to fruition. So from a pedestrian perspective, I will say that things have marginally improved at the crossings but that the sidewalks themselves along Wharf remain cramped and in need of significant work. So it couldn’t get worse right?

Johnson/Pandora and Wharf Intersection

It gets worse. I know that some people will say that that this really isn’t part of the new project as it is kind of a piece of the Johnson Street Bridge project, well the new bridge has been open for over a year and so I think we can safely move the work in this area into the latest project to touch it, which would be the Wharf Street upgrade project. I just don’t know where to start with this mess. I know that some people will focus on the new bike lanes, multi-use path, pedestrian path and the plaza at the north end next to the Janion and say that there are so many improvements here that you can’t possibly find anything wrong with it. For me the real achievement here is that the space is now uncomfortable for those on bikes, in cars and on foot all at the same time. I think that the city took what was a basically a 1950’s motordom design and just tuned it down by a couple of notches rather than taking advantage of both the bridge project and the bike-lanes project and seeing if something new could have been done.

While I know that there are a lot of cyclists that would not be fans, however, I think that the best thing that we could put into this space and give it the gravitas that it should have as main gateway into downtown, would be to have a roundabout here. There are a few designs that are used in places around the world that do incorporate dedicated bike lanes and it would allow all of the various mode users to have a more freedom to move through the space smoothly. It also might give a little more purpose to the empty gravel island that is there now, if it was a proper old world traffic circle. That said there may be other options that would work just as well. What are your thoughts for what would work in this space?

I would also love to know what you think of the whole project along both Wharf Street and Humboldt Street!

New Bike Lanes, Plazas, and Pedestrian Scrambles - Part 1 - Humboldt Street

I know it has taken me a bit of time to get back and look at the new project along Humboldt and Wharf since I wrote the pedestrian scramble article last year. Most of the improvements have now been open for at least a month. Well I have now spent some time along both the bike lanes on Wharf Street and the changes along Humboldt Street from the new crosswalk to the very controversial new plaza at Douglas Street. Despite it being theoretically, one linear project, I have quite few varying thoughts that change as you move along its kilometre stretch. Due to these varying perspectives, I am going to break my review into two separate articles, the first one on the space along Humboldt Street from the Government Street pedestrian scramble to the new plaza at the DoubleTree Hotel; and a second article on the pedestrian and bike environment along Wharf Street from Government to the Spaghetti interchange at the new bridge.

So in this first post, I am focusing on the main downtown stretch of this project from Government Street to Douglas. From a pedestrian’s view, this is perhaps the most exciting change we see in the whole project. I am going to start with the scramble and work my way east to the DoubleTree Hotel.

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The Pedestrian Scramble

When it was first announced and I wrote my previous article, I wasn’t sure whether this was going to work, but I was really focused on the scramble itself and not the surrounding space. I came down and had a look while the construction was still underway and it still wasn’t clear. Now that the whole space is essentially complete and I finally saw it in-person the amount of things that changed right up to the end is amazing. It is not perfect, but overall the work is clean, clear, warm and friendly. As you will find out in the next instalment, not every part of this project can be seen in the same way.

The traffic island on the south west corner of the scramble has been set-up with benches and a large digital information board with bike lane usage numbers. Despite being in the middle of the intersection, this space looks like it could be the best place to hang out and street-watch in the whole city. With the bikes whizzing by, throngs of tourists walking up the causeway and the much reduced car traffic slowly passing through the new intersection, you could likely spend hours sitting here on a nice day watching all the action. Everything about the intersection looks complete and precise. My only thought on design is that the scramble itself ended up a little squished, which gives what should be a square, a more trapezoid shape. I also wonder weather the way the lines are painted could have been more interesting than the stripe lane ways that have been put down but that is easily changed in the future. It is also a little confusing to have to have buttons on the standards that are only for the visually impaired so signs have been placed there to clarify but those signs themselves are also a little confusing. Still if their addition makes this crosswalk more usable for those with visibility challenges than that is great.

Leaving the scramble and heading east, the main change here is the bike lanes which are nice and straight and again provide a nice separation between the traffic and the sidewalk. As you move towards Douglas, the second completely reworked intersection comes into view and again it is well done.

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Humboldt Plaza

One of the biggest changes that you see along this whole project is the change to car traffic flow. At Government Street, eastbound traffic can now continue along Humboldt to Douglas rather than being forced south along Government Street as it used to be. When eastbound traffic reaches Douglas at what used to be a five way intersection, cars are now blocked from travelling down Humboldt in front of the Marriott Hotel. Instead, eastbound traffic goes up Burdett towards Fairfield. Bike traffic can still continue on Humboldt and the bike lanes pass through the now blocked off roadway.

In addition to bike lanes continuing on the closed road the rest of this now superfluous roadway has been turned into a brand new mini plaza. The edge of the plaza along Douglas has a very finished feel to it, but the space right in front of the patio for Bart’s Pub feels a little sterile and unfinished. I am aware that the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, which has had a hand in the design of the uses for this space, has more plans to both activate the space and brighten it up, to give it a more complete feel. Unfortunately, the majority of the press regarding this space has been dedicated to a discussion about a very nice (but apparently expensive) ping pong table. This is too bad because this space is a true benefit to the city that will likely not truly be recognised for a decade or two. I know that I have gone on my public space versus green space before, but it is these little people places that are needed to give downtown residents and visitors have a space for themselves to spend time in for a large part of the year. The benefit of this mini plaza and the new traffic island at Humboldt and Government is that these are already active places for people. They are both on natural pathways across downtown, that means that they are not ever going to be empty, even in the depths of winter or the latest hours at night. It will be interesting to contrast this new plaza outside the DoubleTree to the larger one that is just a block away to the east with the large water feature. My prediction is that this little one will crush the larger one with use because there will simply be more people to watch.

While we can wait and see what the finishing touches of the mini plaza look like, overall this section of this project is great in my opinion and really changes the feel of this area of downtown from a desolate tourist zone, to a dynamic people place for Victorians. We will have to see how it goes over the longer term and I will check back in. So next time I will look at the rest of this new project From Government Street to the Johnson Street Bridge, will it turn out to be as good as this section? Check in soon and find out. Meanwhile, if you get a chance go down and take a look at the space.

The BC Aviation Museum - Victoria's Most Underrated Attraction

Likely due to the fact that we are a capital city and that we are just a little bit older than a lot of other places in the region, we have a great selection of museums despite Victoria’s smaller size. I am totally open to having more but overall it is a pretty great collection (On a related note I do think that we could do much better on the art gallery side of things but that is another article…) We have so many museums in the region that I know that there are a few that I haven’t visited and there might be a few that you have never even heard of. For many people, one of those forgotten ones is the BC Aviation Museum, yet as far as museums go, it is one of the best ones we have.

To get to the museum you essentially just need to head out to the airport, when you get to the closest roundabout to the airport (with the YYJ sign on it) head north. If you are on your bike you can get on the trail that circles the airport here and if you are driving just keep trying to go north. There is a small sign with a yellow Norseman aircraft on it that marks the driveway (Called Norseman Road).

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As you come down the driveway (painted like a mini runway… ), you will see a grey blue metal hanger and you may think that it looks pretty small. You then go inside the front door and there is a small entrance and gift shop and it still seems like you may just end up looking at models of planes rather than the real thing. The whole aura is of a little tiny community museum. There are usually a few volunteers standing around the front and after you pay your admission, they will offer you a tour, if this is your first time here definitely take them up on it. Each of them have provided me with information and stories that no matter how many signs you read, it won’t compare.

One of the best parts of your visit comes when they open up the one of the two crash doors leading out of the lobby and into the museum. In you go to a well laid out hanger holding at least 15 planes of various sizes. The size is actually surprising and there is a quality to it that is unexpected. There is really a lot to see: with old flight simulators, fighter aircraft from both world wars, and even some examples of planes from the origins of aviation. Even more impressive is that there is a whole other hanger next to this one with another selection of aircraft and that one seems to have filled up as they have moved a couple of the larger aircraft out onto the apron outside of that hanger.

Connected to the first hanger is a smaller hanger where the aircraft restoration work takes place. You sometimes, if your lucky, get taken in there to see whatever project they are working on. Right now the big project is restoring an Avro Lancaster built in 1944. The plan is actually to return it to flight though looking at it in its current condition, I can imagine this will be a long and expensive project. Also connected to the first hanger is a library and an ante room that is focused on the history of the airport at Pat Bay going back to the Second World War. When you visit make sure you find a guide to take you on the Vickers Viscount airliner. It gives you a great sense of what it was like to travel by plane when you still got some legroom. The plane is painted in the Trans-Canada Airlines Livery and is really a beautiful aircraft.

Now for those of us that have been to the Air and Space Museum in Seattle, this museum is going to seem small but that really isn’t a fair comparison as that museum is one of the best in the world. Still the BC Aviation Museum has to be one of the best of its kind in Canada, as with a lot of things in Victoria it could be so much better if we dreamt a little bigger. I would love to see the government put some money into a new lobby, gift shop and perhaps an extension to the display area so that they could bring some of those planes that have been squeezed outside back in. If you arrived to a modern entrance with some more light and I think that more tourists might be drawn in by looking at a picture on the website. Actually a smaller start could be a complete upgrade of the website with a focus on drawing people in. I wouldn’t want to lose the volunteer spirit of the museum, as that is one of the things that makes it so special, but at the same time I think that if it was polished up just maybe twenty percent it could bring in a larger amount of visitors and hopefully more money to do the restorations.

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As it is now, it is just a quiet jewel and one of the most underrated and likely under-visited museums on the whole island. If you are out in Sidney or heading out that way, stop in at the museum for a visit, you will definitely not regret it.

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How to Make a Bad Sidewalk

If you have been reading the blog for awhile you will know that I like a messy sidewalk and that I know to look out for some of those sidewalk traps, but one thing I truly can’t stand is when we purposely put in bad sidewalks and yet it seems like we are continually doing it.

I was surprised to read about a freshly laid sidewalk on Vibrant Victoria. A brand new development in one of the highest density parts of the city and for some reason the sidewalk is barely over a metre wide and the city saw fit to have the developer put in a massive grass boulevard. The development is the 989 on Johnson and Vancouver Street that is getting pretty close to being done. I highly encourage reading through some of the comments on VV and looking at some of the pictures on there. I have said before that I have concerns about the amount green space we put into areas that are meant for pedestrians. It is nice to look at and sure having boulevards with a little bit of grass can be fine. But if you use grass in a hostile way to cramp the pedestrian it is likely to result in two things: the destruction of the boulevard with desire paths; and in winter a lot of grumpy people with muddy shoes and really there is just no reason for it.

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In this specific example, it also just doesn’t make any sense. Looking south along Vancouver Street you see a broad spacious, and in my opinion, perfect sidewalk next to Atlas which then for some reason as you go north is taken away and the pedestrian is funnelled into this tiny little path and there is no reason for it. Why?

Well one reason why you see this sort of thing done is that the city plans its space out through the Official Community Planning process joined with the local or neighbourhood plans. Sidewalks are laid out in the plans based on the best case scenario for the entire neighbourhood and then the plan is implemented by the city as a sidewalk requires replacement or a development occurs. Problem with this is that it is rare for an entire block, let alone a whole neighbourhood to get redeveloped at the same time so that means that only pieces of the plan are implemented.

There are of course exceptions, with large projects like the Douglas Street and Yates Street boulevard and sidewalk projects of early in the century, but as the folly of the Yates Street implementation shows, even when a whole street is put into place at once there are issues if you think about form over function.

Getting back to this specific instance, it is funny that the city planners never looked across the street as to what happens when you do a bad job of putting in a new sidewalk. The eastern side of the 1300 block of Vancouver Street has been problematic for years and even with a recent new sidewalk pour, because it doesn’t line up with the sidewalk there is a very defined desire path that allows you to continue to walk in a straight line (this is what pedestrians want to do).

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The city really needs to sometimes get outside of its long term planning box and instead focus on the individual stretch of sidewalk. One more example that is truly atrocious is in the 900 block of Caledonia Street. Again the city has some notion that eventually there will be boulevards up and down the northern side of this street. Here the city actually has the ability to implement this boulevard all the way to Vancouver Street as they own the lot east of the one that they forced a developer to put in but even when they have the full control to implement it they haven’t and instead thought it would be fun to inconvenience pedestrians.

I truly hope that the city looks at the new space outside of the 989 on Johnson as it is brand new and the work on the building is ongoing so the walking traffic is still somewhat light.

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North Park's First Real Mid-Block Walkway

There are a lot of mid-block walkways in Victoria. Some of them are just a parking lot you can cut across and some of them purpose built walkways. For the most part the official walkways that I have documented in past blog posts (Here, here, here, here and here) have been mostly the purpose built ones with some of the unofficial ones mixed.

When it comes to North Park there have not been any purpose built walkways that are open to the public, at least until now that I can think of unless you count Central Park. With the completion of the new 1008 Pandora building there is a real mid-block walkway that goes from Mason Street to Pandora Avenue.

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Mid-block walkways are such a great part of the urban experience in Victoria. From a pure efficiency perspective, the walkways provide you options in how you can cut across the city. If you want to access businesses that are only part way along a block, a walkway can save you a lot of time. Another great benefit of the walkways is that as you get to know Victoria (or any city that has them) is that you can make up lots of alternate ways of moving around the city. They might not always be faster but they just give you options. As you learn about these different ways of moving around the city it actually changes your mental map of the city. If there is a way for city planners to work more walkways into the future plans for the city they should, because they are such an amazing treat for pedestrians.

This latest walkway in North Park is not perfect, but it is the first one in North Park that has been purpose-built for people to use to cut across a block. The new project has built a series of townhouses along the western edge of Franklin Green. In front of those town homes the developer has out in a very narrow brick pathway. I think that the pathway should be at least twice the width, but unfortunately either the developer or the city has decided to leave in some sad looking cedar trees here which should have been removed. Hopefully at some put this is realised and the walkway can be expanded. But it is at least here, and that is a plus. From the back corner of the project there is a narrow fenced walkway that does an L-jag to cut through to Pandora. As it is currently set-up this is a pretty dreary utilitarian walk through. I can guarantee I will use it, as it is the perfect direction from me as I move through North Park on my way to work but it isn’t exactly inviting. I think that if the building owner wants to make sure the area doesn’t end up being used for negative purposes, they are going to need to enliven the walls and pathway if it is possible.

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The City has a role has in making this work as well. Franklin Green has a wonderful pathway that works its way around the back of the park. With the addition of the new walkway you would have thought that the city would have built a spur that would have connected them, but as of now they haven’t yet. Hopefully this is on the plans for the next few months.

As we see further density come to North Park I am hoping that we are going to see some other dedicated walkways. I already have my unofficial cut-throughs that I use all the time but I am always excited to see a new mid-block walkway. So where else do we need a purpose-built walkway in North Park?

Sidewalking James Bay Village

When you walk around your neighbourhood, do your neighbours sometimes seem just a little bit too normal and maybe just a little bit dull? Well then it might be time for you to take a walk around another place in Victoria and get back a little of that wacky west coast vibe. The oldest urban centre outside of downtown Victoria (and even the oldest neighbourhood as a whole) is James Bay Village which sits mostly along Menzies Street from Superior Street in the north to Niagara Street in the south. James Bay Village is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities we have in the city and hopefully as things continue to densify we will see more of the benefits of that density come to James Bay Village.

I lived in James Bay for a few years in the early 2000’s and it is truly an amazing neighbourhood. There are great parks; you are close to Dallas Road and the shore and James Bay Village has most of the things you need out of a village. That said, James Bay is also has its unique parts to it. It is surrounded on three sides by water and on one side by Beacon Hill Park ,which sounds great unless you need to get somewhere on the same day as the marathon. James Bay also has the cruise ship terminal, Fisherman’s Wharf, most of the hotels for the tourists, the Coho and Clipper Terminal and the BC Legislature and the Royal BC Museum. So you really have to appreciate all of those wonderful tourists we get in the summer. With water on three sides, James Bay is also at least five degrees colder than the rest of the city at most times. I honestly think that it is mixing of all these unique qualities that give James Bay residents their slightly more quirky demeanour.

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Shortly after the town of Victoria began spilling beyond the walls of the fort, James Bay became a popular spot to live. It was close to the town centre but also that little bit removed, with body of water known as James Bay between the neighbourhood and the town. That body of water no longer exists as it was filled in to build the Empress hotel, though at one time it extended back to almost where St. Ann’s Academy is today. James Bay was home to the original legislative buildings known colloquially as the Birdcages which were built in the early 1860’s. This meant that many of those that wanted to live close to these offices chose to make James Bay their home as well.

The Windsor Grocery store

The Windsor Grocery store

It is not exactly clear to me when the village became the commercial focus of James Bay but the Windsor Grocery Building, now home to a flower shop and eye glasses shop was built in the 1870’s. The commercial area became solidified with the addition of the Number 3 Street Car line that went right along Menzies from downtown (and Fernwood).

When I moved to Victoria in the 1990’s, James Bay Village was a little bit sleepy and James Bay as a whole, was just beginning to come out of a slump that had existed since the late 1960’s. All of sudden the quirky mix of both houses from the 1880’s next to modernist high-rises seemed intriguing. I would say that before the upswing of Fairfield and Cook Street Village in the early 2000’s, there was a moment when James Bay was the hippest part of town. What stopped it from taking the place of Cook Street Village, was likely the lack of enough commercial space along the sidewalk to give it the village feel that is only just starting to come together now, twenty years later.

When it comes to urban villages, if you want them to be more of a destination rather than just a place to run to and grab some milk or a coffee, they need to have a depth of shopping options. They also need to have some length. When you look at the linear shopping experiences of Cook Street Village or Oak Bay Village you can begin to get a sense of what I mean. Until recently, James Bay Village did’t really have that linear feel. It also still suffers from a couple overly car oriented commercial spaces that really hurt the pedestrian environment. (Mac’s, Pharmasave plaza, Discovery Coffee and of course the Thrifty’s plaza). With the recent completion of the eastern Capital Park building this has really started to shift. It is clear now that the James Bay Village begins at Superior and Menzies with the library and Floyd’s diner as the gateway. One would hope that at some point we see a redevelopment of the gas station to further entrench the walk-ability of the commercial area as well as some of those more car oriented spaces. That said, I would hope that we will always keep the James Bay Square Mall building. According to the James Bay Beacon, this amazing modern brutalist building(it used to be, it was painted in the last 10 years I believe…) was built in 1976. It has to be one of the most unique apartment buildings in the city. I have been up to one of the apartments with the west facing decks and they are actually quite amazing. The decks themselves are almost bigger than the apartment inside. Hopefully at some point the grocery store portion of the building can be rebuilt in a different way (perhaps over top of the parking lot while leaving this building as is.

One thing that James Bay Village has that sets it apart from some of the other urban villages in Victoria is that it has a park right along the street. Irving Park can has its challenges sometimes but for the most part it is a great place to stop and relax. There is a washroom, a playground and even a labyrinth at the back. I think that if the north east corner were opened up more and made into a little plaza it could really changes things for the park.

James Bay Village is also home to some really wonderful businesses that I shouldn’t forget to mention. For food, I have enjoyed my visits in the past to the Heron Rock Bistro. I also love the vibe at the Bent Mast, though the food sometimes hit or miss; and of course Discovery Coffee is always great despite the less than stellar building it resides in here. For eclectic shopping, if you are in James Bay, you should not miss the chance to visit James Bay Coffee and Books. This combo food and literature shop is amazing and some of the little nooks for eating in while surrounded by books are completely unique. Also make sure you do a walk through of Super Chance, the little thrift store in the very small mall next to Thrifty’s. This is a very well maintained and fun thrift store with some real interesting items that match with the quirky nature of James Bay itself. There is also the chance that you will find that one amazing piece here.

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In the last ten years we have seen the addition of the building with Serious Coffee in it and now Capital Park, both of these buildings have enhanced the pedestrian commercial aspect of James Bay Village. Hopefully over the next many years we will see that further enhanced with the redevelopment of the gas station, the discovery coffee building and the Mac’s building. The biggest coup would be the redevelopment of Thrifty’s itself, removing the parking lot that currently sits right at the centre of the village.

As it is now, the village has become a destination. No matter where in the city you are coming from a visit to James Bay and its village is always worthwhile and you might just get to meet a few of those quirky locals.

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Birds and Berries on Westham Island, BC

It has only been a few weeks since my last Delta post, that time on Centennial Beach. Family celebrations brought me back to the mainland again over the BC Day long weekend and on one of the days, we all went out to Westham Island. I hadn’t been there since I was kid. Back in the early 1990’s, a bike ride out to Westham Island was one of my favourite weekend adventures, usually with the plan to fish somewhere, but mostly just to explore. Visiting Westham Island by bike is still a great way to see it because just like the rest of the Fraser Delta, it is extremely flat.

From Ladner, the easiest way to get to Westham Island is following along River Road to the west; it is about four kilometres. There are signs that show you where to turn to get over the dike and onto the historic Westham Island Bridge that crosses the Canoe Pass of the Fraser River. This is a pretty amazing truss swing bridge. Originally built in 1911, it is partially a wooden truss and partially steel. It is also only one lane despite its length, so make sure you see if anyone is coming across before you start your trip.

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Once you are on the Island, if you are in your car there is really only one way to go. Apparently if you are on your bike there is a dike trail that takes you along another route along the western edge of the island. Both end at the main destination at the far end of the island. The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I will get back to the in-between bit of the trip afterwards.

The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Or the Reifel Bird Sanctuary as we called it) takes up about 700 acres at the north end of Westham Island. This space and the next door Alaksen National Wildlife Area were gifted to the public by the Reifel family in the 1960’s. The Alaksen is managed by the federal government while the bird sanctuary is overseen by a trust. Both areas are a magnet for migratory birds and are extremely popular with bird watchers. That said, even if you are not an avid birder, the bird sanctuary is worth the visit. There are many kilometres of trails and most of them are along narrow earthen dikes with sloughs and ponds on either side. The edges of the paths are often tight with trees and hedgerow, giving the whole place a truly unique look. As you walk around you will see a lot of birds of course and there are also a few bird blinds and a large observation tower that you can climb and see all the way out across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. There is a small admission price, but it is well worth the cost for the tranquillity the place provides. At the entrance there is an information centre and gift shop, so if you know a birder and need to get them something special make sure you check it out.

In between the bird sanctuary and the bridge are about five kilometres of the most beautiful farmland you are likely to see. The fields are all full of corn, blueberries or pumpkins. You will even see some of the original farmhouses from the later 1800’s when most of the island was turned over to farms. On our way back from our walk we stopped in at Emma Lea Farms which has been in operation since 1885. Since it is berry season we had blueberry and strawberry milkshakes, which with the fresh fruit was absolutely amazing. Being the long weekend the place was packed with people buying berries and eating ice cream but it still felt relaxed and gave you a great perspective of the lush farm with the skyscrapers of Vancouver and Burnaby in the distant background.

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If you are looking for a place to go and feel the rush of the city fall away while also getting some exercise, I would highly recommend a visit to Westham Island! If I missed something great there, please let me know in the comments.

The Adelphi Conundrum - Two Buildings, One Name

With the closing of the long lived Field’s Shoe store at the corner of Government and Yates there has been a lot of talk about what will come of the the building around town. The Times Colonist had a recent story about the family that owned the store and the developer that has bought up a number of the buildings including 1300 Government Street. In referencing the building you continue to hear its name, the Adelphi Building. I have heard it maybe three times now and just kept thinking that people were just confused, but now I am thinking that I am confused. Because there was another Adelphi building in Victoria…

I know what you are thinking, that it isn’t weird for there to be more than one building with the same name. I mean there are two buildings named “The Chelsea”, just a few blocks from each other. But the two Adelphis are different because they would have been across the street from each other. Then Aastra on Vibrant Victoria brought up this duopoly again and now I have not been able to get it out of my head.

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The “other” Adelphi building sat at the south west corner of Yates and Government, where the P. Leonard James Post Office building is today. I am certain that the building that was torn down was called the Adelphi building because they were clever enough to put the name on it and there are still photos of it at the BC Archives. Zoom in on the photo below and you will see its name at the top left.

So then I read this article, which said that the Adelphi name on the Field’s Store building came from a nearby pub. The City of Victoria archives has this picture of the Adelphi Saloon. This building was replaced by the Adelphi building shown above.

Put “Adelphi Building Victoria” in Google and you will see that HistoricPlaces.ca website, The City of Victoria Heritage Inventory (page 13) and even Wikipedia all call the building that has Field’s Shoes in it the Adelphi Building and apart from Wikipedia, you would think that they would know. So maybe they both had that name… I mean the other Adelphi building (with its name on it) has been gone a really long time, right?! This is true, but from what I can tell, when the building with Field’s in it was built the Adelphi Saloon was across the street still. The other Adelphi building was built in 1907 and so that would mean for forty years, until the more southern Adelphi building was torn down in the 1940’s to build the post office, there would have been two buildings across the street from each other with the same name. One building with its name actually written on it and the other without that, but apparently called Adelphi. This, of course, seems like it would have been truly confusing if you had wanted to meet a friend at the Adelphi building, I mean which one? Even Aquae Vitae, the wonderful book by Glen Mofford has a chapter on the Adelphi Saloon and mentions the Adelphi block being torn down in 1941. I can find no other reason for the northern Adelphi building to be called this except to the proximity to the two previous buildings that were across the street.

Anyways I don’t actually have answer to this conundrum. It has just been bothering me and so I thought that if I did up a post, I could get someone that actually knows the answer to this one name, two building conundrum to let me know. If you can provide it to me I will definitely update this post with the information and a proper congratulatory credit! Hopefully then this post can live on with the information so that others will not get as confused as me about two buildings with the same name. So please leave a comment, tweet at me, send me an FB message or an email and let me know the truth!

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Rooftop City - Could Victoria be Making Better Use of Our Building Tops?

Open up the satellite view of Victoria on Google Maps and the rooftops all look pretty black. Sure there is the odd green roof here and there but the vast majority of the city looks to be covered with tar paper or gravel. Across just the downtown area there must be acres of roofs and in my opinion they are being significantly underused, especially when you consider some of the things that these wide open spaces can be used for.

So what are we doing now? In Victoria we do have a few places where the roof of a building may be one of its most interesting parts. Most of us are aware of the Sticky Wicket Rooftop. This has been a magnet for summer fun downtown for decades. Despite the popularity, apart from the relatively new arrival of Splash Bar & Grill, there are no other roofs being used for public entertainment. Further on the fun side, a number of newer condo buildings in the city have recreation areas for residents on the roof. Almost every building built by Chard Development in the city, as well as the first of the Hudson District buildings have roof top gardens, BBQ areas or some even a rooftop movie area. These areas are usually small and have limited use from what I have heard, but it is still better than nothing.

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Some building tops are being made to work for the building or the people living there. The Wade building being built on Cook Street between Johnson and Pandora will actually have roof top garden boxes for residents and growing food on the roof is not a new thing to Victoria. Topsoil, an urban farming company, used to have a roof top farm above Fort Street Common before moving to their larger space across the Point Ellice Bridge. Other buildings are also having their roofs work for them in different ways. There are at least two downtown daycare centres that feature rooftop play areas for the kids. Another building near Crystal Pool has covered their roof in solar panels in the hopes of defraying the heating costs of the building over the longer term. These are all exceptions though.

What more could we be doing? The city could be providing tax holidays like they do with heritage buildings that are refurbished to anyone that adds a rooftop amenity. Of course there would have to be criteria for what sort of amenity could be added. A roof top movie theatre for residents would not be okay. They would have to be confined to specific uses such as public access, farming or solar, but still may start having people think outside the confines of what a roof is and look and see what other cities are doing.

There are some pretty great thoughts of what we could be doing. Even KOA is envisaging the possibility of using urban rooftops as a campground. While a campground may be far fetched in Victoria there are some cutting edge ideas that could be considered for new buildings as they are built. In Japan, there is a roof top soccer field, while in China a suburban street sits atop a mall. And many many other things are happening around the world!

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I know that I often hear that Victoria is either too windy or too rainy (Victoria is not a rainy city BTW) for this, but what are your thoughts? What else could we be putting on the rooftops of Victoria?

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Centennial Beach at Boundary Bay Regional Park

Maybe today was not the best day for those that wanted to experience Centennial Beach, luckily I made my trip a couple of days ago while I waited to come back to Victoria on the ferry. I hadn’t visited Centennial Beach since I was a teenager growing up in Tsawwassen and I was amazed at how much had changed. Even more, I was inspired by some of the amazing elements that have been added and think that they could be used as inspiration for a couple of our local Victoria beach parks.

Centennial Beach is part of Boundary Bay Regional Park. There is actually surprisingly little online about the origins of the park though I am aware that settler history would have likely started in the late 1800’s with some of the significant farming land, some of which still exists today. The Tsawwassen First Nations would have had significant history in the area for many millennia. Oddly enough it would appear that the Centennial in the name is in commemoration of the 1958 centennial of the Colony of British Columbia not the 1967 national centennial.

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For me my history with the park started in the early 1980’s as a child. My earliest memories of the beach are the endless sandbars and the weird jelly fish balls that are all over the beach (actually apparently a worm egg sack). In those days you accessed the beach park by driving down to Boundary Bay the community and cutting through, now road access is at the west end of the park which bypasses the houses. It appears that there is a bus stop being constructed outside the park entrance so there should be some limited bus access, but I would imagine it would be near impossible to use much like most transit options in Tsawwassen. You can also access the park along the dike to the north by walking or bicycle and this is definitely the nicest way to get there.

When you enter through the main car entrance you will see a large old house. This is Cammidge House, which was moved here a number of years ago from nearby and restored. It apparently hosts lots of parties and weddings. When you get to the beach this is where you will see a lot of really neat new additions (I am sure they are not new, just new to me).

There are a couple of beautiful group picnic shelters. What I really like about them apart from their cool design, is the fact that they have food preparation and BBQ space and even have special waste cans for charcoal briquettes. Nearby is a very large new playground for kids.

Perhaps the most visually stunning addition is the new washroom and change room building. It is a beautiful modernist structure with a cafe at the end closest to the beach. The space inside is airy and not your typical public washroom. Having a food service amenity at the end seems so obvious but it was a surprise when I saw it. Something like this at Clover Point or as a replacement for the Kiwanis building at Willows Beach would be amazing. At Clover Point it would add a great new food amenity to an area that needs it and also create a new revenue opportunity for the city. For Willows beach with its very gross washrooms, it could really create an opportunity to make something a little more pleasant.

Finally, the one new thing that I thought was most exciting may be the easiest thing to install. From near the cafe, which is surrounded by concrete sidewalk, stretching out onto the beach is a blue accessibility mat. This allows those in a wheelchair access beyond the parking lot and right onto the sand. It seemed be made of a sturdy plastic and was bolted down in several spots to what I would guess would be concrete bars. While it wasn’t being used when I was there, the idea behind it I thought was great. Something that most of us take for granted, walking on the beach is likely impossible with most wheel mobility devices. I could see something like this being popular again at Willows or possibly Island View Beach.

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This was only a short visit, I could see that there are extensive trails around the park that I hope to explore more on my next visit!

Have you visited Centennial Beach? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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Urban Oases of Victoria - Esquimalt Gorge Park

Some people may get the idea that I don’t like parks due to my somewhat continuous push back on the addition of green space downtown, but nothing could be more wrong. I love a well laid out and a well used park. One of my absolute favourites in the city is Esquimalt’s Gorge Park, which should not be confused with the Gorge Park on the other side of the Gorge waterway in Saanich. This park has so much in a relatively small space and it deserves to get much more attention than I think it does currently.

If you are arriving by car there is a main entrance driveway off of Tillicum Road, which winds its way down to a parking lot located sort of in the middle of park. When I last visited, I arrived on bike and not wanting to dart across Tillicum to the main entrance, I hopped of my bike just at the west end of the Tillicum Bridge. At this point there is a small ramped walkway that leads down to a path under the bridge. It is worth stopping here!!

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Tillicum bridge was built in 1967 and it is perhaps one of the most beautiful bridges in the city, though it is hard to see why from the road. Once underneath you will see these graceful arches that go over top of the Gorge Narrows. It is brutalist perfection. The narrows themselves are quite amazing and have a significant tidal current. This is Victoria's mini version of the reversing falls. Winding north from the bridge along the water is a paved walkway lined with these stark bright red lamps. It makes for one of the most dramatic urban park experiences no matter what time of year you visit. Before you leave the underside of the bridge make sure you note the fenced off and well signed midden that indicates that this has been an important place for people for a millennia or more.

If you follow the waterside walkway to its end, you will find a great playground that has in my opinion the best swings in the entire city. There is also a beach here but unfortunately due to the popularity of it with the local goose population it is not a pleasant place to swim. It is really too bad that you can’t enjoy the water directly from the park as this was at one time (Okay a really long time ago…) one of the best places to come for a swim or to enjoy a boat race. There are options for both nearby though so I can get past it.

The western edge of the park which actually goes almost right up to Craigflower Road. A number of years ago some significant flood diversion was added in here and there are some great pathways and bridges. There are parts in this area that feel quite raw and wild, which is the exact opposite of the main part of the park that has that well curated urban park feel that I thoroughly enjoy. Still that the park is large enough to easily contain both of these contrasting elements is truly special.

Heading back to the playground, this spot is also home to a significant nature centre. There are quite a few of these centres across Victoria and perhaps worthy of a post on their own. The one here is focused on Greater Victoria’s waterways including the gorge but also Colquitz and Swan Lake. There is actually a pretty cool model to show kids (and adults) how connected all of the different waterways of Victoria are. In the summer there is a concession here and this is also the location for the bathrooms.

As if all that I have covered so far wasn’t enough, the best part of the park is near the entrance. What I am referring to are the absolutely stunning Japanese gardens. The mind blowing part of it is that in all their beauty they are only a small part of the original Japanese Gardens. Surprisingly, these were apparently the first Japanese gardens in all of North America when they were built. You can read more about them here and here. In the time before and after the first world war this was one of the premier attractions for the entire region. The tea house had an extremely popular tea serving and people would travel from all over the area to have it. This was of course on purpose. The park was originally created by the BC Electric Railway Company in 1905 as a tourist destination and the best way to visit was on one of their streetcars that were heading to the park.

There is some word recently that the tea houses will be rebuilt, in part to start repairing the wrong that led to their demise in the first place, the internment of Canadians of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War. I certainly think that the rebuilding of the tea house would be a great asset to the park and would help illustrate this sad chapter of Canadian history. Still even now, the garden is beautiful and if there were nothing else in the park, it alone would warrant many visits. When you visit make sure to take as many of the different paths through the garden as possible as each one is unique.

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Esquimalt Gorge Park is such a multi-layered park, with a myriad of distinct areas and more history than you can find in almost any other park with the possible exception of Beacon Hill. Let me know below your favourite parts of this regional jewel below in the comments!

Circulator Buses - The Best Transit for Downtown Victoria (right now…)

I would truly love to see proper rapid transit in Victoria, but I have also come to accept that it is not going to happen any time soon. It is too expensive and our population remains too small to really support it adequately. We could have had something close and I am still sad about not having proper Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) down Douglas Street. Somehow that plan was killed off by a few car focused businesses near Mayfair Mall with the Pantry leading the charge (If you are wondering where the Pantry is, they went out of business shortly after stopping the BRT from being put in). What I loved about that plan is that it truly put buses in their own lane for almost the entire length of the trip from Belleville Street to Langford. This separation would have allowed for easy upgrading to rail if the numbers had been warranted. If you want to read more about what we missed out on, here is a contemporaneous article from the Times Colonist.

There is a lot of focus on the benefits that rapid transit provides to the larger region, with a particular focus on the commuting population from the West Shore. One area that gets less focus or sometimes none at all, are the benefits that a rapid transit service provides in a much smaller area. If you have ever visited New York and used its amazing subway system, you may know that you can often save time and your feet by hopping on the subway even if you are just moving between two relatively close places. This creates a huge amount of benefit both the the transit user and the city.

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For the user, you can accomplish a larger amount of sightseeing as a tourist or errands as a local in a shorter amount of time. I would bet that it would be faster than using a car in most instances as well, especially if you include the time to find a parking spot. It is also much more relaxing than trying to drive around a city going from store and parking spot to store and parking spot. As you might have guessed from this blog, I like to walk places and usually, even in places like New York, choose walking over the Subway, but I am not most people and really even I might choose the subway at the end of a long day when my feet are giving out so I can get to that one last place I want to see.

It is that last point that really creates the benefit for the city. If you can maximise the ability of people to move around downtown in a variety of ways, you are going to increase the amount of opportunities they will have to spend their money, while also increasing their experiences and connection with places in a smaller area.

Thinking of a specific scenario, imagine a person that lives in Quadra-Hillside or Jubilee and they are planning on a haircut downtown so they take the bus down to as close to their hair stylist as possible on Johnson. They have some other things that they could do, like go to a deli, pharmacy, grocery store and maybe even visit a book store, but they don’t want to walk too far and there is no easy way to get to all those places on transit. So instead after their haircut they head home and take their car to the mall later on or spread their spending over the next few days. There is an easy solution that is not rapid transit and I think could have a significant positive impact on downtown - Circulator buses!

I have envisioned this type of bus service for years and it could be one of the few times where Victoria’s weird road network could actually be used to a benefit to others besides those driving cars by themselves. The idea would be to start small on two short routes. The buses would be brightly painted to indicate that they were part of the circulator network and could denote which route they worked on. They would be high frequency so five minute or less intervals between them and they would simply go back and fourth along a relatively short straight route. This would allow people to hop on and off them easily. It would be important that riders not have a need to think about a schedule and could have the route easily mapped in their mind.

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The first of the two routes that I think would work perfectly, would be west along Yates Street and east along Johnson Street. The buses would go as far west as Wharf Street and east to the Oak Bay Junction. This routing would connect Jubilee, Rockland, Fernwood and Harris Green with downtown and specifically the shopping areas of Lower Yates and Johnson.

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The second route would run south along Douglas Street and north along Government Street and travel between Superior Street in the South and Hillside Avenue in the north. In a perfect world I would actually prefer this route to run north and south on Government. Perhaps if there is a plan to move private vehicles off of Government, the road could be turned back into a two-way street for transit only. This was actually part of the plan for rapid transit in the city when it was being looked at in the 1990’s which often envisioned a first leg between Ogden Point and Chinatown to service the tourist trade and those moving between downtown and James Bay. Anyways, back to this plan, having the routes suggested aligned like this would ensure that both routes crossed each other and would allow easy transferring between them. For those spending time downtown ,these two routes would offer considerable benefit in moving around and provide a strong motivator to keep their car out of the downtown core.

I know that some will remember that a sad attempt at this sort of transit was made during the early part of this decade, but it really was focused on moving around the western part of downtown in one of those Langford rubber wheel trolleys. The biggest problem with it apart from how hokey those look, was that the frequency was not significant enough and the advertising around it was atrocious. For this idea to work you need proper low floor buses at a very high frequency. I really think something like the service I am proposing would have a larger impact on transit ridership then handing out free passes to kids (or anyone really). What gets people to use transit is service level and quality, not cost.

So let me know what you think? Would you use something like this in downtown Victoria? Is there a better routing that would be more useful? Tell me in the comments below.

Royal Athletic Park - The Often Overlooked City Jewel

When you visit cities around North America, you may see some massive sports complexes in a downtown like those in Vancouver. For the most part though, large sports fields sit outside of downtown cores with people driving to them. Even more rare than the downtown stadium is one that has been well woven into the urban fabric of the city. In Victoria, I think that we are halfway there, we have a sports field in the right location, but it needs some love to make it shine as the amazing city asset it is, and it needs some changes to make it more cohesive with the surrounding neighbourhood.

The perfect setting!

The perfect setting!

Royal Athletic Park has been in its current location since at least 1908, though its current set-up was completed in 1967 following a 1964 fire that destroyed the previous grandstands. For a time it was the home of the Victoria Athletics which for at least a couple of years after World War Two were an official affiliate team for the New York Yankees. Now most people think of Royal Athletic Park (RAP) as the home to our West Coast League Victoria HarbourCats. If you want to go to an intimate stadium to watch great baseball you really can’t do better than a visit to a HarbourCats game at RAP. There are two huge problems with the park and they are intimately related to each other. First, the stadium is only in use for a limited amount of the year and the whole place needs a massive redevelopment to make it an attractive place for people to go to watch a game and feel like it is more a part of the community.

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As it is right now there are only two real things that I can think of that happen at RAP, the HarbourCats and the Great Canadian Beer Festival. Last year there was also the Rifflandia concert but that has been cancelled going forward. In previous years the stadium was home to the Victoria United Soccer team and the Victoria Rebels Football team. Both of those teams have been gone from the stadium for many years at this point.

To be clear, I think that the HarbourCats are a great tenant. They have done more to turn RAP around and improve upon it than any other team has in at least the last 25 years, but when it comes down to it they have about 30 home games a year from June to August. For the other nine months of the year the park sits empty. One of the best things about having a team like the HarbourCats is that they add colour to the community and strengthen social ties. Compared to a lot of things, the cost of going to a baseball game like this is cheap and it is great entertainment. So how do we make more of that happen throughout the year?

Compared to a lot of stadiums RAP has the benefit of being able to hold more then one kind of team. The place can be set-up to accommodate baseball, soccer, football, field hockey and pretty much any other field sport. But still, the stadium is now only home to one team that plays for just a few weeks in the summer. I think that a major reason for this is the state that the city has let the stadium get to. While the design may have been iconic at the time, the concrete is cracked, the seating is terrible, though some of the improvements that the HarbourCats have made have made it better for baseball. Despite its modernist look, I actually think that we should be planning a complete redo of the entire place. Any change this big should hopefully be done in conjunction with a new team making the stadium home. I also think that there is a unique opportunity to create some stunning urban spaces and make RAP actually a cohesive part of the North Park Village. So how would we do that?

As you know, I was recently down in San Diego which is home to the Petco Field, home of the Padres. Now just before everyone loses it, I am not suggesting anything at that scale, but one of the most amazing things about this park, especially as you approach it from the north through the Gaslamp Quarter is that the built form is cohesive pretty much right up to the field. One evening we went into a brewpub that felt like it was still part of the city, but at the same time you could clearly see the field. Imagine replacing the current large grandstand with a building that had grandstand seating on the side facing the field while incorporating ground floor commercial and potentially some community space along Caledonia or Cook. The great thing is that you could do this and not lose out on much seating for a baseball season. If you staged each part as a separate building, once the first one was done you could start on the second building and replace the baseball grandstand. As required you could add more buildings as the demand increased and of course for the games you would have seats actually pleasant to sit in.

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I think that what we want to avoid is having any more sports teams setting down roots in the Westshore. I may be in the minority but while I would love to see the very new Pacific FC play, I will never drive out to Langford to do so. We need to ensure that teams like this choose to be where the largest population can easily access the game and not necessarily rely on driving to the game.

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I think that there is an opportunity to have a fall football team or a spring soccer team play at RAP and this could really make this space work for everyone in the city. I also would really like to see some more community sports using the space on days that it would otherwise be vacant. What do you think? Would you like a new and improved RAP or would you rather see it moved elsewhere?

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Why Don't Victorians Like Modernism?

It isn’t often that I have strong pangs of sadness when I hear about a building being considered for replacement, but that is exactly what I felt this week when I heard about the likely demise of Pluto’s on Cook Street. While we have a great heritage inventory from earlier periods, it seems that when it comes to various forms of modernist architecture, we don’t really care very much and I am not certain why.

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I know that during the the 1950’s and 60’s lots of buildings from the beginning of the 20th century were either re-skinned or torn down as they were no longer considered fashionable. Now, those decisions seem almost crazy and in some instances we do what we can to try and fix the damage caused during those times. I think that we often fall into that trap of thinking that we have somehow become a better type of human and that we don’t have the same biases and we are now not able to make bad decisions, specifically in this case about what should be preserved. Well, in my opinion, we haven’t gotten any better at this and those buildings that maybe we feel are tired or old or ugly, need to have a second look and make sure that we are not throwing some important away. This is what I think we are doing with the Pluto’s Diner.

Pluto’s of course wasn’t always a restaurant, it was built as a Pacific 66 gas station. Pacific 66 was part of Phillips 66, the American gas company. The exact station we have here was built all over North America. The station’s style fall into the Googie architecture school. The gas station was supposed to look space aged which is why Pluto’s fits so well into the building. While there remain examples of this iconic gas station elsewhere in North America, it is one of very few remaining pieces of Googie architecture in Victoria but we are willing to let it go because it is just an old gas station. We have said things like this quite a few times recently.

We have lost quite a few amazing examples of modernism in the last few years across the whole region. Some of the most predominant ones for me are Mayfair Lanes, the BC Tel Building and the Royal Bank Building.

One the key aspects of Googie architecture is that it came about just as the North American economy was in overdrive and there was broad movement of the middle class to the suburbs in the late fifties and early sixties. This means that much of the architecture is built around the automobile; Mayfair Lanes was a great example. Built in 1963, this bowling alley was meant to have a futuristic feel on the inside and outside. Unfortunately we lost this place in 2006 to make way for a grocery store that was never built. One of my friends, Rob Randall, took a great photo set just before it was torn down and he has given me permission to re-post them on here.

Another piece of the modernist thread that we have lost recently is the the BC Tel building that used to sit on the corner of Blanshard and Johnson where Superbaba is today. This building was actually built in the early 1900’s and was then re-skinned in the 1950s (I think… There is almost nothing on this building anywhere). While I am a huge fan of the Atrium building (as you might know if you have been a long time reader), I do think that it is unfortunate that we lost the entire facade of the BC Tel building. It had this great angular undulation of blue and white that looked like something out of a Charles Bronson movie. It appears to be impossible to find a decent picture of the entire facade and in fact the one below is the only one I have found at all that showed any of it to date.

Former BC Tel Building 1321 Blanshard Street - From Photobucket - Theoldvictorian https://i79.photobucket.com/albums/j142/Theoldvictorian/telus_jan08.jpg

Former BC Tel Building 1321 Blanshard Street - From Photobucket - Theoldvictorian https://i79.photobucket.com/albums/j142/Theoldvictorian/telus_jan08.jpg

A second piece of modernism lost to a Jawl development designed by Franc D’Ambrosio (I sincerely think it is just a coincidence) is the old Royal Bank building at the corner of Douglas and Pandora. This building was a small but classic example of the International Style of modernism. The best existing example in Victoria is likely the Toronto Dominion Bank building at Fort and Douglas. At the time of the demolition so much attention was focused on the glazed tiles at the old CIBC two buildings down that no one really cared that we were losing this amazing building. I went to a concert in the building a few weeks before it was torn down and was just so sad that this was being lost when it so clearly could have been re-purposed. But there was just not enough people around that felt the same way. And again I really like both buildings that replaced it but I am sure that another design could have kept it around longer.

Unlike other building styles in Victoria, there is a limited amount of good modernist stock left and unfortunately many of the buildings have a number of things going against them. First, due to when they were built, many have a suburban aspect to them with things like parking lots in front that makes them poor candidates for preservation over the longer term. Some of them like Pluto’s or the Royal Bank building simply can’t be economically justified, mostly due to their scale. The main reason is though that most of them are at an age that they look tired and unlike the Edwardian and Victorian buildings around the city, they have not been repainted and repaired to show off their beauty. I think this last point is what has created the biggest problem because it is hard to care about a tired old building.

There maybe some hope though. A new development proposal being brought forward by Cox Developments, for the old McCall Brothers Funeral home at Johnson and Vancouver Street actually has designed the original chapel into the building. For whatever reason John di Castri is one of local modernist architects that has crept into the preservationists’ lists, as has John Wade. The new proposal intends to save the chapel portion of the building and actually have the new building lean over top. I personally am a huge fan of this project but to date we have not seen much movement on it.

Still, overall I am worried because our total stock, especially downtown of the various modernist styles is quite small, we need to pay attention to what is being removed. With the potential loss of Pluto’s that means that we could be down to only one or two examples of Googie architecture in the city, the Denny’s building at Finlayson and Douglas and maybe The Ruby a little bit further north... And yes I think they should be preserved! If you can think of another one in the region, please let me know in the comments. I would also love to hear about your favourite modernist buildings in the city.

Sidewalking San Diego and Temecula

Just over a month ago I spent a week in Southern California. I split the time between the area around Temecula, about an hour north of San Diego and the city itself for the rest. I have been to San Diego a couple of times before but it was my first time really exploring outside the city itself.

For those that haven’t been to San Diego, I would highly recommend it. The first reason is that it’s really close to Victoria by plane. Via Seattle, it is only about four hours travel time with the airport transfers if you get the right flights. Also when compared to Los Angeles, San Diego is a smaller more manageable city. The one stereotype that is fairly true about southern California is that you will need a car if you are going to go anywhere outside the main cities. As a bit of an experiment,we rented a car for the first few days of our vacation as we visited Temecula and drove around that area and then planned on living more of a pedestrian life for the last few days we spent in San Diego.

Temecula

For those that haven’t been to Temecula, it is about 90 kilometres north of San Diego and about an hour’s drive from the coast. The region is known for its wine and its old town area mostly focused along Old Town Front Street. It is a mix of a modern touristy town with a large swath of suburban housing. Beyond the suburbs the landscape is beautiful with large yellow grass hills and dusty little roads lined with cacti.

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There might be people that survive here in Temecula without a car, but it must be tremendously difficult, I think I saw one bus in the three days there and I am not sure I saw a single bike lane. Beyond the fact that it is a stereotypical southern Californian town it does have some real draws. The first one of these draws is the great wineries that extend out to the east past the town. There are apparently over 40 wineries, we spent an afternoon visiting them and stopped at three. It was a sunny Sunday and the ones we went to were all quite busy, one even had a band playing. I was quite impressed with the grounds that each winery had as they seemed like they were trying to not only draw in the connoisseur, but also likely the wedding party. It was beautiful countryside though.

The other thing that Temecula is known for is its Old Town which is really focused along a single street just to the west of the freeway and actually separated from where most of the main shopping and housing was. The Old Town Front Street is full of restaurants, bars, antique shops and tourist trinkets. Most of the buildings have a certain Mexican influence. There are quite a few good places to eat and it would appear that on a weekend night this was the place to go out to the bars. We went out for dinner for two dinners along here and enjoyed the vibrancy even if there was a little touristy feel to it, it was well done and fun.

San Diego

After a few days in Temecula we headed back to San Diego. On the way back we did a bit of a hop through the beach towns along the way and finally curved around to the Island of Coronado where we were staying. If you are looking at a map of San Diego, Coronado is the oddly shaped peninsula (not an island) just to the west of downtown San Diego. We chose to stay here because there were so few options left downtown and as we later found out this was because it was conference season in San Diego when rooms become pretty hard to come by. The hotel actually turned out to be pretty nice and it was only a short walk to the ferry back to downtown.

So I know that the perception is that San Diego is a car city, but there are still some pretty cool walkable aspects to it. As an example, we returned our car to the airport and then decided that we wanted to check out the Hillcrest neighbourhood and it wasn’t that far so we decided to walk. Really within a 10 minute walk of the airport car rental centre we were in the middle of a quiet and very nice residential neighbourhood. And I could easily imagine that due to the proximity of the airport to downtown that it would be quite easy to walk from this neighbourhood to downtown. Once we had seen the Hillcrest neighbourhood we hopped on a bus to Balboa Park. Seeing this very walkable residential area near the downtown definitely reminded me of Victoria in some ways and yet I have never seen that aspect of San Diego touted and maybe it should be.

Little Italy

One morning we spent walking around the Little Italy neighbourhood and this was truly enjoyable. We had hopped on the ferry for a ride to the Broadway Pier just to the north of the USS Midway (The giant aircraft carrier turned museum that sits in the harbour). From the pier it was about a fifteen minute walk. Little Italy used to be the home to the large Italian fisherman and stevedore population and that is likely why it was situated so close to the harbour. India Street is the main drag through the neighbourhood and it is full of little restaurants, bars, delis and other shops. There is a distinct sense of being in Little Italy especially as you move from the downtown of the city just to the south. On the day we visited there was a small outdoor market with local produce and flowers at the centre of the neighbourhood. We opted to go off the strip for our lunch to a little place called Pappalecco, it was absolutely amazing, I would highly recommend it for anyone that is visiting Little Italy and is feeling a little hungry.

One of the interesting aspects to Little Italy is how close it is to the airport (Almost everywhere in San Diego feels close to the airport) and yet it remains a very quaint and walkable urban village. I would bet that you could make it from the northern part of the village to the departure gates in a twenty minute walk if you hustled. And yet in a location that in other cities would be a vibrancy killer, Little Italy was perhaps one of the most lively and well rounded neighbourhoods in and around downtown.

Gaslamp Quarter

On two different days we spent time walking around the Gaslamp Quarter which is just to the southeast of downtown. The neighbourhood is similar to Gas Town in Vancouver or Old Town in Victoria, an area made up of buildings from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and it is a fairly cohesive zone with a somewhat touristy edge to it. The area that the Gaslamp takes up is quite large actually, that said one thing that would have been nice would have been a few more shops. The area is dominated by food and drink enterprises and there are not a lot of places if you want to shop. Actually strangely enough most of downtown San Diego on the whole seemed bereft of shopping. It made me think how lucky we are to have the extensive amount of clothing stores that we have here in Victoria and that so many of them are independent is even better.

The Gaslamp is bordered to the south by Petco Park the home to the Padres. It was pretty cool to see how integrated the park is into the urban framework and it certainly drew me to wonder how we could do more to make Royal Athletic Park a cohesive part of the city. With the parking lot next door to RAP being looked at for redevelopment, I will certainly be pushing for this. One afternoon we sat in a brewpub right under Petco as the fans starting streaming in and it gave the whole area a lively feeling.

If you are ever in San Diego and staying on Coronado, you should become familiar with the ferry schedule and you should also know that the southern route that leaves from the convention centre is a shorter trip (only five minutes) and seems to leave more often too. Both routes leave from the same place on the Coronado side. Either way unless you are really concerned about getting back to your hotel quickly it seemed like a good option if you want to shave some cost off your accommodations.

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I think that on my next trip I would want to explore some of the communities closer to the border as I expect it would give you a great flavour of Mexico.

In this trip we also checked out La Jolla, Ocean Beach and Coronado also on a previous trip we visited Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. What are some great areas that I have missed in San Diego and that should be put on a list for next time? Conversely, what are some places near by like Temecula that you would recommend?

Sidewalking Steveston!

It was pretty cold and a little bit misty this last Victoria Day when we started walking around Steveston. I hadn’t visited since I was a kid, so I was looking forward to seeing it again. Steveston, for those that haven’t visited, is at the southwestern corner of Lulu Island in the Fraser River (Also known as Richmond). According to Wikipedia, Steveston was founded in the 1880’s by a William Steves. It has been the centre for salmon fishing along the Fraser River for decades. As a kid, I remember well going there with my parents to buy seafood off the dock.

The exciting part of heading here was that I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, I had pictured the Steveston of my youth and then imagined that with all of the growth in Richmond there would be a lot of added density. I also knew that Steveston was home to one of the only pedestrian scrambles in the province.

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We parked a few blocks from the water so that we could get a good walk in and see some of the sights. We were there to go to a specific store that turned out to be closed on holidays, so we did decided to find a place eat instead.

First stop along our walk was to see the infamous pedestrian scramble. With the one in Victoria getting close to being done, I wanted to see one in action. When you get to the intersection of No. 1 Road and Moncton Street you will see the crosswalk making a giant square with a big X in the middle. The pedestrian space itself is covered with painted braided ropes. I stopped and watched a few light cycles. I want to acknowledge that it was later in the morning of a holiday and there were not huge pedestrian or vehicle volumes at the time, still it did not really work how I thought it would. The biggest challenge for me was that every pedestrian direction including the middle scramble was controlled by beg buttons. I also found the delay between vehicle and pedestrians cycles to favour the vehicles. Again this was not a busy time of day, it could very well be that the light cycle has been timed to deal with the expected pedestrian volumes. I am really hoping for a better implementation in Victoria and I am thinking that due to the higher pedestrian movements at Humboldt and Government that we can easily keep it with automated light signals for most of the day and avoid the suburban feeling of adding buttons. That said, with the poorly designed intersection at Pandora and Store any outcome is possible.

After checking out a few of the options. We decided on the Steveston Bakery because it looked like it would be both good and fast and it was. The chicken corn chowder was delicious! After lunch we headed for the main attraction the waterfront.

The waterfront was exactly what you would expect; docks, fishing boats and touristy restaurants. With my built up images of what I thought I would see I was surprised that it was still very quaint and small. I was expecting condos and shops along the street with ground floor shops but there was even still surface parking lots right across the street from the main docks. I think I had pictured something a little more like Sidney. And to be fair there are parts of Steveston that are a very similar in built form as Sidney but further from the water. I think the grey weather actually added to the feeling of being in a fishing port and seeing the boats brought back lots of memories of my childhood.

Despite not needing any seafood, I did the obligatory walk down to the dock and amongst the boats with the tarps up and the people buying their spot prawns right right off the decks. There was certainly a romantic and foreign feel to it that I think could easily be added to the feel at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria, though you would have to increase the number of boats that are selling products and likely encourage locals to go down and buy stuff occasionally. Still even the strong seafood smell was pretty enthralling. The way that the tarps made the collection of boats into an almost indoor market was part of the magic of the place as well.

After the docks, we walked along the board walk towards the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. We didn’t go in as we didn’t have the time this time, however, having looked at their website online it certainly seems like it would be worth it, with lots of interactive displays on the former fishing and canning industry.

Walking north past the cannery you will pass the Steveston Hotel which is one of the most storied places in the little village. Beyond there you begin to see a lot more modern residential development though for the most part it looks as though they are trying to be sensitive to the scale and nature of the place.

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Steveston definitely left me with a want to come back on a nicer day when more of the shops would be open as I would expect it would be a very vibrant and busy place.

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