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.