The Saanich portion of Shelbourne Street that extends from North Dairy to Kenmore is, in real estate terms, a fixer-upper of a street. The location is great, the potential is great, but the way the street is now doesn’t work well for anyone.
For motorists, the street is an unattractive, utilitarian route to a destination, a traffic corridor to move through as quickly as possible. For cyclists, Shelbourne is the only flat street that runs from the Cedar Hill/Gordon Head area directly to and from downtown Victoria, but without dedicated bike lanes, it’s too risky for all but the most confident or foolhardy riders.
For pedestrians, and especially for anyone with a disability, the broken, narrow, uneven sidewalks that abut directly with the street are unsafe, and traffic noise hinders conversation. Transit riders must navigate these sidewalks as they make their way to bus stops.
As for potential and location, the Shelbourne Valley community has a lot going for it. Four of the biggest employers in Victoria — University of Victoria, Camosun College, Royal Jubilee Hospital and Hillside mall — are within cycling and walking distance or a short ride on public transit. On the walkability index, schools, several shopping centres, medical clinics, two recreation centres, restaurants and a library are nearby.
With improvement of transportation options, Shelbourne could become a street people enjoy being on. And Saanich planners and engineers have come up with a proposal to help Shelbourne realize its potential.
Seven years ago, the process to re-envision Shelbourne began. Saanich established a stakeholders’ committee made up of Shelbourne Valley residents, merchants and municipal staff. Among the goals for a Shelbourne Valley Action Plan were the creation of a balanced transportation system and the development of a land-use plan to promote an economically vibrant, environmentally sustainable, attractive community.
While some of these goals are considered to be long-term, Saanich council and staff are moving ahead to consider short-term mobility actions that will create a more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly street that will also accommodate a high volume of motor-vehicle traffic and allow for efficient operation of public transit.
Between 2009 and the present, Saanich has held numerous open houses to seek public input on plans for Shelbourne. Coming up with a proposal to meet the needs of Shelbourne Valley residents, merchants, B.C. Transit, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians has required listening to the opinions and ideas of a lot of people and making revisions to multiple proposals.
In February and March of this year, the majority of people who participated in a public survey on travel options for Shelbourne indicated support for continuous bike lanes with separation from traffic, support for public transit, and support for improved sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities. Impact of these proposed changes on transit and motor-vehicle travel times and on access to businesses were among the concerns of survey respondents.
And now, Saanich planners have tweaked the proposals again, and what they have come up with offers something for every interest group. Identified as Option 3, the plan will provide 2.3 kilometres of upgraded sidewalks, continuous bike lanes along the entire length of Shelbourne with physical separation from motor traffic on 50 per cent of the route, maintenance of four general-purpose motor-vehicle travel lanes for 65 per cent of Shelbourne, improved transit waiting areas, an upgraded UVic bike-connector route, improved pedestrian conditions at intersections, and replacement of 90 trees for the 70 that need to be removed for reconstruction. Saanich staff hope to present this plan to council before the end of the year.
Option 3 deserves public support. The proposal achieves most of the goals set out when the planning process was initiated. A balanced transportation system will make it possible for people to travel safely by car, transit, bike or foot.
As a community, we are in a time of transition. Younger people are delaying getting a driver’s licence, and some never plan to drive a car. Option 3 is a step toward the goals shared by most of us to promote environmental sustainability and create a more livable community. Once Shelbourne is a safer, more attractive, street, all of us will benefit. It’s time to share Shelbourne.
To see the Shelbourne Valley Plan, go to saanich.ca/shelbourne.
Jean Newton is a longtime resident of the Shelbourne Valley and has been a member of the Shelbourne Valley Stakeholders Committee since 2009. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.
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