Blue Bridge’s rail portion closed; cyclists, pedestrians diverted

Report says unsafe Johnson Street rail bridge must close immediately

A westbound cyclist exits the the Johnson Street Bridge on Saturday

A westbound cyclist exits the the Johnson Street Bridge on Saturday

Thousands of pedestrians and cyclists who cross the Johnson Street Bridge’s rail portion every day are being diverted as of Saturday’s permanent raising of the span.

Addressing city council on Thursday, an engineer from Stantec Consulting warned that the north side of the double bridge must be closed within 24 hours. He offered up an alternative that council could spend $120,000 on emergency temporary repairs.

The warning came after a March 29 inspection revealed significant structural deterioration of the rail bridge.

With little contention, council voted against spending the money on repairs. Factoring into the decision is the fact the city plans to demolish the rail bridge in about eight months anyways, to make room for the new Johnson Street Bridge.

The unexpected closure, however, leaves the city in a “crisis” situation about how to accommodate cycling and pedestrian traffic that uses the north side of the bridge to cross the Inner Harbour.

“Once people are mad – once you piss them off, you’re never going to get them back,” said Coun. Pam Madoff.

Some on council argued the city should reserve one westbound lane of traffic for cyclists, against staff’s advice. The idea was rejected to avoid traffic jams downtown. Instead, signage will direct people to the bridge’s south-side sidewalk.

Once in Vic West, people will have the option to cross to the north using the rail overpass. Road paint and curb alterations will facilitate the new route.

Staff will return to council in two weeks to present better options for the long term.