Taming the region’s busiest hub, the Uptown Douglas Corridor

Uptown Douglas Corridor plan taking shape

You can’t rush it, but the long-term future of the Uptown Douglas corridor is a plan that needs to happen.

The Uptown neighbhourhood is the busiest thoroughfare in Greater Victoria while also being designated a core area for a mix of residential density, commercial and light industrial space in Saanich. The Uptown shopping centre development, its pending 11-storey residential tower and the massive Nigel Valley redevelopment are why the municipality projects the area will grow by 4,000 residents and 5,000 employees over the next 25 years.

That includes BC Transit’s plans to redevelop the commercial property along Crease Avenue, between Harriet and Carey roads into a regional transit hub – property that is already owned in trust – with a goal of rapid transit and a Saanich ‘complete street’ makeover of Douglas.

“The complexity of [the UDC plan] is something you’ll never get away from,” said Saanich manager of community planning Cam Scott during the April 20 open house at Uptown.

At the highest level of the UDC plan are three layers: a mobility layer, a green layer and a land and urban use layer.

Like the Shelbourne Valley Action Plan, which comes before council on Tuesday (April 25), the Uptown Douglas Corridor is a long-term action plan that Saanich council, planners and the community can use as a reference.

Among the most challenging features of the 30-year-plan that Saanich is undertaking is how to tame the beast that is the UDC traffic.

At this point, there is a concept identified to slow Vernon Avenue into a residential street and rebrand Blanshard into a two-way, high-flow road similar to Douglas. There is no immediate timeline for that part of the UDC but it is sure to become one of, if not the most debated features moving forward.

How that’s going to work is already in question as Morguard, the owner-operator of Uptown, announced Monday it is paying for the long-awaited crosswalk over Blanshard halfway between Saanich Road and Ravine Way. It’s much needed, as jaywalkers constantly move between Uptown and Saanich Plaza, to the point that Morguard executive Geoff Nagle once predicted at Saanich council that an Uptown customer was going to get hit.

Uptown is paying for the construction of the crosswalk project with five sets of lights. It’s approved by the Ministry of Transportation and Saanich but is not part of the UDC plan, though it will play into how the UDC draft plan plays out.

With thousands of vehicles barreling north and south on Vernon Avenue and south down Blanshard Street, respectively, and even more travelling on Douglas-Trans Canada Highway on the east side of Uptown, it’s hard to imagine a road diet that will maintain the current traffic flow. As it stands (and not including the Colwood Crawl and ferry travellers) the only daily wait is the afternoon escape from Victoria, when Vernon backs up from Saanich Road south to Cloverdale.

Scott only raised his eyebrows at the amount of traffic coming through but believes there is a solution to have a more walkable neighbourhood balanced with the intensely busy thoroughfare.

It’s also what the community is asking for, at least so far, in the ongoing public consultation (there is currently an online survey until May 4). However, those opposed to the plan better come forward soon because the concept has already been workshopped in multiple sessions dating back to the first phase of 2016. There’s been pop-up booths at Uptown, on the Lochside and Galloping Goose trails and coffee house sessions.

Despite being well publicized on Saanich’s websites and social media, the process generally draws responses in the hundreds, which is typical for Saanich and regional public consultation, but only a small representation for the Island’s biggest municipality.

“We’re trying to create a more involved experience for people to be a part of,” Scott said. “We’re still taking suggestions but we’ve got most of the key concepts that will [drive] the draft plan.”

The planning team for the UDC will provide a check-in with Saanich council in June as the draft plan starts to take shape.

Vernon would also be removed south of Saanich Road. Northbound commuters would continue up a two-way Blanshard after crossing Cloverdale instead of branching out onto the four-lane Vernon Avenue. Those wishing to get on to Vernon would access it off Saanich Road.

One of the benefits from this move is to expand the hilltop meridian that currently separates Blanshard, Saanich and Vernon, and blend it into a rehabilitated greenspace where Vernon is removed, Scott said.

Visit Saanich.ca for more on the UDC plan.

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