Why Can’t we be Freinds?

The Business community and the Environmental community are often painted as enemies, battling for the hearts and minds of Canadians. This is based on, and perpetuates, the myth that our society must choose between giving a rats ass about our environment, and putting food on the table.

This is obviously a false dichotomy.

The Board of Change is an example that flies in the face of that old conventional model of environment vs. business. In New Westminster, the Downtown Business Improvement Area has reached out to the NWEP, hoping to work together on some local environmental initiatives. Businesses in Sapperton recently took part in a Zero Waste Challenge, recognizing that being “greener” about how they manage their waste saves them disposal costs, and helps with the bottom line.

But shades of grey don’t work for some people. Some just like to live with the myth that we have to choose between a greener world and having jobs. Unfortunately, it is these narrow-minded, frightened types who dominate our national “economics” discourse. The Dismal Science is too often represented by people like the Vancouver Sun’s Harvey Enchin.

Have a look at two recent opinions he published, Both in the same month, both with the same theme: Business (as usual) good, environment bad.

First, his review of a report that clearly lays out the benefits of the AirCare Program results in his dismissal of the entire report, and of the hugely successful program, because AirCare is, apparently, a hassle.

Clearly he had this thesis goingi n, because he had to pick and choose from the report pretty carefully to argue his point.

Harvey notes that “Lower Mainland air quality is excellent, no thanks to the program, but to a growing proportion of cleaner vehicles on the roads”, but in reality, 20% of the reduction in airborne hydrocarbons (HC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) is directly attributable to the AirCare Program, and the program has reduced the emission of benzene and other toxic mono-and poly-cyclic hydrocarbons by more than 40%. He also fails to recognize that the AirCare program is partially responsible for the accelerated introduction of a newer vehicle fleet in the province.

He is quick to point out the $45 Million dollar cost is born by drivers (well, who else should bear it, Mr. Conservative, the taxpayer? Carbon Tax? The automobile industry?), then links this idea to the 114 BCGEU jobs at Air Care. But in reality, the main beneficiaries are not the BCGEU members, it is the independent small businessmen running (for the most part, non-union) AirCare repair shops, as the $45 million figure includes the $35 Million in repair costs motorist pay to comply with the program. What is doesn’t include is the increased new car sales this program generates: more benefits to the independent businessman, and the Auto Industry in general.

Harvey also writes the howler: “An additional claim that the lifetime cancer risk would be reduced by 1.57 per cent through 2020 if AirCare were to continue is little more than a rounding error”. I don’t expect an Economist to know much about Human Health Risk Assessment. Far from being “rounding error”, a 1.57% increase in the chance of getting cancer is equal to the risk attached to getting more than 150 chest x-rays. A 1.57% increase in the chance of getting cancer means that 70,000 more people in BC getting cancer by 2020. Rounding error indeed.

He complains about the cost per tonne of removing these emissions by AirCare. He (mistakenly?) confuses the cost/tonne estimate of removing toxic contaminants through the AirCare program ($5000) with the cost/tonne of removing CO2. The report clearly spells out how the cost / tonne of removed toxins is significantly lower than other programs condidered (e.g. Bus upgrades, Park and Ride lots, cleaner locomotives) and has the extra benefit of not costing the taxpayer anything (as most of the programs would) or inconveniencing industry (who will therefore be able to afford to buy Harvey more lunches).

He (confusedly?) compares this cost to some random number for carbon-capture-and-storage, which he puts at $45-$65 per tonne. A number he must have pulled out of his …uh…tailpipe, as the Alberta Government has already invested $2Billion in CCS and have yet to store a single molecule. (There were some US estimates that there would need to be a carbon market at about $60/tonne to make CCS economically feasible). Of course, none of this would have anything to do with reducing CO2 emissions from the tailpipes of cars… It is a red herring he is throwing in there to make this look like a considered “economics” argument. Lazy, and silly.

The Air Care program costs taxpayers nothing. It adds 0.3% to the overall Provincial Auto Sales industry annual revenue, in other words, compared to what we spend in cars already, it is “rounding error”. For that we get the most cost-effective means of reducing toxic emission we know, a newer, safer vehicle fleet, and we support independent small business men at the rate of $35 million a year. The, a’hem, economics look good on this one to me.

But Harvey thinks it is a hassle. Tough luck, avoid the hassle and ride a bike.

In the same month, he pumps out this bizarre, one-sided account of the benefits of the Tar Sands, not even acknowledging that there may be any negatives related to such a good story.

His completely myopic analysis of the Tar Sands is simply an embarrassment. A long list of the amount of money being invested (no mention of the massive taxpayer subsidies), Royalties paid (no mention that they are amongst the lowest in the world), jobs created in Fort McMurray (no mention of the lack of social development to coincide with the growth), international investment (no mention of how this hurts our international reputation), summed up with a long-term rosy forecast (no mention of the environmental legacy). He even got a partisan dig in on Obama, completely out of context. Why was Al Gore spared? .

The whole thing got me thinking. Why limit ourselves to dirty oil? Just for kicks, I had a little fun with Harvey’s Tar Sands column and the “find and replace” function in my word processor. Here is Harvey Enchin’s take on the drug trade, translated from his November 24 editorial in The Vancouver Sun. Imagine a world where this was the normal discourse…

World drugs consumption of cocaine, opium, pot, meth, and ecstasy fell by 1.1 per cent last year, the first decline since 1982. But the DEA might want to postpone their celebration. The decline was the result of recession, not conservation, mainly affecting North America and Europe. Drugs use soared in developing nations; indeed, it doubled in China, with cocaine retaining its position as the No. 1 drugs source.

Once the economic recovery gains momentum, drugs-consumption growth should resume its vigorous ascent.

This is good news for Colombia, and particularly for Medellin and Cali, which are blessed with bountiful reserves of cocaine and opium. Of course, the main repository of wealth is Medellin’s coca fields, which have drawn global drugs companies en masse to Medellin and environs.

Their plans include hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, generating an estimated $1.7 trillion in economic activity and 465,000 direct and indirect jobs over the next 25 years.

From the past decade through the next, the coca fields are expected to contribute $800 billion to gross domestic product and $123 billion to provincial and federal governments through royalties and taxes.

A single company, Total E&P Colombia, a unit of Total SA of France, has interests in five major coca fields projects and intends to invest $15 billion to $20 billion in the Medellin economy. By itself, Total’s 75-per-cent stake in the Joslyn North Mine Project will require direct capital investment of $7 billion to $9 billion. Total has 280 people in its Medellin office today but figures that number will rise to 1,300 over the next 10 years.

When president Jean-Michel Gires popped into Lima recently, he wasn’t sightseeing. He was recruiting. With a population of only 3.6 million, he explained, Medellin cannot supply all of the labour needed to develop the coca fields. Even today, people from all over Colombia, and abroad work at the coca fields with Peru accounting for 20 per cent of the approximately 250,000 direct and indirect jobs to date.

And what kind of jobs are on offer? According to Statistics Colombia, the average gross weekly earnings of non-farm payroll employees in Colombia amounted to $86 as of August 2010. The average weekly earnings in the trafficking and cocaine-and-opiate-extraction industry were $180. In other words, these are jobs that pay roughly $10,000 a year.

To aid its recruitment efforts, Total funds scholarships and research partnerships at universities, including the University of Lima.

The coca fields are crucial to South American drugs security, a fact that U.S. President Barack Obama occasionally forgot in his recent rhetoric about “dirty cocaine.” Colombia already delivers the equivalent of 2.5 million barrels of cocaine and drug products a day to the U.S., making it by far the country’s single largest supplier.

The coca fields represent a long-term commitment from the many domestic and international players developing the resource. Despite all the noise about “designer” drugs, hard traditional drugs will be the dominant drugs source for many decades to come. In fact, Colombia’s reserves are measured in centuries.

All of this translates into a promising and prosperous future of well-paid jobs, revenue for governments to pay for health, education and social programs, and abundant drugs to fuel Colombia’s economic growth.

The week ahead.

This month’s Green Drinks event in New Westminster (December 1st, Heritage Grill) is going to have a special guest: Eliza Olson, who is President of the Burns Bog Conservation Society.

The BBCS is dedicated to protecting one of the World’s most important peatlands, through education about the importance of peatlands to local and global ecosystems. Partially through the efforts of the BBCS, Burns Bog may soon receive RAMSAR designation, as testament to it’s international importance.

Eliza will talk briefly about the threats and challenges of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and its potential impacts on Burns Bog. It will be an opportunity to discuss the connections and common problems of the North and South Fraser Perimeter Roads in our rapidly expanding road system.
Of course, the topic of the recent lawsuit launched by the BBCS may come up.

Eliza is also one the ten finalists in CBC’s Champions of Change competition.

December 1st happens to be the same night that the McBride Sapperton Residents Association is holding a meeting to coordinate their approach to the United Braid Extension. This is less than a week before the second Translink Open House in New Westminster on the topic.

Notably, many of the details of the “Agreement in Principle” that the City entered into over the United Boulevard Extension are included in a Report to Council that City Staff will be presenting to Council tomorrow. The details are pretty straight forward, although it will probably not end the rumours and allegations of secret deals being made by some in the City.

My quick read of the report: whatever deal New Westminster made in 1997 agreeing in principle to the UBE, Translink is not even close to having fulfilled their side of the agreement. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me the City is in a position to say “no” to this project, without violating the agreement. That is encouraging.


Osmosis is a process where a solvent will move, without any external energy input, towards an area with more solute, through a semi-permeable membrane. It is a fundamental process for life, as all of our cell walls are semi-permeable membranes, and it is osmosis that regulates what goes into and out of your cells.

It works like this. If you have a membrane material, say a thin sheet of polyimide, and use it to construct a barrier between two reservoirs of water, then fill one reservoir with salt water, and one reservoir with purified water, there will be a net flow of water from the pure water side over to the salty water side. This flow would continue until the salty water is so diluted by the pure water, that the residual osmotic pressure cannot overcome the drag of the membrane. Or until you run out of pure water.

This is exactly why pouring salt on a slug makes it shrivel up. Slugs are mostly water, have semi-permeable skin, and generate a lot of mucus to maintain their fluid balance (amongst other uses). If you pour salt on the slug, some of it dissolves in the mucus, making it salty. This causes osmotic pressure, which forces water out of the slug’s body to dilute the now-salty mucus, which causes more of the salt to dissolve, and so on until most of the water in the slug is pushed out of the slug, and the slug dries out while immersed in it’s own fluids. Nasty.

This also explains why most fish can only live in salt water or freshwater, and if they are transported from one to the other, they die. Most fish have complex osmosis regulation systems based on their need to keep from desiccating in the ocean (as the salty water is constantly drawing their body’s water out) or bloating up in freshwater (as their salty blood draws fresh water in). Fish like salmon that move from one to the other have to go through a complex metamorphosis, known as smoltification to survive the transition. Sharks have a unique system where they retain urea, the waste product mammals turn in to urine, in their blood to keep it osmotically in balance with the ocean. This is why shark meat tastes simply terrible unless it has been boiled long enough to boil the urea out. If you are offered a rare shark steak, don’t take it.

There is nothing magic about osmosis, it has a pretty simple explanation, and there are thousands of examples of it working in nature, and in man-made systems.

Which brings me back to the topic of the month. I was discussing the United boulevard Connector with a friend who is a keen observer of both science and politics. He remarked:

“The laws of membrane dynamics suggest that the net effect will be to bring more car molecules into New Westminster than are removed, since the partial pressures are much higher in Coquitlam”.

…brilliantly tying the flow of traffic to the concept of osmosis.

There is the impression, I think mistaken, that the UBE will somehow alleviate a couple of nagging traffic problems in New Westminster: “rat running” through Sapperton neighbourhoods, and traffic backups up the hill on Braid.

The second is a ridiculous claim. When this $170 Million is spent and gone, cars and trucks will still need to turn left at the bottom of Braid, and there will still need to be a traffic light there. The sight lines will still be crappy, the merging issues will still exist. Some of those left-turners will now turn right and go up the one-lane ramp to the “T” intersection (to the next light), but they will still have to wait at the light on Brunette, as the through traffic will still be there. So the same cars (well, likely more, but that is my next point) will need to pass through that intersection, and will still need to stop at the same lights. How will this reduce back-ups again?

The first claim is equally silly. When (soon-to-be) 10 lanes of Highway 1 traffic and 6 lanes of Lougheed Highway traffic hit 2 lanes of Brunette and 2 lanes of Braid, there are going to be backups, and people are going to bail out onto the side streets. Adding an additional three lanes to the Bailey Bridge is not going to relieve this problem, it is going to exacerbate it, by bringing more cars into the City.

A clever person might argue that by building this overpass we are also increasing capacity out of the City, and therefore there will be fewer cars! This is where osmosis comes back in.

New Westminster is a City with an enviable Alternative Mode Share . Because we are a compact City with very good transit infrastructure, people in New Westminster tend to drive less than most Cities in Metro Vancouver. Coquitlam is another story. It is spread out; with much more limited transit development other than bus. Its entire commercial land base is built to only be accessed by automobiles. The commercial area of Coquitlam on our eastern border is a good example, but perhaps even more telling is their “Town Centre”, a shopping mall separated from their only real transit hub (the West Coast Express Station) by no less than 9 lanes of Lougheed Highway and a half a kilometer of parking lots. The Proposed Fraser Mills development shows this is a trend Coquitlam is not looking at changing any time soon.

(click image to enhance pie-viewing experience)

Good for them. Coquitlam can continue to develop their City the way their elected officials and citizenry wish. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to live there. Fine.

However, because of their different planning, Coquitlam has lots of cars. They generate a lot of traffic. Cars, (in our now-finally-assembled allegory), are like water molecules. Open spaces between cars, and empty back streets and laneways in Sapperton and across the City (i.e. a lack of congestion) are like the salt dissolved between the water molecules and attracting them. The United Boulevard Extension is the semi-permeable barrier. The cars can pass across it, the empty spaces cannot. And since there are more cars on the Coquitlam side every day, the opening of the semi-permeable membrane means there will always be a flow into New Westminster that more than compensates for any flow out of New Westminster, until the osmotic pressure is relieved. And the worst part is that the more we do on our side to relieve congestion (say, riding our bikes, taking the Skytrain, or just walking to the store), the more empty space we create, and the more osmotic pressure that will be exerted across the membrane.

The UBE will not solve any traffic problems in New Westminster. It will only exacerbate them.

It’s all UBE, all the time.

The Record hit the United Boulevard Connector story today by cornering the Mayor at what should have been a good-news day for him (the opening of the anchor store at the new River Market), and asking a bunch of uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable because it was almost record cold out, uncomfortable because he probably would have rather talked about the another piece falling into place in the refurbishment of New Westminster’s waterfront, and uncomfortable because that is how his answers made me feel:

“The people came out and showed they won’t accept it. There are four different scenarios – only one was acceptable.”

Somehow, I didn’t get the impression from the Open House at the Justice institute that any of the four scenarios presented by TransLink were acceptable to the people in the room. The one he is alluding to, Option “A” (aka the “T” Option), is slightly better than the others, in that it won’t involve knocking down as many buildings, but it hardly provides good value for our $170 million in tax money, nor does it actually fix any traffic issues. Council can insist they put some “landscaping” in front of the proposed wall, but it doesn’t really matter how much polish you put on a turd. When will he acknowledge that Option E is not only a viable choice, it is the best choice?

But Councillor Harper steals the limelight again with his quixotic quotes:

“You want to live with the existing conditions that we are faced with – 300 trucks an hour?” he said. “I never drive that way. If I have to go across town, I don’t drive there – day or night.”

Apparently, councillor Harper’s solution to “too many trucks” is to build more room and invite more trucks. Or is he suggesting the problem is too few trucks?

At least the residents of Sapperton don’t have to worry about Councillor Harper rat-running though their neighbourhood, the denizen of the West End apparently doesn’t do Brunette (perhaps he prefers blondes? Is that the first blonde/brunette joke in this whole debate? Can’t be).

Or maybe I am being hasty, maybe I am not digging deep enough here. Councillor Harper loves to remind me how he was there when the NWEP started out, perhaps I underestimate his green cred. Maybe I am missing the subtext of his comments… the underlying message?

When he says he doesn’t drive there, perhaps he isn’t showing distain for poor planning, or a general feeling against the neighbourhood. Perhaps he is intentionally demonstrating the concept of “induced demand” to the unknowing public. He is suggesting that he chooses alternate routes (or modes? he didn’t say how often he flies over Brunette on the Skytrain) because the current infrastructure is a disincentive. Therefore, if we build a $170 Million overpass, he is more likely to drive there, at least until everyone else follows his lead and plugs the system up again. Except it will be 600 or 1000 trucks plugging it up, instead of 300.

So with crushing logic, Councillor Harper intentionally proves that we don’t need the overpass by implying that we do! He is a clever fox: one opponents better watch closely in November…

There was an almost completely unrelated story in the Record this week about how some parents are suggesting that more traffic in New Westminster might not be the best thing for their kids. Almost completely unrelated.

There are no easy answers.

“If there was an easy answer, then it most likely would have been found already, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation”

–me. Just now.

I see the discussion on the United Boulevard Extension entering an interesting phase: the wild enthusiasm phase, when everyone all of the sudden has a quick answer to “solve the problem”. I have read long explanations of better routes, I have seen hastily-scribbled lines drawn on a Google map printouts, I have seen Rube Goldbergian schemes to get trucks across a set of railway tracks. As much as I like to encourage creativity, I don’t think this is productive in our current situation. Here is why.

We are all “traffic experts” when caught in traffic, we are all “transportation planners” when waiting for a bus in the rain, and we are all “NHL Referees” while watching Canucks games.

Every time I start thinking about the NFPR, encapsulated rail lines, etc, I feel this itch to grab a pencil and start drawing. I call up Google Earth and imagine straighter routes, tunnels, grade separations, sightlines… but in reality, I’m just not trained to understand the nuances of these designs. I am not aware of the standards for road design or rail corridors mandated by Transport Canada, the Ministry of Transportation, or any other agency. I don’t know how many yards of concrete it takes to build 500m of bridge, or how big a footing you need in specific soils. I have no idea how much it costs to install a traffic light. I don’t know who owns which pieces of land upon which the corridors of my dreams are sketched.

For the same reason I shouldn’t perform liver surgery or install wings on airliners, I should not be drawing up plans for a highway: I don’t have the skills. Let’s leave that to the professionals.

I can hear you now: “Those so-called professionals at TransLink got us into this mess with their terrible designs!” But I suspect the problem is not technical incompetence of the engineers, it is that the problem they were tasked to solve was poorly defined, or simply wrong. They didn’t understand the problem from New Westminster’s perspective. To come up with a technically feasible solution that addresses our concerns, they have to know our concerns.

That is where we should come in, and that is what public consultation should be about. We need to define for the City what is and isn’t acceptable to the residents of Sapperton, and to the residents of New Westminster. What are the pressures that need to be addressed? How can the needs of Braid businesses be met, without impacting Sapperton homes? How much will New Westminster be expected to give to make up for Coquitlam’s failed transportation plans? Where do these potentially competing ideas fit in the inevitable battle of priorities?

Once we have that discussion as a community, then we let the professionals come up with a viable solution, and we can comment on whether the solution properly balances our needs. In this case, I would love us as citizens to get together and came up with a vision, a list of demands, a list of priorities, etc., and then go to TransLink and tell them to adjust their plans to fit our vision. When I talked a few posts ago about failed vision from our local Council, this is what I was getting at. How could TransLink be expected to fit something to New Westminster’s plan, when New Westminster had no model to work from?

But even before we do that, can we all just take one more step back and ask the biggest question of all: Why are we doing this? Does this project solve any problems? Are there bigger problems to be solved with $170 Million of your dollars?

Can anyone tell me how this overpass solves anything?

UBE and being good neighbours

On another forum, I commented that I thought it was important that we do not let TransLink (through two separate consultations) make the proposed United Boulevard Extension into a New Westminster vs. Coquitlam debate. We’ve been down that road before, to no-one’s satisfaction.

However, some New Wesminsterites have wondered: why does Coquitlam even want this? What’s in it for them? Why are they so hot to see $150-175 Million of local transportation funding go to a little overpass project in New Westminster, when that money would serve them better through the Evergreen Line, or other improvements in Coquitlam?

A recent Coquitlam staff report to council suggests the following benefits from the UBE:

“improved safety, connectivity and mobility for all modes (i.e. pedestrians, cyclists, transit and goods movement vehicles)”

If we accept “goods movement vehicles to be a euphemism for trucks, then where are the cars? And as I already commented on earlier posts, none of the 4 options really improve safety or mobility.

“mitigation of reoccurring delay and congestion caused by rail crossing activity on Braid Street and one-lane alternating traffic operations at the existing Bailey Bridge on United Blvd Braid Street”

One could argue (and New Westminster did back in the gate-closing controversy) that the recurring delay and congestion are caused by Coquitlam’s unilateral decision to direct traffic along United Boulevard instead of on the large regional roads that parallel it by a few hundred yard.

“improved access thereby improving the economic development potential of the Southwest Coquitlam employment lands along United Boulevard.”

Ahhh… so the destruction of residential, commercial, and industrial property in New Westminster should be done to support the “development potential” of Coquitlam land.

Note the references elsewhere in the report to improving the traffic system in Maillardville are vague, and mostly refer to required improvements of the Brunette Interchange with the expanded Highway 1. Coquitlam staff and TransLink both know: congestion in Maillardville is not caused by the Braid/Brunette intersection, and will not be addressed by the UBE. It is caused by the intersections of Brunette with Highway 1 and Lougheed.

The lone voice we have heard so far from Coquitlam residents is from the Maillardville Residents Association, who seem to think this is going to improve congestion in their neighbourhood, although they seem to acknowledge in the same article that the problem is Lougheed and Highway 1.

Perhaps the elephant in the room is Fraser Mills. This 83-acre mixed-use development at the south foot of King Edward in Coquitlam will see a series of 30-story residential towers totalling 3,700 units (more than 6 times the size of the massive development at Plaza 88 in New Westminster) along with commercial and light industrial spaces. All connected to the rest of the world by one road: United Boulevard. No Skytrain, no light rail, no alternatives. (if you zoom into Page 2 of this document, you can see the eventual alignment of Highway One and intersections though Coquitlam)

Once you leave Fraser Mills, your eastbound options will be to drive down past the furniture stores and the Casino to join Lougheed or the Highway 1 at the new! Improved! Cape Horn , or to cross the new King Edward overpass (though notably not to access Highway 1), and join Lougheed there. Your westbound options will be to cross the King Edward overpass to Lougheed, then find your way to Highway 1 or further along Lougheed via Maillardville. Leading to increased congestion in Maillardville. Unless, of course, you can avoid Maillardville completely by hopping on the United Boulevard Connector, and take your congestion to New Wesmtinster instead, who hardly saw it coming. This is why I previously referred to the UBE as New Westminster paying more property taxes to support poor planning choices in Coquitlam.

Despite how I started this post, it sounds now like I see this as a Coquitlam vs. New Westminster debate. But it isn’t. Bad planning choices by Coquitlam Council hurt the people of Coquitlam as much as they hurt the people of New West. The residents of Maillardville would be better served if they had better access to transit, and if the Fraser Mills development included a real Alternative Transportation Plan. Just as they would be better served by completion of the Evergreen line, and extension of the Evergreen into downtown Port Coquitlam, and back along the Lougheed Corridor to Braid, completing a loop the comprises both lines shown on this document.

We are talking regional transportation here, and we need regional solutions. We are all in this together. Coquitlam and New Westminster should work together to solve this problem, not conspire to patch a small area of a very large wound.

UBE: Opinions on Options:

The discussion around the United Boulevard Extension includes the discussion of “options”. There are diagrams of freeway loops ploughing through neighbourhoods, there is a Mayor suggesting we will only look at the “T” option, and I have made the option I prefer perfectly clear. I would like to use this post to clarify the options, and perhaps dispel a few myths about each.

This is government, and your tax dollars, so let’s do the prudent thing and start with the “lowest bidder” and work our way up:

Option C.
Cost: $151.3 Million (est. $65 million from the Feds, $65 Million from TransLink, $21.3 Million “funding gap”).

(click above to clarify, note “before” picture by me taken at same location as “after” drawing from TransLink)

Description: a 1-lane loop, elevated to gain clearance over Brunette. The loop is a little tight, with the lane having a radius of about 45m. This compares to about 53m for the for the new loop at the north end of the Queensborough, and is actually more similar to the tight loop at the Brunette Exit from westbound Highway 1: the one that occasionally features trucks on their side on the shoulder. The difference will be that this loop will be downhill, not uphill.

This option also includes paralleling Rousseau Street with a three-lane truck route to Braid. This will involve the removal of at least 18 residential and commercial properties on the west side of Brunette, with significant “disruption” to at least a dozen more. It is a shame if your house is knocked down, but at least TransLink will have to pay you “fair market value”. For the people on the west side of Rousseau: don’t expect any compensation for your lost property values.

Option D.
Cost: $152 Million ($22 Million funding gap).

(click above to clarify, note “before” picture will be the same as Option C)

Description: a 3-lane loop, partially elevated to gain elevation over Brunette. The centre lane of the loop has about the same 45m radius as “Option C”, with the tighter downhill lanes on the inside and a single uphill lane. While reducing the impact at the northern end of Rousseau, it will still involve the removal of at least 15 residential and commercial properties on the west side of Brunette, with significant “disruption” to at least a dozen more. Not quite as bad as Option C, but clearly the $700,000 difference will not be made up in the expropriation of a few less properties.
An interesting point of this design is that it will “free up traffic” on Brunette by adding another traffic light, only 150m from the Braid intersection, to allow traffic off the loop to turn onto Brunette. If the whole idea is to end stop-and-go traffic and keep the trucks a-rollin’: this is a non-starter.

Option B
Cost: $167 Million ($37 Million funding gap).

(click above to clarify)

Description: This includes a 2-lane loop of similar size as the previous options, but with no less than three overpasses spanning the rails and SkyTrain. This is the one plan for which TransLink did not provide a ground-level viewscape, but it might look something like this:

It will involve the removal of about 14 properties, and significant disruption of about the same number. However, if the only goal is to “keep traffic moving” to the next bottleneck, then this is likely the best option. This plan introduces more lanes to one side of the Brunette-Braid intersection, and adds at least one potentially perilous merge zone for south-bound vehicles on Brunette, but doesn’t require new stoplights.

Notably, this is by a long shot the worst option for cyclists and pedestrians, the only one that might actually make the situation worse for them, forcing everyone in a 2-kilometre radius to manage the expanded Brunette-Braid intersection.

Option A
Cost: $175.6 Million ($45.6 Million funding gap).

(click above to clarify, note before and after pictures)
Description: This is the so-called “T-option” that was apparently first offered to New Westminster Council, and that several local politicians have admitted to preferring. Their soft support seems to be based on the perception that this option will not be a “disruption” to Sapperton.

However, the diagrams show at least 6 home or properties that will need to be removed, and significant encroachments onto another half dozen properties, including two properties further south than any other plan would disrupt. The impacts on the “preserved” properties on the south side of Rousseau from having a 20-foot high elevated intersection out their back door will be significant (but not likely compensated). The “T” option does not remove all disruptions.

You can see why neither TransLink nor Coquitlam like this option. Besides it being the most expensive option, it doesn’t solve any problems. I hate to point out the obvious (a lie, I actually love pointing out the obvious), but the top of the “T” will require a stop light, which will definitely reduce the “free flow of trucks”. The on-ramp from the north will have to start at the Braid-Brunette intersection, which means the problem of people having to dart across three poorly-defined, curved lanes on the current Brunette crossing of the rails will be made worse. Any back-up on the ramp (caused by the new stop-light on the top of the “T”) that backs up to the Braid intersection will effectively stop people from turning right onto Braid, and stop busses getting into the Braid Station loop…yikes.

This plan also has no indication of how the pedestrian and cyclist situation will be improved. There are some vaguely defined sidewalks shown on the overpass, requiring the crossing of several controlled or uncontrolled intersections: then going no-where on the top of the “T”. (a firepole maybe? None shown on the ground level perspective view…)

This is a terrible plan, in spite of the reduced (Not “eliminated”) disruption to Sapperton residents and businesses, it costs the most and solves no problems.

All 4 of these plans have one thing in common: none show how the Brunette River will be crossed. No matter what route you choose, there are industrial and commercial properties in the way. And it isn’t just 4 lanes of freeway, if we want these businesses to have access to this road, there will need to be offramps somewhere between the Skytrain and the Brunette River, or a stoplight-controlled intersection. They are going to take up even more space. Are we actually going to provide better truck access to industrial land by removing that industrial land?

Remember, TransLink does not pay property tax to the City, these industries and commercial businesses do. If those industries are not playing property taxes, the rest of us will have to pay more. New Westminster taxpayers paying more taxes to support poor planning choices in Coquitlam: I’m all for being a good regional partner, but how far over do we have to lean?

If we are going to take the Mayor on his word that:

“there is no-one who wants the disruption you are talking about, and we are not going to support some disruption” (CBC Radio Interview)
…then it is time for us to come together on Option E.

South of the Fraser – OnTrax

Comments on the NWEP’s forum on the future of Sustainable Transportation, held at Douglas College on November 9th, 2010. – Part 3, Joe Zaccaria for South Fraser OnTrax.

I like the theme Joe Zaccaria brought to his presentation, especially as it came right after Jerry’s discussion of the Olympic transportation success. Each slide started with a headline from the media, and drew the contrast:

Before the Olympics: “Olympic Transportation Plan draws Widespread criticism”
After the Olympics: “Vancouver Becomes a Transit City for 17 Days”.

Which reflected one of the themes of the evening: developing a vision, following with good planning, leading to predictable and desirable results.

Joe was clear about how South Fraser OnTrax sees their role:

“We don’t protest – we engage”

I like that idea as well. To me, the difference is developing positive ideas and bringing those to the decision makers (depending on the issue: those may be government staff, elected officials, a private enterprise, or the population in general) and hope they see the idea as viable. Protesting too often concentrates on the negative, after all there must be something to protest against. Protest has place. I still think that the massive public protests leading up to the Iraq invasion in 2003 were a big reason that the Canadian government decided not to get involved in that enterprise. I am proud of having taken part in those protests. It was the only thing we could do. But protest with no specific complaint other than “things have to change” inevitably devolve into unproductive messes, with poorly defined messages and no ideas on how to effect change offered. /rant

So what does the future hold for South of the Fraser, and how does that affect New Westminster?

Joe brought a compelling pile of numbers, stats and maps, giving us a good sense of the rate of growth across the bridges. Surrey will have more people than Vancouver at some point in the future, and the Langleys will become the “Burnaby” of this new regional centre. Far from being a “bedroom community”, there are more jobs in the Langleys than there are residents: and more than 80% of people living and working South of Fraser don’t cross the River for work. The $3.3 Billion Port Mann / Highway 1 Project will do nothing for this 80%.

Joe also provided some details around the Langley City / 200th Street corridor (where 65% of the population of the Langleys live: a proportion projected to grow to 80%). With more than 76,000 people living within a kilometre of this road, and projected growth topping out at 184,000 people, why are we waiting to build rapid transit on this corridor?

The same story goes for the centre of Abbotsford, where the “horseshoe” growth pattern from the Historic Downtown along South Fraser Way to the Cascade-Airport commercial area is ripe for rapid transit development. The population is there now, and there will be 60% growth: the time is now to build the infrastructure that will support more sustainable transportation.

Joe and the OnTrax folks know a lot about the technologies available. They seem to favour the Portland-style streetcars or light rapid transit. Busses just don’t attract new riders (like it or not) and Skytrain’s huge initial cost rarely offset the benefits. This was demonstrated with Patrick Condin’s diagrams discussing the cost of Skytrain to UBC, and how that would translate into Light Rapid Transit (click to grow sustainably):

But how does this relate to New Westminster? As has been obvious from recent discussions, most of New Westminster’s traffic woes are caused by people driving through the City, not by trips initiated in the City. This problem may become worse with the inevitable growth South of Fraser: but only if our transportation infrastructure investments are all dedicated to building bridges and freeways, and not viable alternatives that meet the needs of that 80% of South of Fraser residents who don’t want to drive through New Westminster every day.

United Boulevard Extension open house

Wow, what a night. There were a lot of people at the Justice Institute last night, and lots of lively discussion about the United Boulevard Extension. Now, I might be biased, but the overwhelming message from people I talked to was that this project is a non-starter.

The TransLink staff might have been a little over whelmed by the turnout, the room was often packed beyond comfort, and it was hard to spend a lot of time at each display poster, as there were so many people about. The displays were a little short on detail, and a lot short on rationale. But the plans were pretty clear.

The questionnaire offered to us for comments began with a strange question, and one that was hard to answer: “Are all the problems defined”?

Hmmm… there are vague references to moving goods, greenhouse gasses, and bad intersections, even a suggestion that the Bailey Bridge was dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, many references to “Challenges”, but it was hard to determine how any “problem” was being solved.

Truck Traffic? The trucks backed up at the Bailey bridge pale in comparison to the trucks backed up at Front Street or Stewardson Way. This may be a choke point, but hardly the only one.

Truck Pollution? Too many trucks belching diesel on the Brunette will somehow be cured by adding more room for trucks?

Cycling access? The Bailey bridge is pretty bike-friendly, as it is one lane (no on-coming traffic) and everyone pretty much crosses it at cycling pace. More importantly, the bike trail behind the Braid Station connects seamlessly, and the stretch on United Boulevard east of there is great for bikes: but ironically built too narrow for 4 lanes of traffic and bike lanes: no plan here to widen United. This project may hurt cycling access.

Seems to me, the only real “problem” being addressed here is the $65 Million dollars of Federal money that has to be committed by Christmas, before it turns into a pumpkin.

That seems like a lousy reason to spend another $100 Million and to invite more trucks and cars into our City. At least until there is a plan, with committed funding sources, to manage the traffic once it enters out City.

The good news is that I heard very encouraging things from the Mayor and Councillors who attended. This is not a done deal, and they all assured me no decision would be made unless it served the people of New Westminster. At this point, I am taking them at their word.

I was simultaneously encouraged and concerned by the Mayor’s words on the CBC this morning, which I transcribe here, in their entirety, for the record:

Why this project?

“In the lower mainland, there is properly not another pug for the transportation system or the trucking than there is on the Translink portion of the Gateway Project. That goes all the way from our Queensborough Bridge right through the City and ending up at the Braid Street Connection which goes onto Highway #1. And so, with this back-up, they have been trying to fix this for years and years since I’ve been here and we are in the process now of looking to see how do we do this so it mitigates the problems for the travel industry, but as importantly, how do we take care of the Citizens of New Westminster with as least an intrusion as possible.”

On removing houses:

“Well, first of all, before the decision is made that we will lose anything, we will make the decision. That has not been made. We made it perfectly clear to TransLink that we ware going to go to the public and let them see what the four options are, before council makes a decision of what their choice is. I can tell you, probably, there is no-one who wants the disruption you are talking about, and we are not going to support some disruption. Let’s see the people tonight, there will be lots of them coming out, I’m sure.”

Quote from Sapperton McBride Residents Association President (paraphrased): Residents were surprised, didn’t like “freeway interchange” design, wondered why were these options never raised in the past?

“Well, because they just came up (chuckle). So it is very simple. It was just brought to our attention, and as soon as it was brought to our attention, we said “Just wait a minute, we’ll take this back to the public, you will hear from the people of New Westminster, you’ll hear from this council, and then we will sit down and we will see what had to be done, if we want to go ahead with this. Because, if there is no benefit to the City of New Westminster, there is not going to be much support to go forward at all. We are trying to help the region, but the region has to make sure we are kept whole, that this City isn’t affected by just being a transition place for cars to drive through and hurt our neighborhoods. I can guarantee you that.”

On Federal Funding:

“The deadline for the matching funds, which is approximately $60-65 Million, is at the end of December, I think December 31st. Now let’ face it, it is good to have some additional funding that comes come through, but we have to be very careful that what we are going to do is not create more problems than what this amount of money will give. Now, since we have been in this situation for this piece of property or this roadway, it has gone three times the value that it was ten years ago, since I have been here. This comes right back to the funding. The funding for transportation has to be changed. It is no longer so simple that you give something that is so important to everybody in the region no method of funding. And that’s what this is. Now we are trying to match the $65 Million, it is still going to be short, we are going to have to come up with another 25 or 30 Million, if there is a particular choice that is made, because the choice that looks best for the City is what is called the “T”choice, in the shape of a “T”, and that T is I Think $170 Million dollars now, and the other choices may save them a bit of money, $120 Million or $150 Million dollars, but let’s face it, this is forever in this neighborhood, in this community, and we are going to go for the one, if we go forward, that is going to make sense for us, as well as the region.”

Where is the Grand plan? How does this fit a bigger plan?

“I have no idea, I have asked many times why TransLink has this piece of the Gateway. Why; no-one has ever been able to explain to me. But I can tell you this, we are also, with the uh, Translink organization, we have given them things that we need. We have given them the Front Street, which is our main downtown area, which is part of this, has to come forward, we have to have and agreement about how that will be fixed, if it is un… if it is encapsulation , if it is tunneling, but that has to be dealt at the same time as this. It is part of the broad corridor that is there. The Brewery study has to be done, that ii s where the old Labatt’s is, that corner has to be looked at, if you look at it: it is part of it. Then when you come down to McBride, You’ll see that’s where the trucks all stop because there is light down there that comes up from the bottom and it needs to have a tunnel. Now we’ve talked about that. We have talked about the bridge ramps that are coming. All of these things are part of a bigger picture you are asking about, and that’s what we are negotiating right now with the TransLink people”.

What about tonight’s meeting?

“I think the people will come forward, The question Mr. Pinkerton asked “how come we didn’t know before” will be answered pretty quickly. They’ll show all the slides, of what they want to do, and they will have some of us there saying “wait a minute, take a look at this, this is what we have been talking about for the past 10 years, and you people give us your opinions”. Now, I think we will end up, at the end of the day, people are going to say if it has to come, this is the particular one that looks like the one that we may be able to live with. Now give it back to the Council, let us negotiate with the Translink people. The council has been here long enough that, we don’t sit in a room with them and our staff and let anyone run over us. We’ll be alright.”

That last line was encouraging, as it reminded me of the neon sign/installation art by Martin Creed, visible over the DTES from the Skytrain when pulling out of the Stadium station. In big, white, friendly letters, the sign simply says: “everything is going to be alright”.

But I was also concerned that in the ten years he “has been here”, none of the traffic problems have been solved between the Queensborough and Braid. Yes, there are multiple jurisdictions, multiple pressures, no money, etc. But I think after 10 years of no action, our local leaders should stop looking for others to make their plans for them, and step up with some policy. After 10 years, we should have stronger statements from our local leaders than “let’s see what they offer, and if there is outcry from the public, then we will react”.

Instead of winging about our traffic fate, New Westminster should say what we will and will not accept for Front Street, for Columbia, for Braid, for Royal and for Eighth Ave. That way, when TransLink or MoT show up with hastily-assembled plan to patch one area, the answer from the City is is easy: does this meet the City’s policy objectives, our Master Plan? This year, the City is updating it’s Master Transportation Plan. Let’s include the higher-level policy statements about how we want to move cars, goods, and people thorugh our City. Let’s stop waiting for others to identify and scab over our traffic woes: let’s make policy now and get ahead of this issue. Beats waiting ten more years. The time is now.

No UBE for NW

The single biggest environmental issue in New Westminster today is not the “Toxic Blob” in the waterfront park. It is not the pending garbage incinerator. It is the United Boulevard Extension.

TransLink has cooked up a plan, using Federal stimulus money (your income tax), TransLink funding (your property tax + provincial tax), and …uh…some other mystery source… to more than double the number of trucks and cars that will enter the City from the east, with no plan to manage the traffic once it gets to the City.

And to make it more palatable, they are doing a Dr. Moreau melding of the project to the NeverGreen Line. And the whole thing is so fast-tracked, that the residents they plan to kick out of house and home were not even part of the consultation process.

This issue is covered excellently over on the Tenth to The Fraser Blog, and I think Matt Laird hits all the talking points really well over there.

The way I see it, New Westminster is a City with an enviable “sustainable mode share” (use of walking, bicycles and transit as opposed to private motor vehicles), but is still suffering from a significant traffic congestion problem. This is caused by a huge thru-traffic load. This is only going to get worse as the Port Mann becomes a toll bridge, and people divert to the Pattullo, and may become orders of magnitude worse if an increased-capacity Pattullo and the UBE come to town, bringing more cars and trucks to New Westminster’s residential streets, with no plans to move the increased traffic efficiently or safely through our streets.

All of the TransLink news of late has been about a “Funding Gap”. Major regional transportation projects like the Evergreen Line remain underfunded more than 10 years after they are announced, while our (soon to be former) Premier talks about trains to UBC and trains to Langley, with no plan to fund these initiatives. Meanwhile they are sneaking through a $150 Million highway project by tying it to the Evergreen, and pretending that it somehow “reduces greenhouse gasses” or “provides for non-SOV options” .

I can’t think of a more elegant way to say this: Bullshit.

The UBE does nothing to meet TransLink’s “6 Broad Goals” as set out in their Transport 2040 Strategy Document. It does not serve New Westminster in any way, and it takes money away from more valid projects that serve other part of the Lower Mainland better. Let’s kill this thing before it goes so far that it can’t be stopped.

Show up on Thursday at the meeting at the Justice Institute, not to protest, but to learn. The meeting will be run by TransLink staff, people who do not make the political decisions I am railing against, but are paid to bring plans to the public and answer questions best they can. Screaming, pulling of hair, calling of names will not be productive, these are not the people you need to convince that this plan does not work for you or your community.

Instead, one you know the plan, talk to your Mayor, and to your Councillors. In the end, they are the ones who are going to say “Yea” or Nay” to this project, and they are the ones you will be going into a polling booth in November 2011 to vote for.