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?

One comment on “There are no easy answers.

  1. Well said P@J. I’m reminded of the recent kerfuffle in Vancouver over building bike lanes on Hornby St. and that many were crying that we couldn’t afford them and how each individual could identify how the project would negatively impact them personally and how they didn’t believe it was necessary, etc. They rarely referred to the greater vision the City of Vancouver has put forward to accommodate more trips downtown without bring in more cars.

    At least the City of Vancouver had a vision of where they were going with the project. Whether one agrees with the project or not, at least it could be measured against well defined goals.

    Yet with this UBE project there seems to be no overall vision of where the project is leading us to, where it fits in the bigger transportation picture. How many more cars? where are they going to go? How will this impact quality of life, the viability of businesses, do we need to bring so many car trips parallel to a SkyTrain line, etc.? The project seems to violate or work against most (but not all) of TransLink’s 2040 goals and no one, it seems, is questioning the price tag. Is this a good use of $170million?

    Do we have a latent belief that any road is a good road, so we’ll take what we can get?

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