My recent opinion piece printed in the New Leader, with some additional notes and links that didn’t make the cut of traditional publishing!
Contrary to a recent editorial in the Leader, the United Boulevard Extension (UBE) is unlikely to be the end of “rat-running” in Sapperton. Instead, it will be one more expensive project that shifts bottle-necks around, while not addressing the causes of congestion. The UBE will invite more traffic into our City, and the number of cars running through our neighbourhoods will increase in Sapperton, as it will in Victory Heights, Downtown, Brow of the Hill and every part of our City.
The intersection at Braid and Brunette is a problem, on that we all agree. It is congested and frustrating, with bad sight lines that make it more dangerous than ideal. However, these criticisms also apply to Columbia and Brunette, Columbia and Front Street, Columbia and McBride, and Stewardson and Third Ave. When you move aaway from the “future NFPR”, there are other corridors through town that are also overwhelmed with through traffic. Ask the residents of 8th Ave, 10th Ave, Royal Ave, and McBride. The problem in New West is that we have 60,000 residents, with a 30% alternative mode share (i.e. people who don’t drive), yet we suffer from 400,000 vehicles a day driving through town. The expansion of Highway 1 and Lougheed Hwy will bring more traffic to New Westminster’s eastern border, and the proposed UBE will only open the door to this growing traffic. Meanwhile, plans to deal with existing traffic volumes in the City remain vague and unfunded.
When the UBE idea was first floated to New Westminster Council in 2007, the City agreed in principle, but made their approval contingent upon TransLink providing other improvements in the Brunette-East Columbia corridor. There is no indication that TransLink has fulfilled this commitment. The Mayor and Council talk about tunnels, encapsulations, four lane through routes, but with ongoing senior government deficits, there dreams of a “seamless regional arterial route” through the heart of our City will probably go unrequited.
But even if a miracle of funding arrived and these routes were built, these supposed imrovements would only shuffle the bottleneck closer to the Queensborough Bridge, where recent upgrades have failed to solve the existing congestion. Before throwing more money at this non-functional system, we need to start thinking about the alternatives.
TransLink’s strategy for 2040 includes “optimizing the use of the region’s transportation assets”, but there has been little exploration of how to optimize the numerous alternative transportation options (transit, rail, and river) existing in the Brunette corridor. Shifting modes (getting cars and trucks off the road) should be the priority, as it may be the only realistic approach to solve the transportation puzzle in New Westminster at a price we can afford.
The only cities in the world that have successfully dealt with critical congestion problems are ones that have removed vehicles from their streets, through incentives, and by creating viable alternatives. Look at the example of Central London, New York City, San Francisco, and Seoul. Why are we not looking at these models to improve the movement of goods and people, and the liveability of our City at the same time?
TransLink’s declared intent is to “improve the transportation system at a reasonable price”. I applaud that idea, and suggest they use this $170 Million to fill some of the Evergreen Line funding gap, and give people in Coquitlam a functional alternative to rat-running through New Westminster.
As a City, it is time New Westminster stopped waiting to see what the Province and TransLink are going to suggest next for our transportation infrastructure. To be fair to our regional partners, and to protect our residents and businesses, the City must develop its own vision. We should make it clear what we will accept as our role in the regional transportation network, and what we will not. One participant at the recent TransLink open house on the UBE commented “This proposal is a shiny new link in a rusty chain”. We need a comprehensive, realistic and affordable transportation plan for the City, developed through an open, public process, so next time TransLink arrives with a shiny link in hand, everyone knows how it fits in the chain.