It seems that not all is silent on the transportation front.
Since the furor over the United Boulevard Extension erupted in December, causing Translink to delay plans and ask for their funding deadline to be extended until March, it has been pretty quiet around here. Here we are, halfway to the new deadline, and the public discussion of this issue has all but disappeared. Tenth to the Fraser has expended some energy trying to keep the discussion going in a productive way, with Chris Bryan’s well-considered column, and Matt Laird’s two-part analysis of the real issues with the grey-dotted-line-on-a-map referred to as the North Fraser Perimeter Road. But from Mayor, Council and TransLink? Silence.
That ended this week. We find out that discussions have been going on between TransLink and the City, and apparently, the City is not totally thrilled with where they are going.
This week in New Westminster Council, there were surprise discussions of these negotiations. Surprise, as they did not appear any of the Agendas produced for Monday’s Council meetings, so anyone actually interested in the subject would not know to show up (is this what Voice is complaining about?). Also surprise, as it seems most of the actual discussion took place in closed session, so we don’t have a full understanding of the process, but I will hit that issue later.
Anyone who is interested can download the video of the council meetings courtesy of local rabble-rousers and tech guru Matt Laird. The UBE topic comes up (unannounced, but apparently known to all present) around 1:30:00 on the recording.
Some of the context of the discussions is in the earlier Public Delegations from Dave Nicholson Mary Wilson, and (?) from Brow of the Hill talking about pedestrian safety in the City. As an aside, it is great around 0:35 minutes where Mary talked eloquently about how reactive responses to single pedestrian danger points is missing the point of making the entire transportation system friendlier and safer for pedestrians, to which Councillor Osterman comes back with a recollection of a single incident of pedestrian safety that they took care of…ugh… completely missing the very point Mary made so clearly. Even this was wiped from my consciousness 5 minutes later when Councillor MacIntosh blames pedestrians for wearing too much black… essentially blaming the victim for the crime of not being able to keep your 3000lb steel toy from running into them. I try not to be too critical of our elected officials, but that is a dimwitted comment to make.
Oh, and Councillor Harper referring to a popular search engine as “the Google” is funny.
Then it was on to the surprise UBE discussion. Right off the bat, I need to say that I recognize that negotiations involving potential real estate transactions, financial negotiations with other agencies, and some other fiscally-sensitive issues must be carried out in camera, and this is why the Local Government Act gives the City the power to hold in camera meetings. However, transparency in government is necessary, especially in election years. So here we have aspects of in camera sessions being brought to the public.
Long and short of it: Council, to their credit, said all the right things. They reiterate that their motion in December on the UBE stated that they would not endorse any UBE plans unless they include plans for the entire NFPR, from United Boulevard to New Westminster’s western borders. Apparently Translink brought some proposals to the City in a January 19th letter, and Council was not satisfied. According to Councillor Cote, it was really nothing new, and didn’t address the issues the City raised in December. Councillor McEvoy was even more vociferous, chiding TransLink for attempting to rush the City and for not performing appropriate public consultation back in the fall. I also like his clear message that New Westminster is only 7 square kilometres, all of it built out, and we do not have the free space to accommodate road expansion (This will do doubt be a major argument come Master Transportation Plan time).
Good news is that TransLink is supposed to be back for next weeks Council Meeting (the 14th), so if the UBE interests you, it wouldn’t hurt to show up. Oh, it’s budget night to, so fun all around.
Then there was this news that TransLink is considering not replacing the Patullo, but instead may just refurbish it. This “news release” was strange, in that there was no mention on the TransLink webpage, no obvious press release, just an article by Jeff Nagel for Black Press, and a story on CKNW (a cynic would say directed at Liberal supporters South of the Fraser two weeks before the Premier Falcon Coronation… uh… I mean Liberal Leadership Vote). Regardless, if this announcement marks a change in policy about the Patullo (either from the Province or from TransLink) then the earlier assertion by TransLink that the Front Street / NFPR works would be done as part of the Patullo project means that these changes are back to the drawing board.
This is actually good news for New Westminster. To potential of replacing the Patullo with a larger bridge with more lanes will be another UBE-type debate: increasing the capacity for cars to get into our City without concomitant infrastructure to deal with the traffic once it is in the City, resulting in more traffic, more congestion on our streets, more “rat running”, less pedestrian safety, and a less liveable city. The only difference is that this debate will include Diane Watts, which makes it louder.
Of course, traffic is already anticipated to increase significantly on the Patullo when the tolls for the Port Mann kick in, which has raised suggestions that the existing Patullo should be tolled as well to manage this issue, but that is another issue for another time