UBE – Phase 2 consultation, and the skill of listening.

Again, there is so much going on right now that I am slow to Blog about it all. This week’s event included the TransLink workshop on Wednesday night – The beginning of Phase 2 of their revamped consultation process for the proposed United Boulevard Extension.

The turn out was pretty good, and it looks like about the numbers TransLink (or their facilitator) anticipated. They had 8 tables set up, and there were about 10 people per table, with a lot of TransLink and City staff milling about as observers (just to be clear- this was a TransLink-run show, and I didn’t hear City Staff or elected folks advocate for anything other than having the conversation. Well, except for when Councillor Harper very astutely asked no-one to talk about the Hockey Game, as many in the crowd were likely recording it).

The evening started out with a presentation from the facilitator, with input from the design consultants from Delcan. The presentation is available here.

They opened up by making it clear that none of these concepts would be compared to the “unspoken option”: doing nothing. TransLink wants to build this project, so they are going to try to come up with a satisfactory project. If none of the concepts they come up with are ultimately satisfactory to the City, then TransLink will take their ball and go home. But none of these projects will be compared to “no project”, they will only be compared to each other. I suppose this leaves the “no project” open for discussion in the community once they have honed down the TransLink options to one. And that might be an interesting topic. (Is anyone thinking about what would happen if TransLink walked away and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways takes over this project? You think they will be interested in community consultation?).

They then outlined the Objectives of the project, which can also be read into by the cynic:
1:Improve safety and reliability of people and goods movement (they have slipped “people” in there, as an admission that it will be a commuting short cut, not just a truck route. I would suggest removing all traffic would make it reliable and safe, but I think they are going the other direction); 2: Reduce Excessive GHGs caused by idling (again, hedging their bets, they are not reducing GHGs, only the excessive ones caused by idling. More vehicles will undoubtedly resulti n more GHGs overall); 3: Support Alternative Modes (Great, I like this one, although this seems a little more like tolerating alternative modes than building with them in mind); 4: Removal of at-grade crossing at Braid Street ($170 million will buy you a lot of Jersey Barriers); and 5: Meets Partner’s Objectives (which are less well defined, but making New West Council happy is definitely under this category).

After this they rolled out 5 basic concepts that came out of the earlier consultation meetings. There is no doubt there is a bit of a sales job going on. That isn’t a criticism; part of the facilitator’s job is to sell the merits of the project on the audience. Walking into a potentially hostile crowd like this, some sales savvy is needed just to get the conversation going. One common sales technique they used is to make us own the project. They kept reinforcing that “these plans are your plans, made by the community during phase 1 consultation, not our plans”. This gives the audience a sense of ownership – we are likely to be less critical of our own ideas than someone else’s… this is why an shrewd salesman has you list your desires before giving them back to you, often adjusted to fit the product he has in front of him.

So let us review:

Concept A – Click to grow

Concept A had a new road paralleling Brunette on the other side of the tracks, then somehow connecting to Columbia further west, or even to Front Street directly. This plan is basically dead in the water. It would nuke an unacceptable amount of New West industrial land; it would no doubt trigger an Federal or Provincial Environmental Assessment process that TransLink does not have the time, money, or community support to go through; it just moves the overpass to another neighbourhood (and would need a bigger overpass), would end any plans to develop our waterfront east of the bridges for park or industrial use, and it would be prohibitively expensive. Really, this plan was not further reviewed, for good reason.

Concept B – Click to grow

Concept B is little more than the previous overpass plan of 2010, warmed over a bit. It lacked detail on how lanes would be distributed, but it connects United Boulevard directly to Brunette over the Sky Train Dip, and reduces Brunette to a lesser road (or even dead-ends Brunette at the overpass). Although this was one of the Concepts discussed at length, it seems no more satisfactory than the original plan: we are still talking a 15-foot high overpass with trucks on it, so the liveability impacts on Sapperton are still there. It also presents some problems for transit connectivity to Braid Station. Finally, it seems to direct all of the trucks moving along Brunette to United, when most of them are trying to get to Highway 1. This is about a polished as the original UBE concept could be, but all the polish in TransLink’s arsenal isn’t enough to make this anything but a turd.

Concept C – Click to grow

Concept C might be the best for New West, but was not considered further as it did not hit TransLink’s objectives (very little support for this bold assertion was made, it just didn’t meet their objectives, end of story). This concept was to simply close the rail crossing (those Jersey barriers I mentioned) and replace the Bailey with a bigger bridge. This would allow the industrial traffic to access Highways 1 and 7 via the Bailey Bridge and the new King Edward Overpass (the City could get involved in improving the Spruce Street situation to better serve their industrial customers, but we can talk about that later), it will effectively stop rat-runners through the industrial area, will make the rail crossing safe, will make the Bailey Bridge friendly for peds and bikes, will be cheap to build… but I guess Coquitlam would take New West to court of this was suggested.

Concept D – Click to grow

Concept D involved numerous bowl-of-spaghetti options for an interchange connecting United to a re-vamped Brunette interchange. Don’t let the petroglyph-turtle design wow you too much, this is a really costly and impractical option and would require significant contributions from MoT (who are already a little over committed these days) and building over a big hunk of railyard that ain’t going anywhere for anyone. For all sorts of reasons, this concept is also dead in the water.

Concept E – Click to grow

Concept “E” was the idea of connecting United Boulevard to Brunette between Highway 1 and Braid. This was, by far, the most popular option in the room ) seemed the most popular. It was even suggested that losses of New West industrial land could be reduced by running the road though the Landfill adjacent to the Golf course on the Coquitlam side of the Brunette. Coquitlam wants this damn road, why don’t they sacrifice some tax property instead of New West losing limited industrial space. The Bailey Bridge could remain, and the Braid industrial area connect to the new connector by crossing the Bailey and getting onto the existing United. Of course, this concept looked better and better the more the route is pushed towards Highway 1, raising the question: why not just put the traffic on Highway 1, put the $170 Million into busses and Evergreen, and end this painful process?

In the end, we won’t know what the real concept is until they come back on the 30th with some useful plans. The concepts shown were very high-level, and the implications for traffic planning, GHG, costs, were not there to evaluate the options. That said, there are a lot of people in the room who think this consultation process is a sham, and it was often hard at my table to have a meaningful discussion with the facilitators and the Translink staff when people are calling them liars and doubting their professional expertise. The transportation engineer at my table was very patient to the abuse hurled at her (much calmer than I would have been). It is too bad that the one loud guy at my table was constantly complaining that TransLink was not listening and their minds are already made up, when the complainer clearly had already made up his mind and was not listening.

Overall, I think the consultation process is working, but I have not yet been convinced that they have come up with a plan that suits our needs as a City (although “Option E” might be getting close). Mark me as “cautiously optimistic”, but that is pretty much my nominal status…

What was strangely missing was any acknowledgement of the requirements the City Council made for this project: a realistic plan to manage the traffic west of the UBE in such a way that we are not just moving the pinch point closer to downtown New Westminster. All this talk of “community concerns” is kind of empty without addressing the one Concern that New Westminster Council has repeatedly raised: what about Front Street?

As an aside, you want to talk about community? There were 100+ people in the room, several of whom were watching Game 1 on their portable devices, or at least checking in on the score. At not time did anyone cheer or boo, and at not time did anyone announce the score, recognizing that many of the crowd recorded the game. The rest rushed home to catch the third, and were rewarded for their efforts.

5 comments on “UBE – Phase 2 consultation, and the skill of listening.

  1. “Overall, I think the consultation process is working”

    Glad to see you’ve come around to the registered professional way of thinking on this one Patrick.

    “It is too bad that the one loud guy at my table was constantly complaining that TransLink was not listening and their minds are already made up”

    It’s such a pity these consultations have to include imbeciles from the public, rather then just a roomful of professionals like yourself to make the decisions for us.

  2. Not sure how you took out of my comments that I thought the public shouldn’t be involved. I have been active in encouraging everyone on the New Westminster to attend these Workshops, even inviting you, Rick, although it seems you have once again spurned my personal invitations. Maybe we will see you Wednesday Night?

    I have also tried to make it clear all through this process that I am not a transportation engineer, and I have resisted the urge to draw lines on map claiming to have solved the problem. I think the role of the public (like me… this project has very little relation to my professional training or experience) is to outline what goals we have as a community and what we will accept as far as negative impacts. The role of the professionals is to meet those goals and avoid the negatives through their professional expertise and experience.

    As for the loud guy at my table, He made his point several times, and it became disrespectful after a while, especially as he was shouting over other people trying to have a conversation. I’m not suggesting he shut up because the woman was a professional engineer; he should have shut up because she was a human being.

  3. voony:

    Excellent suggestions, the roundabout at the Brunette interchange is head-slapping obvious!

    See you Saturday at the Workshop? I would love to see someone present this alternative.

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