20 hours later, I’m still unsure how to view the announcement that the UBE and the NFPR through New Westminster are dead.
My first reaction was to thank the volunteers who spent countless hours working through the consultation process. This is the note I sent the UBE Google Group last night:
“Congratulations, everyone. It is refreshing to see a community come together, and to see those elected and/or hired to represent us listen to the community.
But let’s not forget, the end of the NFPR is only the beginning of the conversation. We still have traffic issues to deal with, we still have Braid and Brunette, we still have Front Street cutting us off from our waterfront, we still have an under-serviced industrial area. The City is just now starting on a Master Transportation Plan process that will set the City’s priorities for the next decade and on. I encourage everyone who got involved in the UBE consultations to stay involved in the MTP process.
And finally, let’s acknowledge TransLink for taking an honest approach to community consultation. They spent a lot of money and staff time to make this thing work, and in the end when they could not get the support of the community, they were honest about it, and chose not to challenge the will of the people. They deserve kudos for both taking the time to make the case, and for taking the time to listen to ours.”
So this post is about that last point (there will be lots of opportunity to discuss the earlier points later).
I want to thank TransLink for engaging in this process, and for actually listening to the community instead of dictating to the community. There were a lot of people who were quick to say this consultation was all a sham. An Anonymous commenter on this Blog as recently as yesterday suggested as much. The indefatigable troll “Rick” on Tenth to the Fraser has been counted amongst those suggesting the UBE was a done deal, and frankly, a lot of people at the consultations felt the same way during the process. I was not one of them.
I have been a pretty harsh critic of TransLink recently (including a letter in this week’s News Leader following up on their recent budget announcement), but they did the right thing here, and deserve kudos. I made the point last night to personally thank Vincent Gonsalves and Sany Zein for taking the time to listen to the community and for honestly recognizing that their vision and our community’s vision were not compatable.
I heard Ken Hardie on CBC radio this morning. His message was at times slightly off-putting. It will be heard by many as one small neighborhood (Sapperton), blocking “traffic progress” for the whole region. In reality, it was the entire of New Westminster that took part in the consultation, and the reasons the community was against it were not as simple as Mr. Hardie framed them. It wasn’t only about impacts on Sapperton, it was about taking a holistic approach to the traffic issues in New Westminster, it was about prioritizing highway expansion over more sustainable alternatives, it was about trying to do what no other jurisdiction has ever done: solve traffic congestion by building roads. Those are the messages that resonated in New Westminster, and those are the reasons the community did not get on board. It was the impacts on the neighborhood that brought the people out, but it was the lack of viable solutions that killed the project.
Unfortunately, Rick Cluff (who continues to view the world through a windshield) tried to paint this as a big defeat and failure for TransLink, and I do not think that is fair. I see this as vindication of TransLink’s approach to public consultation, and it goes a long way towards building trust in TransLink as an organization that is genuinely interested in the needs of Metro Vancouver.
More importantly, this is not a NIMBY issue. New Westminster wants TransLink to build Evergreen so that our under-serviced neighbouring communities can enjoy the Transit access that New Westminster already enjoys.New Westminster wants TranLink to build rail alternatives for the South-of-Fraser and the Valley, so that the need for more roads is reduced. New Westminster wants Translink and the Federal Government to spend our tax dollars on practical, useful infrastructure that will move goods and people, and support more sustainable community development. If that infrastructure spending is not in New West, that is fine with us, becasue the entire region benefits, and we are good neighbours.
There is temptation to say “WE WON!” and by extension to suggest TransLink lost. However, that is superficial. The victory here is for the process, and TransLink owns that victory as much as New Westminster does. The only people who lost were the people sitting on the sidelines, not taking part in the engagement process, and who will now, no doubt, start complaining about the decision that was made (see the comments on the CBC news item to see the Monday-morning quarterbacking already). The fact Coquitlam was essentially absent from all these discussions (they had 24 people show up at their UBE open house event, and most were from New Westminster) will hurt them if they try to claim injustice now.