Poplar Island, and a bridge to elsewhere.

It is the biggest stand of trees in New Westminster, and you have probably never been there.

Poplar Island has a rich history, which you can read about in some detail here. For those with stunted attention spans, it has been a rancherie, an Indian Reserve, a smallpox hospital (prison?), a shipbuilding centre, a home, and for most of the last 50 years, little more than a convenient place to boom logs. The history of ownership is about as chequered, and perhaps even a bit uncertain now…

I raise this issue now because some people have suggested that a bridge to Poplar may be a good idea, as part of the project to connect Queensborough’s perimeter trail system to the Boardwalk and Quayside, and finally provide a real community connection to Queensborough residents.

The problem is, attaching Poplar to this idea is a recipe for all kinds of troubles.

First off, that legacy of Poplar creates all sorts of legal issues around connecting to it. With a 100-year history of industrial activity, there is a clear history of Schedule 2 activities, so re-zoning it for Park would be somewhat complicated, even if there is not contamination present (actually, the logistics involved in doing the sampling required to determine if it is contaminated would be a real hassle for an island with no roads, no landing docks, and no services). Then if somehow the City got the rights to use the Island, and negotiated fair use with the appropriate First Nations, and got the contamination situation figured out, how do we go about controlling access to the park, preventing fires, stopping squatters, etc. I suspect there is a reason the island is being preserved in a relatively natural (if second- or third-growth) state…

I hate to be a Debbie downer. I think that a well-designed park, accessible and safe, with a proper emphasis on displaying the important heritage of Poplar, would be great benefit to the City, but it will take a long time and a fair pile of money to develop. Maybe in my second term as Mayor. So the risk here is a measured response to reclaiming Poplar Island will slow down the bridge project, potentially for decades.

Worse actually, is that Poplar Island does not represent a good place to put a bridge, if your goal is to connect the burgeoning communities of eastern Queensborough and their integrated greenways with the Boardwalk, the Quay, Skytrain, and the rest of downtown.
If we want to build a pleasant park trail to be used occasionally for dog walks, then let’s wait until we can get Poplar worked out and build the bridge then. If we want a piece of sustainable transportation infrastructure to connect Port Royal and the rest of Queensborough to the rest of the City, let’s at least put the bridge in a useful spot. That means ignoring Poplar for now.

(Click to make big enough to be readable. Hey Google Earth, your share of my profits are in the mail)

As you can see in the above diagram, connecting just west of the train bridge to the trail just east of the little beach on Queensborough would require a bridge about 200m long (measuring between imaginary pillars set on opposite banks). The controversial “Submarine Park” location, more like 225m. Access via Poplar will require two bridges, totalling 325m at the closest points, of 475m to connect to the Third Ave overpass as was suggested by come commentors.

I recognize there is more to a bridge’s cost than a simple length calculation, but as a first approximation, isn’t it safe to suggest a shorter bridge is likely to be cheaper?

The second half of bridge location is that it connects to. As attractive as hooking into the Third Ave overpass may be aesthetically, I don’t think pedestrians from Queensborough are not all that interested in better access to Key West Ford (although I am sure their vehicle deals are second to none). They want to get to the Quay, to the Skytrain, and to Downtown New West and the new MUCF. So why take them so far away from their destination?

I think the Submarine Park is a minor issue, compared to building a bridge that acceptable to the local community from an aesthetics viewpoint, is accessible by more people, and serves its purpose as an important peice of sustainable transportation infrastructure.

The Submarine doesn’t have to move, and in the slim chance it has to, there are other locations it can go. At the Quayside Sale/Festival, I overheard Councillor Harper talking about the bridge with a concerned citizen, and addressing concerns that the “Submarine Park” was going to be removed. He said: “do you really think this Council is going to vote to remove a park?” The question may have been rhetorical, but it seemed to stump the questioner…

4 comments on “Poplar Island, and a bridge to elsewhere.

  1. Patrick, good comments on the bridge option. You suggest taking a look at the report given to council on the cost to construct it at the rail crossing in today’s dollars $25Mill. Plus unlimited liability coverage for the Southern Rail Bridge in case of any damage. Then you need to look at the required height it must be to meet the navigable rules. One another note councilor Harper said they would replace the park in another location not save this one, as he said we don’t take away parks we rebuild them somewhere else.
    The Poplar Island option is not new and was presented to the public a number of years ago as a vision worthy of research and consideration by the Parks Dept – it has since disappeared. There was a bridge to the island from the mainland at one time so there is significant heritage value in this reclamation. From Queensborough side there will be additional funding options with new developments coming to compliment the cost not to mention the development of the land on the Quay’s side. That is of coarse, if we don’t put in social housing at this prime location. The First Nation’s (Qayqayt First Nation) claim is still unsettled for New West the province and federal gov’t, I would ask, might consider funding an interpretive/historic center with a walkway around the island creating a tourist destination, potential pavilion admission revenue, security and guess what jobs.
    So if money is the only object when we want to talk about options then everything goes out the door, we just need the ideas and find out a price once we consult! Hope you don’t mind my taking this op to send you an insight into the possibilities. Of coarse a plug for my bid to be Mayor of New Westminster …I believe we can do better…
    James Crosty
    Candidate for Mayor of New Westminster.

  2. I meant to suggest that readers take a look at the report. See link a presentation (37 pages) to council a few years ago:
    I think you will find page 8 interesting. The rest is fairly detailed and in our review seems unreasonable given all the challenges. Where as a clean location void of buildings and a rail bridge my be a less expensive option in the long run.
    James Crosty

  3. James, Thanks for the comments.

    The main thesis of my post is this: I think the biggest priority of any eventual bridge to Queensborough is for it to serve as a vital sustainable transportation link between the communities of Port Royal and the Quayside. Using it to access Poplar (or trying to fix it to the Third Ave overpass) sounds great, except that it takes ways from its value for that primary purpose, by significantly increasing the pedestrian distance between desired destinations. Worse, it may undermine the financial case and indefinitely delay the installation of the bridge if it is linked to yet another potentially-contaminated park, not to mention the jurisdictional quagmire involving three levels of government (Municipal, Regional and Provincial) along with an unknown number of First Nations.

    I agree Poplar has great potential, but let’s not allow that long-term potential to slow the right-now potential for linking a burgeoning Port Royal neighbourhood to the Quayside, the Quay, and Downtown.

  4. Yes points well taken. Problem here is still the cost to build the proposed one, putting the rest of the challenges aside. It will likely be three x’s the amount that the city has in DAC funding along with all the caveats from Southern Rail.
    Interesting point you may not know but Port Royal used the close proximity of the 22nd skytrain station as a selling feature. In the discussion over the tower and increased traffic problems that was one of the stronger arguments they made in that traffic would be minimized. So the point for a shorter route is not as strong as you might suggest. If they improved the corridor from Queensborough bridge to the Quay, as Cote suggested in his interview with the paper perhaps this would be the least expensive and a faster link then you may think.
    We should consider that the poplar island issue may take less time if the parties are ready to tackle it. Remember this can only be a good news story for all five levels of gov’t (Fed, Prov, Metro, First Nations and New West).
    A River Island Park with funding, jobs, land settlement and watch out a tourist attraction in New West. You heard it here first!
    Ah the debate continues. One thing I will say, if elected Mayor, this issue will have a full public venting before any choice/decision is made. Unlike the current proposal which has never seen the light of public discussion. Oh yea please don’t believe we can’t change the application of the DAC funding. We just need the political desire to ask. It didn’t seemed to be a big issue when I asked after all they told me its New Westminster’s money. Thanks for the op to respond Patrick.
    James Crosty
    Candidate for Mayor of New West

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