Master Transportation Plan – the starting point

In preparation for New Wesminster’s Master Transportation Plan public consultations, I have been reading The transportation planning documents of other Cities. Yes, I really am that kind of a geek. 

I have been looking at various types of plans. As many local municipalities are in the same jurisdictional regime, they provide the best comparisons for what we might want to see in New West. Naturally, some cities like Surrey, Langley Township, Richmond and Coquitlam have greater growth opportunities for their road networks, as they have green space to be plowed over (if desired), and oodles of 60’s strip malls that can be repurposed (with bulldozers) into more comprehensively-planned neighbourhoods. 
New Westminster does not have that luxury. 
Being the oldest City in BC means that we are built-out, and barely a sidewalk can be widened without impacting someone’s property or eroding already-precious green space. Vancouver (although obviously larger, and not completely bereft of 60’s strip malls) and the City of North Vancouver are better models for New Westminster – they are basically built-out and they have to accommodate a lot of through-traffic on major routes. I would throw the City of Langley into that mix, but that City is such a mess planning-wise, that their example should only be a cautionary one. I have also been looking farther afield, at model cities like Portland and New York, where visionary transportation planning has remarkably increased livability in the last decades. There is even some interesting stuff going on in Toronto, despite Rob Ford’s ongoing rally against rationality. 
 However, I thought I would look at New Westminster’s own existing Transportation Plan, developed in 1998. This plan was to set the course for transportation planning for 15 years – up to 2013 – and beyond. It struck me, sitting on the Canada Line on my way to work, reading a .pdf of the plan on my iPad, listening to the Decemberists on my mp3 player, how far away 2013 must have sounded to the people putting this plan together in 1998. I’m surprised there aren’t more mentions of Jet Packs or hoverboards.
Instead, the plan is pretty rational, and brings out many good ideas. What is notable is how the problems in 1998 are basically the same as the problems in 2012: how to accommodate so much through traffic; how to deal with all the trucks; how to encourage mode shift; how to leverage the advantages of the SkyTrain stations; and (especially) how to pay for it all. Some good solutions were found, some of the improvements we have seen in New Westminster in the last decade are a result of this plan. Some other aspects remain a work in progress. div>The Executive Summary of the report (linked to above) is worth commenting upon.
On the third page, the livability objectives are outlined. All sound good, but one really stands out to me. 

“Work toward the principle of no new added road capacity for vehicles passing through the City”

This really speaks to the UBE discussion. Clearly, the UBE was all about increased capacity for vehicles passing through the City. Come to think of it, this principle also places the discussion about the Pattullo Bridge replacement into context. Any plan to replace the Pattullo with a 6-lane structure will clearly violate this principle. It is also interesting that this principle stands in contrast with other ideas in the plan, such as the part under “goods movement” where one of the Key Actions is to:

“Encourage early implementation of the Stormont-McBride connector and the Tree Island bridge”

There is also a good guiding principle, also on page 3, on Cost management that sates:

“Increase user’ share of transportation costs, and decrease Taxpayers’ share of costs”

Which to me sounds like a pretty strong statement towards road pricing, and the tolling of the Pattullo Bridge replacement. In fact, on page 11, under Affordable Transportation Services, there is a long argument for moving towards ore of a user-pay principle for roads, including road pricing and tolling. 

Perhaps most interesting is the timeline for the plan, laid out on page 12. There we can see that many of the plans leading to 2013 were realized, with a few notable exceptions. It seems the entire discussion of High Occupancy Vehicle measures has disappeared.
Also, there are several areas in this plan where measurables are mentioned, and we seem to be in only thinking about measuring them as we go into the 2012 plan. From 56% of all traffic being through-traffic, to 50% of trucks being trough-traffic, to plans to collect bicycle travel data: it seems updating this information has lagged somewhat. 
There is also mention of Parking Management Programs, Access Management principles for commercial corridors, and Trip Reduction Programs, which seem to have not found the light of day. 
Still, if the City were to fully implement every good idea of the 1998 plan, we would be 90% of the way towards a great plan for 2012. Of course, in the era of Peak Oil, Climate Change, and twisted TransLink governance, we need to make some firm decisions about what we need for our City for the next 15 years. I just don’t think Jet Packs or hoverboards are going to solve our issues. 

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