Yesterday was the first Open house for the City’s new Master Transportation Plan process. Right off the bat, it looked like the turnout was great. I would put the over/under on total attendance at 90, if you include the staff and a few City Councilors (but, notably, not the Mayor). It was no donnybrook, but for a preliminary information session held on a busy night, it was good to see so many people are interested in the process.
The Open house featured poster boards with some of the preliminary info collected by traffic counts and surveys, and a short presentation providing details on some of the posters, and giving a broader view of the process ahead. There were also some opportunities to add your comments to post-it boards, and to fill out a survey of pretty general questions. I have a few comments on a few interesting facts and ideas provided by the posters and presentation, but I’ll cover those in a later post. Here, I want to talk more about the feeling in the room.
From listening to the conversations, most vocal concerns could be summarized into one of three broad categories:
1) Through-traffic is a problem, but we can fix it once and for all by doing “x”;
2) The intersection of “x” and “x” is the worst in the City! It needs to be fixed; and
3) Why aren’t more tickets given out to bad drivers / cyclists/ rat runners/ anyone but me?
Of these, number 3 has the least to do with the Master Transportation Plan. It speaks somewhat to a poorly functioning transportation system if systemic lawbreaking is the normalized way to operate the infrastructure, but targeted enforcement is really a complex issue involving driver education, signage, the police, and the community. The Master Transportation Plan will hopefully result in a better-integrated system that reduces the bad behavior of users, but that is rather secondary to where we are here. If traffic enforcement is really a passion of yours, why no join the City’s Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee… they always need help!
Number 2 is sort of what this is about. The solutions found might pick out a few key intersections and areas for improvement of the transportation network, but the bigger ideas will come in answering questions about how we want our intersections and other infrastructure to work, and how the various bits of the infrastructure can work better together.
Number 1 is a big part of this. However, I bet the problems are more complex that we think, and that the solutions will not be simple ones. Unfortunately, some of the problems will not have a satisfying solution at all (Queensborough Bridge, anyone?), but that doesn’t mean this process is not useful or cannot change the way we approach these problematic areas.
After the presentation, there was a bit of time for a few questions from the audience, the answers to which I can paraphrase here (yes, both the questions and answers below are paraphrased, any error of fact or language is mine, I tried to catch the gist of the conversation, if not the detail). I have added my comments after each Q&A point.
Q: You say 40% of trucks are going to a destination within the City, but what about the rest of the traffic? It would be interesting to see how much of the car traffic passes right through.
A: No answer was offered, as it seemed like more of a statement than a question.
This, more than any other point, is the big gripe New Westminster has about traffic, and the gripe our neighbouring communities have about us. I concur that it is important for us to get this number, because it seems to range depending on whom you ask: 60%? 80%? More? And so much of the conversation in New West is about it, we should start from a factual base. The strange part in this discussion is that many people who think this is our #1 problem also think the solution to too much through-traffic is to blow the bank on building infrastructure to accommodate more through-traffic (freeways through, around, or under the City).
Q: How does this align with the proposed Pattullo Bridge project?
A: The Pattullo Bridge project is the jurisdiction of TransLink, and will include its own public consultation process, likely starting as soon a February
However, the data collected for this plan, the impacts of the Pattullo refit/replacement, and the impacts on New Westminster when the Port Mann II comes on-line with its tolls, will all need to be considered as part of the City’s planning. I didn’t get confirmation on this, but I assume TransLink will be one of the agencies identified as a key stakeholder in the entire MTP process.
Q: This City is right next to the River- is there any consideration to using the River for transportation?
A:We don’t know of any plans to move passengers on the river that have gone past the very-high-level concept phase, but there has been discussion of this in the past. Port Metro Vancouver will be one of the Agencies invited to take part, and they have been invited to have a seat at the table here.
Goods movement on the River has been a pet peeve of mine for a while, but I will save my strong opinions about how Port Metro Vancouver is screwing the entire MetroVancouver area for a later post.
Q: What is our clout, jurisdictionally? If TransLink and Province and our neighbouring Municipalities have different plans than us, what can we do about it?
A:Some roads in the City are Provincial, some are part of the Major Road network, and are TransLink, but most are owned by the City. We work with these other agencies, and also, the UBE experience taught us that a strong, united community can have an influence. Experience has shown that a City that has a well-articulated Master Transportation Plan is in a better position to negotiate with other agencies to protect the goals of that plan
This was a great answer, and speaks to the importance of us not only putting a good plan together, but also acting on it to demonstrate that our community supports the goals outlined in the plan.
Q: What about the UBE, are we going to address that issue as part of this?
A: If the UBE is identified as an issue during this process, then we can look at potential solutions to that issue. However, TransLink has taken the UBE off the table, and are not planning to build it anymore. That project was a TransLink one, with some Federal money.
The UBE is dead, and the North Fraser Perimeter Road is at least in a very, very deep coma, the chances of it coming back are not nil, but are vanishingly small. But many of the problems highlighted in the UBE discussion (rail crossing safety, access for the Braid Industrial Area, the Braid and Brunette intersection) have not been addressed once TransLink’s approach to the solution was found to be unacceptable. I think there are creative solutions to these issues, and I hope having TransLink, that railways, Port Metro Vancouver, the Truckers and Coquitlam at the table will help us find some common understanding on these issues, if not a solution.
Q: Are we working with the neighbouring communities, and have Urban Systems tracked the success rate of their previous clients for these types of Plans?
A: First question: Yes, neighbouring Municipalities will be involved in Agency Workshops. Second question: Yes. In their experience, most clients have implemented 50 – 70% of their plans 10 years after the plan is finalized. An interesting nuance is that sometimes the projects completed are not those that necessarily best suit the goals set forth in the plan.
That second part might need some clarity, I can think of an example where a City with the goal of “Improving Pedestrian Safety” may get a big grant to build a connector road in an underserviced area, but defer the sidewalk improvements to a later date, to take advantage of a short-term funding opportunity. Or someone like Rob Ford gets elected and decides to tear up an integrated cycling network, and replace street cars with subways, resulting in increased car-dedicated road space. Even the best laid plans sometimes get nuked by bad politics.
If you missed the Open House, there will be another opportunity on the afternoon of Valentines Day at Century House. Nothing says “I love you, Honey” like skipping off work to take your date to at a community open house on transportation policy planning.