First off, you think TransLink would learn their lesson.
During their last foray to New Westminster to consult on highway expansion, the turnout was at first completely overwhelming, then Standing Room Only in the subsequent hastily-assembled 4- or 5-step consultation proccess. This month’s public open houses for the City’s Master Transportation Plan had a higher turnout than the consultants have ever seen at a similar event, more than 100 people each for the first phases of what, for most sities, is a dull planning document. The Lesson? Have a public meeting about Transportation issues in New Westminster, and people are going to show up! There is no excuse for having too small a room and not enough chairs for the participants.
I’m not going to talk too much about what Translink discussed at the Workshop at Centennial Centre on Tuesday. Daniel at City Caucus sums up the spirit of the room pretty well, and we were not really offered any info that isn’t available on the TransLink website for the consultation.
Instead I am going to talk about what wasn’t discussed at the meeting, and why that is a problem.
The first topic that was not up for discussion was the number of lanes. TransLink has determined they will build a 6-lane bridge with two of the lanes (apparently) dedicated to trucks only. No business case is made for this (for perspective, a transportation expert once opined to the NWEP Transportation Group that the difference between a 4-lane and 6-lane bridge could be as much as $300 Million). When pressed on the question of lane count, TransLink suggested 6 lanes was the only option on the table for “safety reasons”. The somewhat convoluted justification being that keeping trucks on the outside lanes keeps them from needing to change lanes on the bridge, or mix with the cars on the inside lanes, increasing safety for all users. That sounds good, unless you are paying attention. Take a look:
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All of the designs deal with on ramps the same way, but I’ll use this one as an example, because it is first alphabetically.
Say you are Dave the Truckdriver entering New Westminster from Surrey, over there in the rightmost lane. If you want to go east to Highway 1, you take the first offramp, if you want to go towards the Queensborough, you take the second offramp, if you want to continue north towards Burnaby, you stay on the main route to McBride. All are options, as all are on the Major Road Network and designated as Truck Routes. It is unclear where the main route changes from three to two lanes, but it is presumably at the first or the second offramp. If it is the first, then you will need to change lanes before then (unless that is your destination). If it is at the second, you will still need to change lanes before that. Trucks going North will always need to change lanes. So lane changing is inevitable unless all trucks are forced to a single offramp going in one direction, but that would significantly reduce the usefulness of the bridge for “Goods Movement”, wouldn’t it.
The same situation happens for trucks heading south down McBride onto the bridge, or entering the on-ramps from the other roads, they are either going to have to change lanes to get to the outside lane, or merge onto the outside lane, and there will be inevitable mixing with cars. Oh, and cars using any of the offramps will of course need to move into the lane with the trucks in it, presuming the exit ramps are all on the outside lane. It is inevitable that cars and trucks will need to move lanes, and will need to at some point share lanes. Mixing of cars and trucks in inevitable.
This is the important part: These inevitabilities do not change at all between a 6-lane or 4- lane structure. The argument that a 6-lane bridge is “safer” is a complete wash.
The second point that was not discussed was the bigger picture around how we will manage the extra traffic once it exits the off-ramps of the bridge. TransLink pointed out one of the arguments against locating the bridge in another location (such as upstream at Sapperton Bar, downstream at the Tree Island location) was the integration with the existing road network. However, the current road network on the New West side is built to accommodate a 4-lane bridge, and already fails at times to accommodate that traffic load. Increasing the bridge by two more lanes will increase traffic capacity at the City boundary by 50%,. Currently, there is no plan to accommodate that. Think McBride is backed up northbound now? Think Brunette and Braid is an issue today? Think the Stewardson-to- Queensborough connection is a mess today? How will increasing traffic 50% to these locations help? This is unfortunately and eerily like the UBE discussion again.
Tranklink responded to this saying: we’ll design the bridge first, then figure that out. Not surprisingly, few people in the room were satisfied with that answer. That answer shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone in the region who is funding TransLink; even those that believe building roads can solve traffic problems. TransLink wants to spend a Billion of your dollars to move a traffic pinch point 100m up the road. This is an example of a build-then-plan mentality that has them currently building a $4 Billion 10-lane Port Mann Bridge / Highway 1 Widening Project and a $1 Billion South Fraser Perimeter Road project, two major new Goods Movement routes that actually cross each other but do not intersect, forcing trucks to drive through New Westminster to get between them.
Oh, and that Billion dollars? That was the third topic not discussed. According to Translink, there is currently no funding source for the bridge. They are therefore presuming that it will be funded by tolls, likely through a design-build-operate concessionaire, much like the other 16 lanes of Fraser River crossing traffic that have been built in the last decade. They won’t say it is tolled, but they won’t say if there are any other sources.
This creates another area of uncertainty that needs to be addressed before we go any further. The BC Liberals have, as few as two weeks ago in that strange radio-interview-mini-throne-speech-event, suggested they are against tolling. The Mayor of Surrey doesn’t like tolls for this bridge. However, the senior governments are not lining up to dump a billion dollars on TransLink, and TransLink can’t raise taxes. So how are we paying for this thing? TransLink says let’s design it, and get approvals, and the money will arrive. One significant problem with this, of course, is that we cannot establish the business case or the demand for the bridge without knowing if it will be tolled.
TransLink representatives after the meeting admitted their estimates for future traffic demand on the bridge are based on tolls being collected. They provided some demand estimates based on population growth: increased vehicles from 60,300 today to 94,800 in 2041, but didn’t make clear in the presentation part that these estimates are based on a 6-lane, tolled bridge. How do these estimates change if we build a 4-lane bridge? Or if we don’t toll? Or if this same $1 Billion is invested in rails and/or SkyTrain for Surrey and Langley? Or are we, once again, just going to build it, then plan?
We have learned from the Golden Ears bridge example that tolls are effective Transportation Demand Management tools. People have avoided paying them, by driving around the long way or by reducing the number of trips. We have also learned from the Golden Ears that traffic estimates for tolled bridges can be overly optimistic (not the same story for new rapid transit infrastructure).
So without demonstrating the need for increased lanes, without explaining how these increased lanes will be accommodated on our already crowded and built-out streets, and without telling us how the bridge will be paid for, TransLink has taken to time to ask us which side of the old bridge we would prefer the new ramps?
Sorry TransLink. For some reason, the people of New Westminster are not feeling like they are “Part of the Plan”.