Trolling a Bridge

OK, I’m back. EMAofBC Workshop event went well. Thanks for asking!

Back to regular de-programming…

Hector Bremner has been all over the local media recently. I have met him briefly a few times, and he seems like a nice guy. We disagree on a few things (most notably, our differing opinions on the leadership qualities of Premier McSparkles™), but ultimately, I think his heart is in the right place.

I did like reading his recent comments in the NewsLeader regarding the Pattullo Bridge proposals that have been snuck out to a few “stakeholders” for comment before the great unwashed get to opine.

It sounds like the 6-lane option for the bridge has been favoured, without real justification for expanding capacity at this time, nor for managing how a 50% increase in traffic capacity at one point in our City is going to help a City already congested with too much through-traffic. Setting aside two lanes for trucks sounds useful for “goods movement”, but in reality, you are just removing the trucks from the other two lanes, and making more room for cars. Then the increased number of trucks and cars are going to have to jam together again at the now-worse choke points on the north side of the river.

Make no mistake: I do support dedicating one lane each way on the bridge to goods movement, but not an additional lane. To me, goods movement is a bigger priority than commuters who have other choices. Perhaps a creative compromise solution would be to build a 4-lane bridge, and dedicate two lanes to trucks only during off-peak hours. This creates an incentive for trucks to use the roads when they are underutilized, allowing more efficient trucking, or they can choose to mix it up with commuters at peaks. Admittedly, I just pulled this idea out of my ashtray… there might be unforeseen consequences…

It is implied in the NewsLeader article that a 6-lane bridge will be “safer”, and here is where we see the creative messaging starting to appear. The danger on the Pattullo has always been excessive speed, usually late at night when the bridge was underutilized. I’m not sure how turning it into a wide, mostly empty, 6-lane speedway after midnight will improve safety. The greatest thing ever done to improve safety on the Pattullo was to reduce the number of lanes at night. Somehow, going the opposite way will now help? A 4-lane Pattullo can be as safe as a 6-lane Pattullo, and no Pattullo may be the safest option of all. So much for the safety argument.

The second part of Hector’s discussions I don’t quite follow. I agree that we should not be making major investments into infrastructure until we have a longer-term plan based on identified goals, however he (or the editing) makes it sound like those sorts of plans don’t already exist, when clearly they do.

The broader regional transportation plan is called Transport 2040. The City has an existing Master Transportation Plan, upon which the next one will be built. There is also a Regional Growth Strategy , and his own favorite BC Liberal Government has a Climate Action Plan. All of these say the same thing: we need to stop building space for cars, because that will not solve any of the problems we are trying to solve, and start making it easier to take the alternatives: public transit or active transportation. The plans are there, were created locally and regionally, with political blessing and public input, they are all their laid out on paper. All we have to do now is build the infrastructure we were planning to build, not the infrastructure that is momentarily convenient to build. Because no-one likes to see infrastructure money wasted on making a problem worse (cough*cough*Queensborough bridge*cough).

I definitely don’t agree with the criticism that is implied about the Public Consultations that TransLink ran for the UBE. I think (after the false start forever known as the Donnybrook Conference) they did an excellent job of making themselves available to the public, of balancing the talking and the listening. I think they gave a solid effort to make something work that addressed the local concerns. When they could not come up with that solution through consultation, they “put their pencils down”, which was the honest thing to do. It would have been easy for them, with the political pressure on them from several fronts, to railroad that overpass through (pun intended), but they didn’t. They were true to their consultation model, and TransLink deserve praise for that, not criticism.

Anyway, it was good to see Hector, (who is currently the closest thing we have to a BC Liberal Insider in New Westminster, yet he seems enigmatically logical), critical of how this road expansion will impact New Westminster. What I haven’t heard from him, or anyone else, is how our current traffic system will be negatively affected when tolls begin on the Port Mann and the existing Pattullo becomes the preferred route from Central Surrey. The party he wants to represent in New Westminster has made it pretty clear that they will not tolerate tolls on this bridge, existing or replacement.

That raises another unadressed question: where is this $1 Billion going to come from? If not tolls, then where? Translink is nearly destitute, and even the Pattullo Expansion’s biggest fan, the Mayor of Surrey, is clamouring for whatever spare cash they have lying around to be spent improving public transit in her under-serviced City. The Fed largesse is clearly running out. That pretty much leaves the BC Government, who at this point is happy to muck about unaccountably in TransLink finances, but wash their hands of the negative economics of that mucking about.

If this bridge is in immediate peril of collapse, then let’s plan for the most affordable, practical replacement that fits our needs: a 4-lane structure using the same major intersection architecture at each end. The net impact on the neighbouring communities will be minimized, and we can save $300 Million or so just by building a lean, mean 4-lane bridge. Let’s re-invest those savings in the modern, practical and efficient infrastructure that South-of-the-Fraser needs to reduce their dependence on the Pattullo and reduce the traffic load on New Westminster; just like Transport 2040, the existing New Westminster Master Transportation Plan, the Regional Growth Strategy, and the other plans we have been making for 20 years say we should.

Alternately, let’s actually get ahead of those plans and reach faster for those goals they outline: take the entire $1 Billion and build sustainable infrastructure South-of-the-Fraser, and begin the orderly phasing out of the Pattullo.

5 comments on “Trolling a Bridge

  1. Thanks for wading into this issue Patrick, I think this particular project has enormous implications for our community and needs lots of people talking about it!

    Also, thank you for your kind words – to be sure some might say we on other sides of the fence, however, but I disagree. We both want environmental sustainability to be a consideration of good public policy – it just makes common sense, and sometimes that kind of sense just isn’t too common. (Although, I will have to get you in front of the Premier one of these days, I think it would change your perspective of her.)

    **I’ll admit though, I was very confused about your comment about my connection to New Westminster, where you called me “enigmatically local”. I don’t want to do the typical politician thing and cut n’ paste a biography on my years of community involvement (which is extensive) or my wife’s (who was nominated for Citizen of the Year for 2010), but I will say that there can be ZERO uncertainty to my active involvement in contributing to New Westminster and my love for this city…..I am as enigmatically local as you are my friend.

    ++ Looks like I am over quota on my characters, so I will break this total post into chunks…..

  2. With respect to the issue at hand, I’m glad to see that we are in agreement that a 6-lane bridge would be a pyrrhic victory for Translink when traffic sources and feeder routes, which are already exasperated, are not addressed in a meaningful fashion.

    Now, to where consensus still must be built:

    My point with respect to the “lack of a broader plan” that you found questionable, is in fact something that we are in agreement with…not disagreement. The reason is that despite the several environmentally sustainable transportation plans, many of which you pointed out, Translink’s proposals as of late seem to have been made in vacuum of this information and ignore the federal, provincial and local governments calls to support development of more densely populated, walkable communities, built around public transit. Therefore, seeming that you agreed that they are not putting those considerations into this plan (and I’m sure you and I would agree that they haven’t in other plans as well), they are not acting with a mandate that addresses the true needs of the communities they are charged to serve, and that to me is no plan at all.

    Secondly, you are right, we totally disagree on the merits of criticizing the Translink outreach team. Unfortunately, whatever shallow attempts at correcting the atrociously misleading UBE initial consultation rollout that won you over later on have been completely discarded. The meeting that I attended was most surely a deliberate attempt to distort facts, present an off-base presentation solely designed to confuse stakeholders, and ultimately the public, into simply agreeing with the predetermined outcome they’re engineers had already decided in advance for us. What I witnessed was awful, completely offensive (you and I will have to have a beer one day and talk more about this) and I won’t stand for it – they must and will respect our community as well as others.

    Interestingly, I think there is a an interrelation and common cause of the two aforementioned issues. Translink’s corporate culture is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have studied that topic extensively as I’ve been running businesses since I was 18 – It’s spending at a rate which they know damn well isn’t sustainable, has resisted any and all accountability and has completely negated the mayors to being little more than “Oliver Twist’s” who are bullied to go out and pick the public’s pockets for their master’s pleasure.

    I believe this is being caused by an over reliance on engineers and planners (read: academics) guiding the company’s path, whose careers are made or broken on successful completion of their designs being implemented. If one is to look at many of their decisions of late, one can easy see the rationale for my hypothesis as short term, project focused agenda items are frantically jammed through, while taking the time to focus on the macro issues is more or less swept aside.

    If you still don’t believe me, let’s consider your last point regarding the development of better transportation solutions in the South-Fraser. I couldn’t agree more with you, and with Mayor Diane Watts, who say this is woefully neglected. Surrey is a burgeoning city of about 500,000 people, with Skytrain only serving a small area of the city and some bus service?! Translink will tell you they are working on this and that, however, they knew a decade ago that the south fraser and Fraser Valley were going to grow at an exponential rate – requiring more than just status quo thinking if we were to avoid the “carmageddon’s” that have been created in many of North America’s cities. We must put great attention on reducing traffic load and understanding true commuter needs based on those new scenarios before building expensive toys like 6-lane bridges. Again, I feel that they lack common sense or a serious, comprehensive plan for the future.

  3. Lastly, tolling the Port-Mann will definitely impact our community, I think that is a great point to make, one which I will ensure has focus on it going forward, as it underlines even further the absurdity of Translink’s current Patullo replacement proposal. I think we need actual representation in Victoria, I don’t believe for a second we’ve had anyone actually advocating for the people in New Westminster for a very long time and it is a shame. Now, more than ever, the Royal City needs a voice in Victoria that will be able to effectively overcome the current belief that our historic community is a viable mass commuter route. (Let alone regional a social service provider…but that is another story.)

    Our community’s future depends on making New Westminster a place that people come to, not just pass through. We must certainly play a role in the transportation needs of the GVRD, but we more importantly must place our community’s sustainability first, and I am not just talking environment now. This city was once the surrogate “downtown” for Burnaby, the Tri-Cities and Surrey. Then, our economy was choked out through several bad policy directions, including making our historic downtown a thru-way, to the point where New Westminster had become an unwelcoming place to visit or shop and just turned into a “bedroom community.” Homelessness, drug culture and prostitution were what people thought of our city, and it’s an unfortunate reputation we are only now beginning to overcome.

    We can still be that “Golden Mile” for our neighbours, as they have built big box based, corporate retail districts instead of a soulful commercial/recreation areas like New West has in it’s Uptown and Downtown, and we are well positioned to lure technology and professional jobs to the community with our central location, beautiful esthetics and convenient access points to Skytrain.

    New Westminster cannot successfully survive as a community if is not able to develop itself as a destination and this bridge is not only presenting very troubling environmental issues to this community, but potentially crushing economic and social problems as well.

    I know that by looking at a map, these planners and engineers at Translink see New Westminster as a convenient option to route traffic through, but flying cars seem pretty convenient transportation options too, however, development of both are completely out of touch with reality.

    Thank you once again for the opportunity engage Patrick, keep up the great work, I look forward to seeing you around town soon!

  4. Thanks for the comments, You are right on the money.

    Oh, and I said “Enigmatically Logical”, sort of a back-handed compliment – you seem more logical than most Liberal Insiders I converse with! Your comments here demonstrate that.

    We’ll see you at the workshops.

  5. Oh, and Hector, sorry, there seems to have been some formatting issues with your comments, some went to SPAM for some reason. Hopefully restored not to how you would like them to look. I also took you specifically off the SPAM list, so that shouldn’t be a problem again. I am not a very savvy on Blogger, so not sure how one of your posts hit SPAM and the other didn’t. Let me know if anything got lost in filters…

Leave a Reply