Thinking about Oil Exports

The Provincial NDP have come out strongly against the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Before anyone accuse them of just following the crowd to see where it is going, then rushing out front to make it look like they were leading all the time, they have also provided a 6-point argument for why they do not support Enbridge.

Most of the points are ones you have heard before from other radical foreign-funded environmentalists like me (full disclosure: I spent two years receiving paycheques from the Illinois State Department of Natural Resources): risk of tanker spills, risk to inland waterways, GHG impacts, etc. One argument, however has always led to interesting discussions with people I talk to whom I consider “environmentalists”.

“The NGP provides few long-term, sustainable economic benefits for B.C., and forgoes value-added economic activity involving upgrading and refining in Canada”

As a reflex, I support this argument. Selling off as much of a finite resource as quickly as possible without first squeezing out as much value from that resource as possible seems like a really bad idea. Perhaps the only worse idea is to sell off a sustainable resource at a rate that makes it unsustainable and at the same time not first squeezing out as much value from that resource. But this argument hides another deeper argument that is harder for many on both sides of the political spectrum to get around.

First, it is interesting to look at the oil numbers. Canada (according to the CIA factbook) produces about 3.3 Million barrels of oil per day (Mbbl/d), but consumes the equivalent of 2.2 Mbbl/d in oil products. Although we export about 2.0 Mbbl/d, we import about 1.2 Mbbl/d.

The numbers look like this (Mbbl/d, all 2011 numbers):
Production:      3.289
Import:              1.192
Export:               2.001
Consumption:  2.151

Canada currently has 15 operating oil refineries, which combined total 1.879 Mbbl/d in daily refining capacity. This does not include “upgrade” refineries in Alberta and Saskatchewan; those turn bitumen into synthetic crude oil (syncrude), which must then go to another refinery to be made into useable product. Exporting syncrude is indistinguishable from exporting crude oil, carbon- and ecological-footprint aside. Three of those refineries are in the Maritimes, 2 in Quebec, 4 in Ontario, 1 in Saskatchewan, 3 in Alberta, and 2 in BC (including the Chevron refinery in Vancouver).

The point is that, even if all the refineries were to run at maximum capacity, we could not begin to refine all of the oil we produce here in Canada, we could not even refine enough to satiate our consumption needs. Hence, we need to import refined product, some of that potentially refined from the 60% of the oil we produce that goes offshore. With all the recent talk of China, most of the oil currently going out of Burrard Inlet is bound for California refineries, and most of those tank farms you see around Burrard Inlet (Shellburn in Burnaby, Ioco in Port Moody, Suncor on the northeast slope of Burnaby Mountain) are just storing oil products imported for the States to supply local demand.

Ideally, based on the NDP argument above, Canada would refine our own oil. We would at the very least build refineries to meet our domestic refined product demand, and potentially build enough that we could export the refined product to gain all the added value instead of the raw syncrude. We don’t do this, because the refineries belong, for the most part, to publicly traded multinational corporations. They will build and operate refineries where it is easiest and cheapest to do so, with lower labour costs, lower tax regimes, and softer environmental laws. What may be (agruably) in our national interest is most defintiely not in their best financial interest.

Canadian Refineries and capacity by ownership:
Imperial Oil (Exxon): 4 refineries totalling 503,000 bbl/d;
Suncor (formerly PetroCanada): 3 refineries totalling 360,000 bbl/d
Irving (a Canadian business): 1 refinery at 300,000 bbl/d;
Valero (Texaco): 1 refinery at 265,000 bbl/d;
Shell (Royal Dutch Shell): 2 refineries totalling 172,000 bbl/d;
Korea National Oil Company: 1 refinery at 115,000 bbl/d;
CCRL (a Sask. co-operative!): 1 refinery at 100,000 bbl/d;
Chevron Corporation: 1 refinery at 52,000 bbl/d;
Husky Energy: 1 refinery at 12,000 bbl/d.

So here is when my environmentalist friends start to get itchy collars: I suggest this scenario (recognizing it is highly unlikely). Let’s assume that the NDP win the next federal election, and just to piss off Alberta after all the efforts their guys have done to piss off the NDP over the previous 5+ years, they bring about Canada National Energy Program 2.0. Part of that program includes an end to raw crude exports, and an end to refined product imports.

The question for envrionmentalists concerned about all this export of raw crude: Would you support increasing refining capacity in Canada? Even if that meant doubling capacity in order to meet the demand from back in 2011? So, my sensible environmentalist friends, I ask you: would you support the building of oil refineries if it meant the end of oil imports for Canada, and the end of raw crude exports?

This might be a good question to ask the NDP.

Law of the Instrument

This is similar in tone to an earlier post I wrote regarding the misapplication of technology. In that post, I questioned how “on-line voting” was going to fix the low turn-out rates in elections. The problem of low voter turn-out was not caused by the lack of options or access to polling booths, so increasing that access through the wonder of the Internet was not really a sensible solution. It was the wrong tool addressing the problem from the wrong direction.

This time, I hope to convince you that increasing the volume of traffic is not the solution to the problem of an aging bridge.

In earlier stages of my career, I had plenty of opportunities to work with drillers. Guys (and yes, they were all guys) who operate drilling equipment are a special breed. It is hard work, intensely physical, dirty, noisy, and you are doing it in the rain, the sleet, the snow, and any other unpleasant environment you are asked. Days are usually 12 hours, and you spend much of your off time living in flea-bag hotels on the outskirts of towns you wouldn’t otherwise visit.

I have drilled (actually, stood there watching other guys drill while I sketched on a clipboard and put samples into jars) in pounding down rain in February in Port Alice, in frozen sleet in September in Wells; In heavy snow in Anahim Lake, and on bright sunny warm days while standing on bulk sulphur storage piles. I have even stood on a small barge in Burrard Inlet in the middle of winter with drillers running a Pionjar off the side. With all of these conditions, they are operating a piece of equipment that can kill or maim them instantly if they lose attention. As a result, drillers are tough, skilled, determined, crude and practical: Every edge they have is rough. They all smoke every cigarette like it is their last; I have never seen a group of people so enthusiastic about smoking, and I grew up in a Pulp Mill town.

L to R: me, a notable bridge, a Sonic drill rig.

All that aside, one of the charming things about drillers is their tool kit. It contains two types of tools: hammers, and unused. There is nothing a driller cannot fix with a hammer. If there is, it needed replacing anyway. Every process in the instruction book “Drilling for Dummies” starts with these two steps: 1) Get a hammer; 2) No, a bigger hammer.

As a result, drillers generally have a lot of broken and bent equipment around. When something goes wrong on the drill rig there are two ways it can go: lots of banging and then back to work; or lots of banging then back to the shop. The only shocking past is how often it is the former.

There is a truism called the Law of the Instrument, which is colloquially “when all you have is hammers, every problem looks like a nail”.

When applied to how our province has been operating its roads, and overseeing Translink’s management of the Major Road Network (including the Pattullo Bridge), it could be said that there is no problem that cannot be fixed by building more roads. Never mind what the problem is, or whether this solution has worked in the past, building more roads seems to be the one thing upon which this government has no problem spending taxpayers money.

If the connection isn’t obvious, let me put it this way: At a time when they are cutting back on bus routes and are putting all transit expansion on hold, TransLink is fast-tracking the “consultation” on the Pattullo, saying they need a new 6-lane bridge PDQ. This seems to be the solution to some problem, but there problem isn’t “traffic” or “truck movement” or “growing communities” (the talking points used to justify a 6-lane bridge). Their problem is an aging bridge.

Look at the “Replacement Factors” listed on their website for the project, what do we find? An alliterative list: Safety, Structure, Seismic, and Scour.

“Safety” issues are related to traffic operations on the bridge: lanes too narrow, inadequate railings, too many accidents. If TransLink or the Government was really concerned about driver safety on the bridge, they would put four photo radar cameras on the bridge and enforce the 50km/h speed limit. A revenue-generating end of the problem.

“Structure” arguments are all about corrosion of steel components on the bridge and degradation of the bridge deck, so exactly the same factors that led to the extensive refurbishment of the Lions Gate Bridge. There, things were repaired at a much lower cost than replacing the bridge.

“Seismic” seems pretty straight forward: a 1938 bridge does not meet 2012 earthquake standards. The Sandwell Report done for TransLink in 2007 was pretty clear: “…the bridge is vulnerable to collapse even under moderate earthquakes and is in urgent need of retrofitting.” So what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with that retrofitting and make a safe bridge, at a fraction of the cost of building a new bridge.

“Scour” is the argument that after 75 years, the River is now starting to scour away the sand and silt around the foundations of the bridge. Give me a couple of barges of 1-tonne rip-rap, and we can take care of the scour issue. No need for two lanes of extra traffic to fix this one.

Notably, not one of these “Replacement Factors” justify increasing the number of lanes on the bridge, and most can actually be facilitated at much lower cost by reducing the lanes to three (with counter-flow) like the Lions Gate. As compelling an argument TransLink makes for extensive refurbishment of the Pattullo Bridge, nothing that says we need to accept the negative impacts on the City and the region of increasing road capacity, or the loss of the iconic steel arch span that is part of our City’s heritage and skyline for 75 years. Nor do they justify ramping up a $200 Million refurbishment project into a $1Billion bridge expansion project.

However, bridge replacement and expansion is the hammer that TransLink has. Collecting tolls on the bridge is the force behind that hammer. So no surprise when the problem is an aging bridge, the solution is not fixing it. The solution is to imagine other problems that may be solved by expanding it and slapping on tolls.

Simply put: the Province will not pay $200 Million to upkeep the infrastructure it has, but will throw a bunch of money building other infrastructure with no plan for long-term maintenance costs.

Hardly a model of fiscal prudence in my book.

We interrupt this Public Affairs program… to bring you a Football Game!

With all due respect to Homer, this week’s televised coverage of the Council Working Session was pretty compelling. You can watch it here, by choosing the date (April 23) and selecting  “Regular Working Session of Council”

Most of it was spent talking about the upcoming Open Houses (May 3rd, have I mentioned those before?) on the Pattullo Bridge. It is interesting to hear Council work their way through the material, some of them clearly very up-to-date on the issues at hand, some not so much.

The Consultant does raise some interesting issues about the bridge itself (starting at around 23:00). He seems to spend a lot of time suggesting that the form of any replacement bridge is as important as the other aspects: as this is an iconic structure in the middle of a major urban Centre, do we want the simplest, cheapest, IKEA “Billy” bridge that is likely to result from a PPP? If the bridge is to be replaced, this is an opportunity to add to the value of our Community with a spectacular feature, perhaps one resulting from an international design competition. This is indeed an interesting idea, and one I have not heard used for major infrastructure projects sponsored by the Province. Unless people can play football under it.

But the Councillor’s differing ideas around the project are also interesting.

Starting at 30:00 Councillor Cote rightly suggests the one approach that few have discussed yet is the refurbishing of the existing bridge. This is the direction I am leaning right now ( he even mentions the similarities to the Lions Gate consultation process).

Starting at about 31:30, Councillor Puchmayr seems to be suggesting we are putting the cart ahead of the horse: why are we talking about the shape and form of the bridge, when we should be talking about the alleged need for a bridge? You don’t bring a puppy home to ask the family if they think the family should get a puppy – you make the choice before you go to the puppy mill to pick one up.

I am a little thick, but I think I finally get where Councillor Puchmayr has been going with his on-going diatribes about the lack of a connection between the new Port Mann and the SFPR. Up to now, I thought he was just pointing out an example of bad planning on the Provincial Government’s part (or shooting fish in barrels just for sport). I have now realized he seems to be suggesting that building that connection now might be a more cost-effective way to get trucks across the Fraser than re-furbishing the Pattullo. It couldn’t possibly be as expensive, and the truckers seem to think it’s a viable solution. I am liking this approach…

Starting at 34:30, Councillor McEvoy spares no love on TransLink and their “consultation” process. He is also clear that the City of New Westminster has not taken a strong position on Transportation Planning up to now, and with other communities making clear what their position is, the City needs to have their clear, sensible, and logical position prepared. (hopefully this is what comes out the MTP if we havea good turnout on May 3rd). 

Councillor Harper (@43:00) is also right to raise the central question about all of these options: the one question we are going to have to have a clear answer on before we make difficult choices around the bridge is the impact on our City of the different plans. I am especially glad to hear him suggesting the City may need to spend some money to do the traffic surveys and studies to get the hard numbers, and not rely on TransLink’s obviously-loaded numbers.

I think the block we needto watch out for here is that many people think the “Problem” that TransLink is trying to solve is traffic, and therefore the solution all involve moving lanes or bridges or onramps. However, TransLink’s Pattullo Bridge Consultation page is pretty clear: their “Problem” is an aging bridge, not traffic.

But that is the topic of another post.

Lions Gate Solution (?) – Part 2

In part one of this post, I talked about how Vancouver and the North Shore managed to come to the conclusion that the Lions Gate Bridge could be refurbished without a significant increase in traffic capacity. This may leave people wondering what the result of this decision was.

If you believe the rhetoric around the Pattullo Bridge project, the increase to 6 lanes is required just to manage the increased population and jobs growth we will be seeing in the upcoming decades. TransLink’s traffic models are clear: increased population equals more cars, you can’t argue with that. If we don’t build the lanes we will be choking off growth, and stifling the economy. The only alternative to more lanes is… uh… traffic chaos, I presume.

The alternative model (which, incidentally, has proven true in every single case in traffic planning history around the world, from SimCity to Los Angeles to lowly ol’ Vancouver) is that traffic will always expand to fill the space, and once the space is full, remain at the same level. There are two sure ways to change the amount of traffic: either reduce road capacity (which removes traffic) or increase road capacity (which increases it).

Lucky we have the Lions Gate as an example for the Pattullo experiment.

First off, it is important to note that the Lions Gate was not a truck route before and it isn’t a truck route now. It had deck strength issues at least as far back as 1974, when trucks were limited to 13Tonnes, and the 2.84-m wide lanes prior to refurbishment were not accommodating to trucks anyway. The new deck was built with the same 13T weight limit, so little changed in that regard. Obviously, it not being a truck route has had significant impact on the livability of downtown Vancouver, but it is pointless to speculate how growth would have proceeded differently if larger trucks were able to rumble through the Park. So in this case, the Pattullo and the Lions Gate are at best an apples and oranges comparison.

Traffic, however, offers much clearer similarities.

The Ministry of Transportation has been keeping traffic counts on the Pattullo bridge since at least 1989. The most important data is the average daily traffic count (“AADT”), as it is the most consistent tabulation of the number of cars on the bridge. Although most colloquial counts say “70,000 cars a day” cross the bridge, that has never been true. Here are the counts from MOT:

1989   65091          2000   64261
1990   64395          2001      n/d
1991   64140          2002      n/d
1992   64220          2003      n/d
1993   64472          2004   63369 
1994   65392          2005   62696
1995   64702          2006   62418
1996   64661          2007   62287
1997   65213          2008   61291
1998      n/d           2009   61480
1999   64295          2010   59880

If you want references, I got the 1989 to 1997 data here, the 1999 and 2000 data here, and the 2004 to 2010 data here. Unfortunately, there is no data for 1998, or for 2001-2003 that I can find.

If you graph this data (projecting through the data gaps) it looks like this:

click to zooooooom in

So, pretty clearly, traffic volumes on the Lions Gate Bridge have not increased since 1989, and has actually shown a slight decline from around 65,000 cars/day just before the bridge refurbishment to around 61,000 cars/day over the last couple of years (we should probably ignore the 2010 data, as that dip is presumably related to the Olympics, when driving downtown was largely restricted for several weeks).

At the same time, here is what happened to population over that time frame on both sides of the bridge:

                                    1991         1996         2001         2006
City of Vancouver     471,844   514,008    545,671    578,041
North Shore               154,204   163,855    169,322    171,236

Again, if you want references, I got the Vancouver data from here, and the North Shore data is a combination of numbers from West Vancouver, City of North Vancouver , and the District of North Vancouver.

So there has been a 22% increase in population on the Vancouver side (and a significant portion of that increase on the Downtown Peninsula), and an 11% increase in population in the North Shore communities.

Yet somehow, as if by magic, during the same period the car traffic on the Lions Gate has remained steady, or even decreased. Wanna bet that the MOT traffic projections from 1993 didn’t predict that?

Oh, and the numbers of jobs also increased, as did real estate values, numbers of businesses, average income, pretty much any economic indicator of a robust economy tells us both Vancouver and the North Shore communities are richer now than they were in 1996. Here are the job numbers just for Vancouver. If you can dig up any actual data that shows the Lions Gate Bridge decisions have hurt economic growth in Vancouver, you pass that on to me here, and I’ll post it.

The point being? In part 1 we see that Translink has given lip-service to the consultation process for the Pattullo. We have not had a chance to ask them about the reasoning for a bigger 6-lane bridge. They have simply dismissed the question saying their models prove we need a bigger bridge, because population is going up.

After looking back at the Lions Gate experience, I say (with all due respect) bullshit.

What makes the Pattullo situation in 2012 any different than the Lions Gate in 1993? Downtown Vancouver didn’t want more traffic then; Downtown New West doesn’t want it now. North Shore commuters wanted more bridge capacity (as long as it didn’t result in more traffic in their neighbourhoods); today, much of Surrey is saying the exact same thing. Impacts on Stanley Park were considered an important consideration; is Queens Park any less historic, or any less important to the people who live near it? The Government then didn’t have the money to expand the bridge; and TransLink doesn’t have the money to do so now.

Perhaps the difference is that in 1993, the government cared what people wanted. We need to make the government of today (or TransLink, whatever they are) understand what it is that we want. We need to stand up for New Westminster, for Bridgeview, and for the livability of our communities.

We need to tell TransLink “NO” to a 6-lane Pattullo.

By-election afterthoughts

The much-anticipated by-election in Chilliwack and Port Moody this week were meant to be a litmus test for the future of BC, with some even suggesting that Premier McSparkles’ job might be on the line based on the results. Looking back, it occurs to me that the Premier might be the biggest winner out of these races.

Yes, the NDP won both races: one the expected trouncing of both parties by Port Moody’s inexplicably popular former Mayor, the other the shocking win by a radical European-style Socialist in the most definitively non-socialist Chilliwack. The first win was expected, and it was with roughly the same percentage of the popular vote that white-bread incumbent Liberal Iain Black took last election. Nothing too shocking here. The win in Chilliwack–Hope was indeed a breakthrough for the party, but not the kind of breakthrough they needed. Early on in the results, it looked like the NDP was going to get 50%, a true majority of the votes. Instead, with only 41% of the vote, a plurality that will be easily written off as a result of vote splitting at the right.

For the Conservatives, finishing third in both ridings is nothing short of a disaster. Third in Port Moody is probably not surprising (it is a rapidly urbanizing community, lots of young families, and Grampa Cummings has little to offer that demographic). Third place in Chilliwack-Hope, which should be a conservative stronghold, is a sign that Gramps is not effectively reaching even his base. Had they won that riding, and finished second in Port Moody, they could be legitimately seen as the natural replacement for the BC Liberals. It might not have been long before three or more BC Liberal MLAs threatened to cross the floor (to get into the Blue Wave at the ground floor), bringing an end to the Liberal majority (they have 46 seats now, and need 43 for a majority) and changing the dynamic of election timing.

Instead, the BC Liberals managed to hold onto second in both ridings. More importantly, they can legitimately claim that vote splitting in Chilliwack cost them the seat, and they are the only party that can really keep the “free enterprise” (ugh) dream alive. read: with all their faults, they are still better than the Conservatives. Expect them to ramp up the “a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for Adrian Dix” narrative even more now, and watch it start to stick.

For the first time since she squeaked out her own by-election win, the Premier has reason to smile.

The Lions Gate Solution (?) – Part 1

The more I discuss the Pattullo issue with people, the more I find myself referring to the Lions Gate Bridge.

There are significant similarities. Both bridges were built in the mid 30’s; both connected an established (now Historic) part of the Lower Mainland to an expanding suburb, leading to the expansion of suburbs; both are immediately adjacent to historic parks; both are iconic structures that define the skyline of their region; both were supplanted from being the main crossing of their respective waterways in the early 1960s with the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway; and both have suffered from enough short-term thinking and neglect that their immediate replacement became a high priority.

So while we discuss the potential replacement of the Pattullo, it might be useful to look back at the history of the proposed replacement for the Lions Gate.

Just for context, this was back in the heady days of 1993-1994. The NDP formed government after an upstart right-of-centre party split off votes from a scandal-plagued government with a hapless place-keeper Premier, The Canucks lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs and riots ensued, and in the USA, a popular Democrat President was going into the re-election campaign after spending most of his first term cleaning up after the economic havoc the previous Republican administration had wrecked, partially through an unfunded war in Iraq. Times change.

I found an interesting source of info when researching the history of the Lions Gate, it is this Masters Thesis from the SFU Department of Geography, completed in 1998 (notably, more than a year before the actual bridge refurbishment project commenced). Doubly cool for me, as I was a student in Geography at SFU up to 1997, so I probably met this guy (it was pretty small department), although he was clearly on the “Human Geography” side, and I was over hanging with the dirt-and-rocks “Physical Geography” types.

The Thesis provides an excellently-referenced timeline (and time capsule) of the consultation process that went into the decision to refurbish the Lions Gate as opposed to replacing it, twinning it, or building a tunnel under Burrard Inlet. [NOTE: all quotes below are from this thesis].

The one remarkable part is how wide-reaching the consultation was. In contrast to the Pattullo “consultations” where New Westminster and Surrey were asked to comment on which colour of onramp we prefer,the Lion’s Gate discussion started in 1993 with a public call for proposals and ideas.

In 1993, the provincial government began its public consultation process. This involved informing the public about the project and gathering feedback at a number of stakeholder roundtables, open houses, debate sessions and a proponents’ showcase. The meetings began with presentations from technical experts about the possible routes and alternatives under consideration, followed by question periods. Panels made up of representatives from stakeholder groups and technical experts answered questions from the public. Interested people could also submit their opinions on paper at the meetings or by mail to the Lion’s Gate Bridge Public Information Center, which was located in Denman Place Mall until early in 1997. In total more than 1000 submissions were received.

Note, this was all before they had even chosen a shortlist of approaches to the problem posed by an aging bridge. There were no less than 21 alternatives seriously evaluated (including such things as replacing the bridge with a gondola, improving ferry service, and commuter train options). By 1994, these proposals have been whittled down through technical, stakeholder, and public review, to 8 options, ranging from just repairing the existing bridge to refurbishing the bridge, replacing it, twinning it, and no less than 3 different tunnel options. It seems the only thing missing was a serious discourse about the colours of the on-ramps.

By 1995, these options had been reduced to the 4 most favoured, some for technical reasons, some simply due to cost, and on the basis that the Province, the City, and the Park had agreed that any new replacement would be a 4-lane option. No more, no less.

Then things got political.

The four-lane-refurbish option was the clear favourite out of the consultation process. It was determined by the engineering team* that the bridge could be rehabilitated to carry the loads of 3, 4, or 6 lanes of traffic, with increasing cost for reinforcement as proposed loads went up. There was a significant public resistance to the idea of having a large increase in capacity, due to impacts on the park and neighbourhoods (at the time it was felt the traffic on the bridge was so “peaky” around rush hour that 4 lanes did not represent a significant increase in capacity over the existing three-lane-counterflow design).

However, for reasons that became obvious, the decision was not announced prior to the 1996 Election. That was the election that saw the Glen Clark NDP re-elected, at least partially due to what would become known as the “Fudge-it Budget”. Not long after the election, money got very tight, and the government’s appetite for spending was curtailed. The Government released the decision to pursue the 4-lane refurbish option in 1997, but due to financial constraints, floated the idea of using the new-fangled “Public-Private Partnership” model to finance it.

In a news release the Minister of Transportation and Highways, Lois Boone, stated she was seeking bids for a crossing that met the following conditions:

  • The new crossing is to follow the existing First Narrows alignment from Marine Drive in North Vancouver to Georgia Street in Vancouver;
  • Four fanes of traffic, two northbound and two southbound, but with surface traffic through Stanley ark reduced or eliminated;
  • No net detrimental effect on Stanley Park;
  • A plan to reduce traffic impacts on the West End;
  • The province will invest up to $70 million over five years, which is the same amount as would be spent on a three-lane rehabilitation;
  • Additional costs are to be financed from tolling revenues. (BCTFA 1997a)

This clearly shows the government’s commitment to improve the Lion’s Gate Bridge but not to pay for it.

In the end, the tolling option was not acceptable to the North Shore communities, so the PPP model fell apart. The Province finally tendered the work for $66 million in 1999, and with no PPP partner or tolls to pay for the structural upgrades required to build a 4-lane bridge, they instead took the more affordable option of the three wider lanes that could be afforded, and kept the counter-flow. Essentiually, those chose the second place finisher, based on costs alone.

However, this does not take away from the point that the entire evaluation process was transparent and involved extensive input from stakeholders and the public along the way. The communities at each end and stakeholders such as the Vancouver Parks Board and the Friends of Stanley Park had a real say in how the final design was achieved, the last-minute cheap-out by the Provincial Government notwithstanding. This is important: the last minute cheap-out was and acceptable option to the stakeholders, if not the preferred one to many.

How does this compare to the experience that New Westminster and Surrey have had at the TransLink consultation table for the Pattullo Bridge?

*Reference:Lion’s gate crossing : bridge rehabilitation options report  by Bridge Expert Panel. [Victoria] : Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Transportation and Highways, Bridge Engineering Branch, 1994 1 v. (various pagings) : col. ill.  

A study in contrasts

I’m not even sure what to say about this.

Quote 1, April 3, 2012

Mike Proudfoot, CEO of the province’s Transportation Investment Corp., said modeling shows the Port Mann tolls will not cause any significant net diversion of traffic to untolled bridges, because other drivers now using those routes will switch to Highway 1 and pay tolls to take advantage of travel time savings.

Quote 2, April 18, 2012:

Commercial truck safety crews are confident they can handle the increased traffic along roads in New Westminster once tolls kick in on the Port Mann Bridge.

Why am I not filled with confidence by either of those stories?

Be at one of the May 3rd Master Transportation Plan open houses, unless you are completely confident that there will be no increase in traffic, and that those non-increases are going to be absolutely no problem at all.

Here is the quote you need to remember from that link:

“The City is also seeking community input on the proposed replacement of the Pattullo Bridge.”

The Stormont Solution

I try not to be a hater. When people come to me with interesting ideas, I do my best to hear them out, even do my best to build on their ideas. I poke holes, but I also try to imagine the best patches for those holes.

Example: People have speculated about the future of the existing Pattullo once Pattullo 2.0 is built. Some have suggested an elevated linear park with pedestrian/cycling path, a la the Highline. To me, it seems questionable that TransLink or anyone else is going to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars TransLink says will be required to keep the bridge standing (this is a fundamental part of their argument for its replacement) just to make a small park in the sky. Look at the conniptions that ensued, and still ensue among a few, over a much less expensive park right next door. However, maybe a lot of that money can be saved with the partial removal of the old bridge: knock down the long approach section from Surrey and replace it with a much more modest pedestrian access, and maintenance costs go down. Stick a few revenue-generators on it (restaurant with a great view? zip lines each way? Would the Navigable Waters folks allow a bungee jump?) and maybe we have something to work with…

All this said, I can’t get on side with the idea that building the Stormont Connector is some sort of solution to New Westminster’s through-traffic problems. The gaping holes in that idea are ones I just can’t patch.

For those who don’t know, the Stormont is a mythical road connection through Burnaby, originally designed to connect the north end of McBride, and extend northwards through residential Burnaby neighborhoods, swooping east through forested parks, and connect to Highway 1 at the Gaglardi Way interchange (which was originally designed in the 60’s to accommodate this connection).

Background stolen without compensation from Google Maps. Lines and words all mine.

My first concern here is that we are purporting to solve New Westminster’s traffic problems by ploughing through 2.5km of Burnaby neighbourhoods and parks. Not very neighbourly. The City of Burnaby owns a significant number of the houses that would be removed or have their front yards severely impacted by the project (for example, they own most of the houses on the East side of Newcombe, but none of the ones on the west side, according the BC Online Cadastre). However, this does nothing for the hundreds of people who live in the adjacent houses, or on the small residential streets that will be bisected by a throughfare. Nor does it do anything for the green space which is valuable ecological habitat between Highway 1 and Burnaby neighbourhoods. Really, the Stormont is a NIMBY solution.

Back in our own backyard, do we really want to bring more cars onto McBride, next to Queens Park? For the current situation on McBride to be “improved” by the Stormont, we will need to get rid of the intersections, build elevated overpasses, and/or expand the number of lanes. What is already a congested, dangerous barrier through the middle of our City would get worse, not better. Or are we somehow imagining that connecting it directly to the newly-expanded 8-lane Highway 1 will reduce the number of cars and trucks on it?

When these issues are raised in a discussion of the Stormont, the usual response is to build it as a cut-and-cover tunnelled highway. Look at that drawing up above. We are talking at least 4 km of dug trench through urbanized areas. The trench will need to be at least three times the width of the Canada Line tunnel on Cambie, as instead of two narrow railway lines with a foot or two of clearance, it will be 4 or 6 wide road lanes, with appropriate safety buffer space on both sides. Costs and comlications of cut-and-cover increase dramatically with width. Because it is gas-burning cars and trucks (not electric transit trains) there will need to be significant air management issues, and with drivers, significant emergency and escape infrastructure. We will need to build underground interchanges at significant intersections (choose any three, engineering challenges abound). There are also, like Cambie Street, 100 years of municipal infrastructure under and on the ground along that 4-km route. Digging a hole in a City is really, really complicated process, for any of a hundred reasons. This would represent, by a very long margin, the longest road tunnel ever built in Canada, and likely the most complicated road-building project ever attemped in Canada.

I’m not saying these things cannot be done. Engineers do amazing things, I am confident is can be done. For a cost. I have talked to transportation engineers about this idea, and they are generally completely unfazed by the challenges listed above. One said to me “Sure, we can build it, got $4 Billion? The rest we will get with the tolls.” Who is lining up to spend Billions of dollars to connect 5km of road through New West and Burnaby?

Then there is also the significant issue of not allowing placarded trucks in tunnels. Dangerous Goods cannot be carried in the Massey Tunnel, or even the Cassiar (which seems less like a tunnel, but is actually longer than the Massey!) If the Pattullo is going to be a primary Goods Movement Route, tunnels of any size of shape are not likely to be part of any solution.

Back to the problem at hand, which is the proposed replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and the impact on New Westminster traffic. During the TransLink Open Houses, they made it very clear that the Pattullo is predominantly a “locals bridge”. According to the presentation on February 21st, the vast majority of traffic using the bridge starts or stops in Surrey on the South, and New Westminster or Burnaby on the North. The Pattullo is not as much of a regional through-route as we think (although the project with expansion, it will become more of one). The Stormont, however, is a regional through-route solution. By facilitating the use of the bridge as a through-route, are we not just attracting more traffic that is not coming today? So how much bigger will we need to make this tunnel to accommodate them?

However, most of all, this scheme is a product of the idea that we can build our way out of traffic congestion. If we just build two more lanes, that will solve our traffic problems. A few less traffic lights will finally get things moving. More roads equals the end of traffic. The only problem being that this has never worked in the history of roadbuilding. If anyone can provide an example of how road expansion has been anything other than a short-term patch on traffic issues, I would love to read the case study. I’m always open to revolutionary ideas like that.

Fixing traffic by building roads is like fixing obesity by buying bigger pants, and the Stormont is a really expensive pair of pants.

So when we are talking Pattullo in the coming months, with the Open Houses coming up at the Century House and the Justice Institute on May 3rd, and someone suggests to you that we need to build Stormont to solve our problems, start asking questions: How? By Whom? At What Cost? How does that help?

Where did all the money go?

This is, of course, a rhetorical question, but one that comes honestly from from the large amount of rhetoric I hear.

This week we have heard the fallout from the Transit Commissioner audit of TransLink funding, used as support for refusing a fare increase to TransLink (wow, Stephen Rees cuts through that one like a laser here). TransLink says this is going to put the stops to any hope of improving or expanding service (not specifically true, as the modest fare increase would have only served to maintain service at current levels), while the tawlk radio pundits (including several members of the Mayor’s Council) are saying it is time for a re-think of the entire TransLink structure and system. All of them agree on one thing: There is no more money.

Then look at the headlines around the ongoing Teachers labour dispute. The Provincial Government has told teachers that the single largest component of their working conditions (class size) cannot be negotiated, because they have to control costs. Then they insist there will also be no negotiation on their wages. “Net Zero” they call it, the mandate for all public services. They went into “negotiations” with the teachers with a single message: There is no more money.

Our hospitals are overcrowded, Tim Horton’s being used for stockpiling emergency room patients, inadequate numbers of anaesthesiologists, and I can’t find a damn GP to take me on as a patient. We are contracting our our fundamental record keeping to foreign multi-nationals, and we can’t keep killer infections out of our aging hospital fleet. Whenever concerns about the fate of our healthcare system are raised to the senior governments, the answer is really simple: there is no more money

Apparently I will not be entitled to the same retirement income as my parents, or even my big brother, even though I have been employed and have paid into the system since I was neigh 16 years old. The Prime Minster made it perfectly clear, his Calgary School chums and the Fraser Institute projected out demographically to 2035, and guess what? There is no more Money.

The public broadcaster is cutting programs that tell us about the rest of the world, and about our own neighbourhoods. People who provide vital weather and other information in our vast North are being cut back, rationalized, shut down. People who protect our fisheries habitat, who inspect the safety of our food, and test our drinking water for dangerous substances are being laid off. Veterans who have fought in an ill-informed foreign war, only because we asked them to, are losing access to veterans services. People are living on the street and all three levels of government are pointing at each other and saying the same thing in unison: There is no more money.

Here I sit in Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 2012. Apartments are selling out before they are built, at north of $1000 per square foot. The Canucks are entering their second decade of sold-out shows at $200 a seat. Ferraris and Lamborghinis are being driven by 16-year old street racers, and new BMWs are so thick on the streets they almost block the views from the $70,000 Deluxe Pick-up Trucks that burn a transit pass worth of gas travelling 15km. my office overlooks a mall parking lot, always full. People line up to purchase obscenely expensive speak-and-say toys every time Apple decides to change screen colours. The shelves at Safeway are packed with $9/pound organic guavas from antipodal farms, and we have to truck in boatloads of Guatemalans to serve us shitty coffee, because it just isn’t worth any Canadian’s time to do that work anymore. We spend a half Billion dollars to keep rain off of a couple of dozen football players, and now want to spend another $20+ Billion (no one apparently really knows how much) to destroy the air defenses of countries we haven’t even chosen yet… Everywhere I look, I see money. Embarrassing amounts of Money.

It seems we have more money for everything than we had 30 years ago, when my parents were raising me and my three siblings. My dad had a solid career job as a civil engineer, and could pay the mortgage and feed the family, and even took us on a couple of vacations. He didn’t have a BMW, but did drive a funky Dodge. We listened to CBC radio news and original broadcasting, watched Hockey and the Beachcombers and Sesame Street on CBC TV. My best friend’s dad was a teacher and his mom a nurse, and they had a decent home, three kids, and the mother of all station wagons. I don’t remember us accusing them of sucking off the public purse. My schools were decent, the hospital we lived next to had 24-hour emergency (it is closed now, and Castlegarians who have an accident have at least a 30-minute ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room). Was that an imaginary, nostalgic world I am remembering through rose-colored glasses?

Since then, the population has grown, the number of jobs has increased, the GDP has gone up. We sell more, do more and buy more now. We make more money every year than ever before: inflation adjusted, per capita, no matter how you measure it. We are a rich country, one of the richest in the world, and richer than we have ever been in history. Yet the essential services we rely on, the roads, the schools, the police, the hospitals, the low-income housing, the public broadcaster, are continually under threat from reduced funding.

The reason is always the same: There is no more money.

So where is all the money? Where the hell did it go?

Long winded weekend.

It was a long, long weekend. Mostly because people at the curling rink, the River Market and the pub were badgering me about this profile in the Record.

It is hard to talk about yourself and not sound like a narcissistic blowhard, especially when you are a self-aggrandizing blowhard like me, but I think it turned out pretty well. I figured if people wanted to hear me complain, they would come to this blog, so I tried to emphasise the positive in that interview. And as cheesy as it may seem, I really do like this City, for a lot of good reasons.

For example, a few people complain about missing crosswalks at a busy intersection, and guess what happens. A few days later, someone was out there with some white spraybombs putting some white lines down. It wasn’t fancy, but it worked! I’m not even sure if it was someone from the City or just some random community rabble, I kind of hope it was the latter, even though it makes me feel bad for whining about the problem on the internet and not going out there and doing it myself…

Then, on Monday, the City was out there in earnest, putting real reflective crosswalk paint down. They didn’t do a fancy job, but a temporary fix was all we needed, just to keep the crossing outside of a popular pub safe during the Canucks Playoffs, and until the final pavement cap can be put down on 6th. Thanks Guys!

True to the profile in the Record, I spent the weekend doing three things: Curling at the DonSpiel, Rabble-rousing, and working on my garden.

The DonSpiel is the season-wrapping fun tournament at the Royal City Curling Club. This is a bonspiel devilishly designed by long-suffering Royal City club member (and 2012 Mens League Champion Skip!) Don Smith, to squeeze the last bit of fun out of the season. The format brings novice and experienced curlers together and emphasises the off-ice-capades as much as the curling. It is a legendary good time… Oh did I laugh.

The Rabble-rousing part of my weekend was the glorious sunny Saturday I spent at the Royal City Farmers Market outside of the River Market at the Quay, catching the first tender sunburn of the season while talking to people about the Master Transportation Plan and the Pattullo Bridge consultations with some of the New Westminster Environmental Partners.

We were mostly handing out these:

Because that is our message right now: Show Up and Be Heard.

Based on some conversations we have had with people in the know, the Pattullo Bridge thing is coming on fast. The City is looking to the MTP process to get the voice of the people of New Westminster to take to TransLink, but TransLink has made their intent clear: They want to build a 6-lane bridge, increasing the daily traffic load entering New Westminster from Surrey be 50%, and doubling the truck traffic, with little regard for how that will impact Royal Avenue, McBride, or your neighbourhood.

The consultation has not presented the business case for or against the myriad of other options, nor has it even taken a cursory interest in the transportation plans, policies, or vision of New Westminster. Anything other that the single plan they have presented is not being considered. There are many in the City who suggest this is not true to the nature of “consultation”. Some of these groups are getting organized.

The Meetings on May 3rd will give the people of New Westminster a real opportunity to be heard on this issue, and the City needs as many people as possible to show up. Even if you think all of my opinions on the bridge are those of a crackpot, or the opinions of the NWEP are complete bunk, you still need to come to one of the City’s Open Houses. This is, most likely, your one and only chance to be heard before TransLink charges ahead.

Save the date. More to come.