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.

7 comments on “Lions Gate Solution (?) – Part 2

  1. I was on the study team that produced the 2008 Trip Diary Survey for TransLink:

    We (Halcrow and Mustel) went through a ton of analysis because of results that showed very little total increase in travel (and a decline in per capita terms) between 2004 (the last diary study) and 2008. These results came as a big surprise (to us and to TransLink). To their credit, TransLink got us to do all kinds of research and re-checking to sort this out, but in reviewing all sorts of trends (including bridge and screenline counts from across the Lower Mainland) in order to figure out whether our methodology tanked or if the results were legit, all kinds of outside data seemed to confirm that we no longer live in a world of ever-increasing travel demand.

    So with respect to your Lions’ Gate numbers, it’s not just that bridge, it’s nearly all of them. In fact, the trip rate (number of trips per person per weekday) went from 3.23 in 2004 to 2.69 in 2008. See page 104 onwards for more in this vein.

    So by all means, point to this work and ask ‘why six lanes’? It’s really frustrating that amidst all the chaos at TransLink, and the struggle to get projects like Evergreen or Broadway/UBC to become realities, things like a six lane Patullo just seem to carry on unchallenged…

  2. Wow, thanks DB, that is a pretty good resource. I will look through. Hopefully you can make it on May 3rd to the City’s open house, we need some people who actually understand transportation trends at the Open Houses.

  3. Is it possible for New West to simply refuse road expansion within the municipality?

    I imagine something like that single-lane bridge at the end of United, and Coquitlam’s unneighbourly attempt at driving a four lane expansion through it.

  4. Good question, danly. In my understanding, TransLink’s jurisdiction is slightly different for a major crossing than it is for a “Road Improvement” like the United Boulevard Extension. However, on the actual surface streets, The City can do whatever it wants (traffic lights, speed bumps, etc). The “Major Road Network” is TransLink and City jurisdiction, so changes on that require some agreement between the two parties.

    These are good questions to take the May 3rd Open Houses, as City staff and Officials will be there.

  5. Increasing capacity on the bridge isn’t going to increase the road capacity leading up to the bridge. What it will do is remove the choke point so that future traffic isn’t going to pile up at the bridgeheads. Maybe traffic volumes will never *require* 6 lanes… but look at most other major Fraser crossings in the region: George Massey, Alex Fraser, the old Port Mann, Knight st., Oak st… they all experience major congestion throughout the day at the bridge ends going *both ways*. Once on the roads on either end traffic flows fine, so current road capacity is definitely ample… but the bridges themselves are underbuilt, given the demand and given the number of major road connections on either end (often two or three major 2-3 lanes arterials squeezing onto 2-lane bridges…).. and it’d be tough to argue that it’s the *roads* instead that are currently overbuilt…

    In New West the new Patullo would connect to three major roads: Royal for traffic from the west (assuming Front st. will eventually be downgraded), McBride from the north, and Columbia from the East); and on the other side, King George, Scott Road and the SFPR. Thus, three lanes each way. Widening bridges is not at all the same as widening roads. Traffic expands to fill new *road* space (as you mentioned, plenty of examples of that) – and hopefully none of the New West roads will ever be expanded. But holding road space constant while expanding the *bridge* simply removes the choke point, which is good for everyone (have any contrary examples, where expanding just the bridge creates more congestion? doubt it…). *Maybe* New West could get by fine with only two lanes forever, but with our history of underbuilding/underestimating bridge capacities in the region, why continue that trend? If a new bridge is built, build it right – give it all the (reasonable) capacity it will ever need (ditto rapid transit expansions!).

    Consider too that with a solid connection from East Columbia to the SFPR (where I expect much of that extra 50% would come from), you’ll be taking trucks off of Front St. and putting them on the SFPR (and Brunette) instead, making a NFPR build-out of Front St. even less likely.

    As far as the Lion’s Gate goes, I think the differences are much greater than you make them out to be… let’s get some good numbers on cost of refurbishing vs four-lane vs six-lane for the Patullo – and compare them to refurbish vs retrofit to 4-lanes vs rebuild 4-6 lanes vs Tunnel for the Lion’s Gate – I think the relative differences will look very different. And Queen’s Park will not be touched at all; McBride, Columbia, Royal will not be expanded; vs cutting one or more three-km-long lanes out of the heart of Stanley Park, maybe even a complete reroute to a new bridgehead if it were replaced… In reality I think that a tunnel was the only real option for increasing capacity along the Lion’s Gate route; whereas six-laning vs four-laning a new bridge is a matter of, well, how much exactly? And what of the congestion/future expansion costs if it turns out TransLink is right about increased traffic demands? As I said, previous experience with Fraser crossings suggests we are consistently underbuilding…

  6. “And what of the congestion/future expansion costs if it turns out TransLink is right about increased traffic demands?”

    Lets be clear about who is pushing for more and wider roads and bridges, it is only TransLink’s road building division. Most TransLink planners and engineers have a very good understanding of the evidence around induced traffic.

    You might as well ask “And what if cigarettes don’t cause cancer, and turn out to be good for you?”

  7. GD: re: Capacity. Increasing the size of the bridge will not remove a choke point, it will only put greater load on the next choke points up the road. McBride at 10th, 10th at Canada Way, Royal at Stewardson, Stewardson at 20th, Columbia at Brunette, Brunette at Braid… the road capacity will never be “ample” and the bridgeheads are not the only problem.

    re: Lions Gate comparison. Yes, let’s do some real analysis of the options, and have a real conversations about the costs and benefits of refurbishment, replacement, expansion, or even decommission of the Pattullo. The point is that, up to here, TransLink has not had that conversation. They have decided a 6-lane toll bridge is the way to go, and damn the impacts on New West.

    Thanks for the comments, hope you bring them May 3rdto the open house.

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