The Chamber and Council respond…

A couple of developments have occurred since last week’s “dialogue” on the Pattullo Bridge that I found so unsatisfying.

The President of the New West Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Hopkins, provided an on-line message that sort of clarifies the Chamber’s position in these discussions. I say “sort of” because the Chamber doesn’t really take a strong stand on the future of the Pattullo (unlike the Surrey Board of Trade), but instead acknowledges that there are differing opinions and that the Chamber has some work to do, gathering information and arriving at a position that fairly represents their members.

This is both a reasonable and appropriate response, and I applaud the Chamber for taking the cautious approach, appropriate for a project of such magnitude. Again, the model here should be, as Jim Lowrie has pointed out at the recent meetings, “Debate then Decide”, not the other way around.

As such, we can re-characterise last Thursday’s meeting as the New West Chamber hearing one side of the story- that of the Surrey and Lower Mainland Boards of Trade.

I wouldn’t be NWimby if I didn’t also point out in irritating detail the concerns I have in the release by Mr. Hopkins. My criticisms of the Chamber Dialogue last week stand: it sort of failed as a forum to share differing ideas, there were no “varying perspectives” presented. It was instead the Surrey Board of Trade, City of Surrey, and TransLink telling New West what was good for Surrey, without even acknowledging what might be good or bad for New West. I hope the Chamber will seek out and give fair audience to the other sides of this discussion before coming to any conclusions on the Pattullo.

Anyone who sat through 2+ hours of Elizabeth Fry-related delegations at New West Council last night also heard Council pass a resolution (moved by Councillor Puchmayr) asking that New Westminster businesses be consulted by the City regarding the Pattullo. To hear Puchmayr call some of the comments by the Surrey Board of Trade “shocking” was promising. In fact, many of the points I raised last week also came to the fore in this week’s Council meeting, with our Council raising concerns about why Surrey’s business community seems to be setting policy for the City of New Westminster.

I feel much better just hearing that our Council was just as concerned as I was coming out of that meeting. Which brings me to the thesis of what was discussed at the Chamber Dialogue, summarized effectively as the final paragraph of Mr. Hopkins’ note from the Chamber:

Traffic is increasing and there are more and more buses, trucks and cars on the roads. The cost of congestion for the region’s economy is estimated at $1.3 billion annually. We must address our transportation infrastructure today for the sake of our tomorrow.

I can take this line by line:

“Traffic is increasing” is not a stand-alone phenomenon: it is not an unavoidable force of nature like the tide, nor is it the inevitable result of increasing population and economic growth. It is one possible result of the decisions we make today, and not necessarily the best one. The only way it is inevitable is if we believe it is inevitable, and attempt to build our way out of it. We don’t have to look very far to find examples of this.

Between 1991 (the first census after opening of the full SkyTrain system) and 2006 (the most recent census for which data is fully available), the City of Vancouver grew in population by 22%, and increased the number of jobs by 18%. Over the same period, the number of automobiles entering the City every day went down by almost 11%. Why? Largely because Vancouver resisted the urge to build freeways into the core of the City, starting with the East Van Freeway being cancelled in the 1960s, and continuing with the refusal to increase the lane count on the Lions Gate Bridge a decade ago. Yet Vancouver still has more than twice the number of jobs of Surrey. Economic and population growth without automobile growth is not just possible, it is demonstrable.

“there are more busses, trucks, and cars on the roads” This is verbatim the way the Board of Trade talked about traffic on the Pattullo, but the order those parts of the traffic system are mentioned belies the reality of the situation. According to TransLink, there are 3,500 trucks a day crossing the Pattullo, and exactly 11 busses a day that cross the bridge (all operating at night, well out of peak congestion times). Compare this to 56,800+ cars. So let’s stop kidding ourselves: busses are not the problem here, when we are talking about congestion, we are talking about 94% of vehicles on the bridge that are neither trucks nor busses.

”The cost of congestion for the region’s economy is estimated at $1.3 billion annually” This is a number that is repeatedly dragged out by Gateway Program proponents to justify the spending of tens of billions of taxpayer’s dollars to build freeways. No-one ever cites a source for this very large number, it is just part of the numeric folklore of British Columbia politics. You can find it, without citation, here, here and here.

Coincidently, this is the same amount of “money” that congestion annually costs the state of Colorado, the cities of Moscow and Melbourne, and the amount that Chicago could “save” just be reducing congestion by 10%. But where does this number come from in BC?

Best I can tell from my extensive research Googling is this report by Delcan, completed in 2003. The “$1.3 Billion” number seems to be based on a growth projection to 2021, based on conditions in 2002, and estimates of anticipated “congestion” on the roads, in the rail system, and at the ports resulting from that projects growth. The report sees the replacement of the New Westminster Rail Bridge as the biggest regional congestion issue.

Interesting to note this report was written long before the Port Mann 2 and Highway 1 expansion, before the Golden Ears Bridge and the South Fraser Perimeter Road and Pitt River Bridge doubling (all told, $6 Billion in road expansion since this report). There is also major Port expansion at Vancouver and Delta on line right now. Yet the rail bridge pinch point of so much importance is not yet addressed.

The $1.3 Billion number is a vestige of roadbuilders’ dreams from a decade ago. To use this report to justify expanding the Pattullo Bridge is simply dishonest. One thing we know for sure is that the Pattullo Bridge is not currently costing anyone $1.3 Billion a year.

Oh, and interesting aside from that report. In 2002, the best option for the Pattullo going forward was apparently a combined road and rail tunnel connecting McBride to the South Fraser Perimeter Road under the Fraser River, proposed to be funded in whole by the Feds for $1 Billion. Guess that option is off the table now…

“We must address our transportation infrastructure today for the sake of our tomorrow” Yeah, that sounds kinda right. Except that I would rather say we need to build the transportation infrastructure for tomorrow, instead of building the transportation infrastructure of yesterday.

One comment on “The Chamber and Council respond…

  1. The only possible outcome of a wider freeway project is that in the future our transport consultancy friends will be announcing even greater losses due to congestion… since there will be more people on the wider congested roads.

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