Westminster Pier Park – Open at last

a very belated post on the Grand Opening of the Pier Park

Yep, we got rained on, but we still had a great time.

And really, it was apropos. No matter how much you plan, no matter how much contingency you build in to any project – be it a major brownfield remediation and construction project or a grand opening party – you cannot control all variables, sometimes you need to make your best plans, and be prepared to make lemonade if lemons arrive.
I have talked at length about the Pier Park, and have offered lots of semi-informed opinions about how the remediation for the project progressed; most, unfortunately, in response to even-less-informed discussion in the local media about what a brownfield remediation is.

Even I was surprised to learn about some of the challenges faced by the environmental engineers working on the site. Back in late April, I was able to tour the not-yet-completed site with some of those engineers as tour guides, as part of a tour organized by the Environmental Managers Association of BC.

Environmental Professionals at work. Don’t try this at home, kids.

We all know the New Westminster waterfront is historic, and has a rich industrial and commercial history, gong back further than pretty much anywhere else in BC. For heritage buffs or park programming planners, that is great. For engineers trying to clean up an abandoned contaminated site, that sounds like a whole pile of headaches, wrapped in pitfalls, and dipped in a deep pool of budget-straining hassles.

A couple of interesting stories about the New West waterfront especially stood out in my mind, and gave me headaches of empathy. Most have to do with the challenge of how people used to use the waterfront in the days when diesel was sold for five cents a gallon (think about it, how careful would you be spilling something that costs less than tap water?)

We all know the story of New Westminster’s great fire of 1898. Not many of us know that at the time of the great fire, the waterfront was somewhere just north of the current Front Street. The rest of the land between there and the river is mixed landfill material, and the first layer was the bulldozed debris of the great fire. Pushing twisted metal and scorched wood debris into the river seemed to make sense at the time.

Of course, society went through a pretty libertarian phase with the industrial revolution and the development of the colonies, and we never imagined we could cause harm to something as big as the environment. The river, although it was the source of much of our water and food, was also seen as a great place to let nature take away our trash. (“The ocean is the planet’s liver”, a good buddy of mine says, explaining why he won’t eat seafood). A good example of this is the piles of metal turnings found under the old pier.

Apparently, there was once a machine shop on the pier, and machine shops turn out a lot of metal shavings (back before it was cost-efficient to recycle them), most of them immersed in cutting fluids. At the time, it made perfect sense to cut a hole in the floor of the pier and let those shavings fall into the river. Until they accumulated up to the level of the pier. Then you cover the hole and cut another one a few meters over (well, back then, a few yards or furlongs or cubits over, I suppose), and start again.

In 2012, those piles of metals shavings immersed in hydrocarbons are called “contamination”, up to the point where they could be considered hazardous waste. Just removing them from the river sediments is a technical challenge, as you must first stabilize them or isolate them, so they do not spread around in the river sediments as you are cleaning them up, all the while working in water with a 3 knot current, and avoiding fisheries windows so your work does not impact migrating salmon.

The Cities where I have seen Wilco Play: Champaign, Illinois; Las Vegas, Nevada;
Vancouver, BC; and (this upcoming September) San Franciso, California.
Love me some Wilco.

Ten there is the infamous “Toxic Blob”. This is a small plume of chlorinated solvents (essentially drycleaning fluid and related compounds) that was discovered at depth along one edge of the property. The source of the contamination was not on the Park property, but some of it was migrating with groundwater under the property, and in order for the Park to receive a clean bill of environmental health (called a “certificate of compliance”) from the Ministry of Environment, that blob had to be stopped. Problem being it was 22m below the surface, and those cleaning up the park had no access to the source area, as it wasn’t on the Park land.

The only practical option available is to install a barrier wall to stop the flow, but how do you install a waterproof wall 22m below the surface while trains are rolling by a few meters over on one side, and piles are being driven for soil stabilization a few meters to the other side? Digging up the ground to that depth would require some serious shoring up the rails to hold laden trains up, stopping nearby soil stabilization work, and pumping out a whole lot of groundwater. The first creates a lot of risk, the second puts the rest of the pier park project off schedule and threatens the tight deadline required to get under the federal funding window, the third requires you do something with all that potentially-contaminated groundwater without violating the fisheries act or waste management act. Digging was not an option.

Sub-surface walls can be built without digging by driving sheet piles. this is just like driving regular piles, but with interlocking sheets of thick steel plate: Horribly expensive interlocking sheets of steel plate when they are 25m long. This is also a time-consuming process, and with all of that unknown fill material down below, not guaranteed to be feasible. Sheet pile is often like the unstoppable force vs. the impenetrable surface problem.

Sheet piles used for shoring in another location on the Fraser River

A better solution was found in an innovative approach involving jet grout. Essentially, they drilled a line of holes, and put a device down each hole that shot concrete grout out the sides of borehole. Given enough holes and a powerful enough jet to bridge the gap between holes, an entire impermeable concrete/grout wall can be injected. There were still some significant technical challenges with assuring the holes remained aligned all the way down (drill holes tend to deviate over 22m!) which were solved using an innovative down-hole GPS system. Inject the wall, install a couple of monitoring wells to make sure the groundwater (and chlorinated solvents) are not leaking through, and Bobs Yer Uncle. Best part was that it could be done while the rest of the work on the Park was being completed.

That is the most remarkable part of this project, actually. Besides the technical challenges, it was simply not possible to do it in the “normal” Brownfields way. That would be: investigate first, complete remediation, then plan and construct above the cleaned-up site. Because the Federal portion of the money came with a tight deadline to completion, there was simply no time to wait for the preliminary and remediation work to be done before the soil stabilization and deck refurbishment work had to start. So the remediation work was ongoing during pile driving and pier construction: Two or three teams working independently on the same site. To use a sports analogy, it would be like having a baseball game and a football game happening simultaneously on the same field, while someone is mowing the grass: An organizational nightmare.

And how much work? According the (publically available) remediation reports, 6,500 tonnes of contaminated soils and 3,000 tonnes of contaminated sediments were removed from the site. At least 100 tonnes of that was contaminated enough to be considered “hazardous waste”, requiring special handling and disposal measures.
I cannot count the number of times on the April tour when the tour group, comprised of professional peers of the project management team, cursed under their breath or shook their heads slowly side-to-side, expressing amazement about the complexity of this project.
Suited up and suitably impresssed Environmental Professionals.
There is a reason this project won awards from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Urban Institute. It is not the great amenities above the deck, it is more about the remediation challenges, the engineering efforts and the project management success story under the deck: the part you will never see, and the part that made what seems a simple park project cost $25 Million to construct. Of course, it was those challenges that made the $16 Million from senior governments available for the project, yet it was the tough conditions set by the senior government agencies and the tight deadline attached to that funding that made it so challenging. Tom Waits: The large print giveth, the small print taketh away.
That is a part many of the park critics failed to acknowledge when talking about the Park: this was a horribly contaminated site; an industrial wasteland abandoned many years ago by the (mostly) private enterprises who contaminated it. Money invested to build this amenity was contributed by all three levels of government, and was spent to clean it up, so the contamination would no longer pose a threat the human health or the environment. It wasn’t free, but it was a good idea, and worth doing. Where there was toxic groundwater, soil, and sediments, there is now a cleaned-up site, and a beautiful public amenity.
It was a bold project, and the results are spectacular. Judging by the crowds I have seen at the park over the last two weeks, I have to say a lot of people agree with the results, even if they will never know about all the work that took place below their feet to make it happen.

Even the Grand Opening was well attended and cheery – despite the pouring rain.

The Air Care Landmine

I work in Richmond, but do most of my actual living in New Westminster, so I am reluctant to get too involved in the politics on the downstream end of Lulu Island.

However, when I read a recent Editorial Piece in the Richmond Review (sister paper to our own NewsLeader and the Peace Arch News, where there is a electronic version available), I had to react. I wrote a longer piece on AirCare way back when the current public relations campaign to get rid of it started up, as part of a longer rant about the myopic old-school viewpoint of one Harvey Enchin.

Long and short, AirCare is a successful program that is cost-effective and will be until at least 2020. The only argument against it is that it is inconvenient – in that once every two years, less than 50% of drivers have to take 15 minutes out of their day and pay $45 to demonstrate that their car has an operating emissions control system. Boo freaking hoo.

So here was my response letter to the Richmond Review Editor.

I recognize the Editorial section is where opinions are expressed, but isn’t journalistic opinion supposed to rest on a foundation of fact?

In your editorial, you make statements that sound like fact, such as “Air Care hasn’t really been necessary for some time” or “There simply aren’t enough older vehicles on the road to make the expensive and bureaucratic program necessary”, or “random enforcement is best”, but indicate what these opinions are based upon. As a multi-agency program review of AirCare completed less than two years ago concluded the system was effective, efficient, and would continue to provide measureable air-quality benefits to the region until at least 2020, it seems the facts available are the opposite of your assertions.

When you characterise AirCare as “nothing more than a cash-grab from the government”, it is at odds with the fact AirCare is self-supporting, uses no tax dollars to operate, and transfers no money to its lead agency (TransLink). Compare that to the “random enforcement” strategy you propose, which will require taxpayer-funded officers to issue tickets, enforceable through the taxpayer-funded courts, to collect fines that will go to General Revenue.

Cancelling AirCare is a bad decision based not on good policy, but election-time pandering, because protecting our airshed is “inconvenient” to a portion of the population. I am, of course, editorializing; but I would love to see some facts to change my mind.

The fact that AirCare will not be cancelled until 2014, and that the proposed commercial vehicle “replacement program” has not been described in any detail suggest to me this is, in fact, a landmine being dropped by the BC Liberals. It has a bit of curb appeal, might get them a few votes, but in reality, it just puts the winner of the next election in a difficult situation. They will need to dismantle the system (which will be costly, and result in worsening air quality) or try to keep it running against public outcry (because the current government has poisoned the well, despite AirCare being good policy). This is, in many ways, no different than the recently announced limit to BC Hydro rate increases that bypassed the Utilities Commission.

What other landmines lie in waiting before we get to May, 2013?

Notes on a Rally (updated)

Even with hindsight, it couldn’t have gone better.

As Karla, one of the organizers, said to me the night before, “I feel like I’ve planned a party but don’t know if anyone is going to arrive.” That’s the nervous feeling we all had the night before. A Rally of only 10 people would have hurt.

I am glad to report the crowd that showed up was larger than I expected. If we had known, we might have made a few more signs. Lucky, many people rolled their own. 

It was also great to see a lot of unfamiliar faces, not just the regular dozen or two rabble types who show up for every transportation event in New Westminster. This is an issue that brings the breadth of opinion in New Westminster together: evidenced by the Board of Education and the District Parents Advisory Council speaking with a unified voice on the issue.

When the group arrived at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall, TransLink were there, ready to receive us. I am happy to report that this was a positive event – we had a clear message for TransLink, but we were not belligerent about it, didn’t block traffic or disrupt their Open House. Instead, we encouraged everyone who showed up to enter the hall, sign in, fill out the questionnaire and add their comments to the posterboards. We also received some signatures for a set of letters addressed to the TransLink Board, summarizing the message of the Rally.

I have to give the TransLink staff at the hall credit. The communications staff took it all in stride, had a sense of humour about it, but also treated the message with respect. They also were quick to offer us coffee and cookies. The feeling over the entire event was positive, consensus building, respectful. Let’s hope the process stays this way going forward, and TransLink comes back to the Cities with a more comprehensive consultation.

TransLink brought the cookies. The little guy looked nervous, but he got one.

I am also glad that the media message was well presented. We were there to say not just that a 6-lane bridge was bad for traffic in New West (it is easy to paint New West as being “nimby” about this), but was a poor way to invest $1 Billion in transportation infrastructure. Let’s build Surrey the transit it needs.

Here was some of the regional media impact (Flash required – works best on Chrome. Our segment starts at 13:50, right after the traffic report and Ford advertisement – irony not doubt unintentional):

If I was to comment on that report, I would only correct the part where The Voice suggests TransLink’s position is that 6-lanes is “the only way to provide space for transit, trucks, bikes and pedestrians”. Notice what is missing from that list? The 95% of users (according to TransLink’s own stats) that will not be transit, trucks, bike, or pedestrians. Not sure how they can talk about lane count and not mention that 95%.

OH, and I would make myself look less of a goof, but I’m asking for miracles here.

Update: more extensive video and interviews here: newwest.tv/videos/web
Thanks to Deepak and the NewWestTV crew!

There was other video shot. Here David Maidman for community TV is trying to
make me look less idiotic, and NewwestTV was filming.
Mostly, I want this post to be about thanking the people who made this happen. I was asked to be a spokesperson for this Rally, and many people came up and thanked me before, and congratulated me after – Which is nice, but it was not my doing! The people who should be thanked and congratulated is a long list, and this is part of a grassroots community movement that started with a couple of coffee groups in Queens Park. The same people who worked to get the word out for the City’s open house last month. There are about 20 people who took some role in making this work, and if I tried to thank them all, I would miss some. They all deserve the thanks and the congratulations.

I will point out a few real standouts, though:

Karla: for putting way, way more energy into this thing that anyone should expect from one person. You seemed to get the details that most of us forgot, you kicked the occasional butt that had to be kicked, you listened to others, and made others listen who were not always as receptive (including me!), and you never stood up to take credit for your contribution. You rock.

Karla (again), Ginny, Luc, and the Andrews for each contributing your bit to putting together a few signs: Ginny had the paper and paint, Andrew had the staplegun and staples, Luc donated the wood bits all the way from Quebec, I contributed tape and work space (Tig brought the cookies!). You all provided ideas and drawing/painting skills. The ideas and energy fermented during the 4 hours in my back yard assembling and painting was the energy that carried through the event.

People who put the word out: The local and regional media (thanks Theresa for letting us stretch your deadline!), purveyors of the #newwest and #PattulloBridge hashtags, the Residents associations, School Board, DPACs, City Council, 10thtotheFraser, those who promoted the event at the Farmers Market, and everyone who just mentioned the event to a neighbour or friend. Andthanks to Marcel for most of the photos here, I was too busy flapping my jaw to take any.

To Steve and the other folks I talked to from the other side of the Fraser, I will keep reminding people over here that your voices are as important in this as New West’s, and I hope this is the start of a long, and productive collaboration.

And finally, the 100+ people who showed up, thanks for taking time from your busy lives on a Saturday morning, for keeping things cool and respectful, for providing your comments to TransLink, and for not littering up the Park and road! I’m proud to be living in a community where the people take part in events like this, and care about its future. Here are some pics of the comments you left on the posterboards, some intended for sticky comments, and some not so much (click on them to zoom in). Good work everyone. 

And you know what? Barring remarkable news, this is going to be my last Pattullo post for a while. TransLink: the ball is in your court. Have a good summer, hope we can talk in the fall.

May you live in Interesting Times

That infamous Terry Pratchett curse seems to have fallen upon us.

It started on Monday, when a letter delivered to New Westminster Council from TransLink’s Director of Roads was discussed at the Council Meeting. The letter includes the following quotes:

TransLink is prepared to establish a collaborative process with the Cities of New Westminster and Surrey to undertake a comprehensive review of the following:
• All practical solutions for crossings and crossing locations;
• Bridge capacity and lane allocations;
• Implications of current and future projects (including South Fraser Perimeter Road/Port Mann/Highway 1 connections) and rapid transit projects;
• Through traffic, particularly truck traffic, in the municipalities;
• Consistency with local and regional objectives and consideration of priority relative to other regional transportation initiatives.
The objective of all of this work would be to produce one or more agreements between TransLink and the two cities as to how the current situation with the Pattullo Bridge is to be rectified. It is suggested that reasonable and achievable target for completion of this work is early 2013.

This has been characterized as an “olive branch” in the paper version of this local news story, and it may be such. My first reaction when reading it was “TransLink just blinked”.

However, it was hard to square that thought with what I saw at the Stakeholders Open House held by TransLink on Monday. At that event, the message was (and I paraphrase): we hear you, but we are moving ahead.

This was reinforced at Thursdays Public Open House in Surrey. The poster boards from that event are available for your review here. The message was, again, we are moving ahead with the 6-lane bridge, and further, you prefer the Upstream A option.

So with that mixed message, we are heading into this:

A few notes on the Rally this Saturday. First off, I am not the leader of this group. I have been working with a group of engaged citizens, and agreed to have my name on the press release, but I am just one of the many people working on this. So my fat mouth gets me quoted in the local papers. The group right now has no leader, no name, no website (although this website was put together by some members of the group) , and no formal organization. It is a grassroots movement. There are some members of the NWEP involved, but this is not an NWEP-led event. That said, the NWEP supports the message of the Rally and will be there.

One question asked by an astute local reporter was how TransLink’s letter to Council caused our message on Saturday to change? At the time, I had not seen the Thursday Open House materials, and I said, “well, I hope it becomes a Rally of Support for TransLink in re-opening discussion about the myriad of options for the bridge”.

The reporter replied: “You’re an optimist!”

“I have to be”, I said. “Why else would I spend so much time on this?”

So I remain optimistic. And hope to see you on Saturday morning.

The Killer Bridge

Just a little more fodder for the Pattullo discussions.

We all know the Pattullo is a dangerous bridge: it is narrow, the road curves, the merges and approaches are unsafe. It is anthropomorphised as some sort of “killer” bridge, and few feel safe driving across it. But is it actually unsafe?

The problem with common knowledge is that it is rarely either.

Surely there was a spate of terrible head-on accidents on the bridge a few years ago, and we all remember them well. However, the last head-on fatality was in 2007, they have dropped remarkably since the late-night centre lane closures started. 26 fatalities between 1996 and 2006 are too many, we can all agree, but the count since 2007 of zero is pretty much what we have been looking for. The measures in place seem to be helping, and more important to the current discussion, the main cause of these crashes isn’t narrowness of lanes or lack of central median.

The story from the 2006 tragedy indicates ICBC found 85% of people crossing the bridge were driving more than 30km/h over the posted limits. Not a few or some people exceeding the limit, but almost everyone, and not exceeding the limit by a few km/h, but by more than 75% of the speed limit – with a large number of drivers exceeding the definition of “Excessive Speed”, you would think that a couple of Photo Radar cameras would do more for the safety of this bridge than any other measure. But I guess that ship has left the dock…

Regardless, if people feel unsafe on the bridge, they are sure not displaying it by behaviour: in a rational world, people usually slow down on dangerous roads, they don’t drive at excessive speed. 

At their Open Houses, TransLink commonly repeated the statistic of 138 crashes per year (one every three days), and 33 crashes causing injury per year. That sounds bad, but is it?

Perhaps a useful comparison is to the other major bridge that TransLink operates, and for which we have significant statistics: the Knight Street. I asked ICBC for the crash statistics for the two bridges over the last decade, and here is what they sent me:

Here is what it looks like graphically.

The blue columns are “casualty” data, those crashes where there is a reported injury, which could be anything from a fatality to serious trauma to whiplash (note these are counts of crashes, not of injuries). Stacked on these are the red columns of accidents where there was no ICBC injury claim.

So TransLink’s number of accidents, 138 per year, is a fair estimate of the average over the last 6 years, essentially since the barriers went in at night, but does not acknowledge the significant decrease in accidents over the last three years. The number of accidents with injuries has also been decreasing markedly.

What is shocking is how the Pattullo has always been a significantly safer bridge than the Knight Street. In many years, there are more casualty accidents on the Knight Street than accidents of all kinds on the Pattullo, and the total for the Knight is often twice that of the Pattullo. There has been a similar decrease in accidents over the last decade on the Knight Street Bridge, and that has closed tha gap a bit, but the comparison is shocking. Especially when you look at the Knight Street Bridge:

Knight Street is straight; it has wider lanes, a central barrier, and a shoulder for buffer room. It is predominantly a 4-lane bridge, but has two extra outside lanes on the short northern part of the span connecting the Industrial area of Mitchell Island to the Marine Drive truck route (ostensibly “truck priority lanes”). Why is it so much more dangerous than the “Killer” Pattullo Bridge? Why are we not investing in making the Knight Street safer?

Or maybe more important: why are we so afraid of the Pattullo Bridge?

ICBC gave me permission to share the above statistics, but asked that I include this caveat with the statistics they provided:

What’s N.E.X.T. for the Pattullo?

As I mentioned, I was invited to give a talk this week to N.E.X.T.NewWest, a group of young entrepreneurs, business leaders and community builders in New Westminster.

Not sure why they asked me, but I took the opportunity. As I had previously whinged, we need to hear from this community on important issues like the Pattullo Bridge. New Westminster’s business community is not just the Bricks and Mortars on 6th Street, or Columbia, or 12th Street. They are fundamental to our City, and well represented by the Chamber of Commerce and various BIAs, but I chatted at the N.E.X.T.NewWest event with people running bricks-and-mortars, and with a bunch of people running home-based business, most with home-based employees, or using services like the Network Hub –examples of what the business community of the future is going to look like.

I gave them a speech full of facts and opinions (challenging them to call me on the difference). I really had no idea what kind of reception I was going to get from the 60+ people in the crowd, and I can only characterise it as “mixed”. They mostly laughed at my lame jokes, and some folks really engaged (i.e. nodded their heads at the right time), while others were clearly not buying my bunk (i.e. rolling their eyes at the opportune time). I even got cornered after and into a long discussion with a couple of guys who strongly disagreed with me about how traffic and road building interact. Actually, it was those conversations that were the most fun, because I learned from those guys, and I hope they learned a bit from me as well.

As an afterthought, I had no reason to be as nervous as I was, they were a receptive and informal group, and fun to hang with. I perhaps should have been more depressed that I was the oldest guy in the room, considering the accomplishment and contributions of the folks in attendance. My only other mistake was assuming that everyone was already engaged in the discussion around the Pattullo, and know what the “NFPR” and “SFPR” are, or even what I was referring to when I used the term “Puchmayr Express” in reference to connecting the SFPR to the new Mega Mann Bridge.

Anyway, I drifted off script a bit, but here was my prepared summary of my talk. If you have read this blog a lot, you have heard all of this before. If not, then hopefully this is a good summary of the Pattullo Bridge issue, as I see it, with references to some documents I mentioned in my talk – so you can verify my facts and separate them from my opinion. The photos are all mine, I had them running behind me on the mother of all flatscreens at the ReMax Office.

This is the only image here not my own creation. Well, I took the photo, but the image is of a painting by one of my favourite artists, Jack Campbell. He was a long-time New Westminster resident, and captured many remarkable images of New West during his time here. Coincidentally, he is also my neighbour on Saturna Island, where he is now catching remarkable images of the arbutus trees and sandstone shorelines of that jewel of a Gulf Island. When I think of the Pattullo as being an iconic structure in New Westminster, an important part of the heritage, I think of this image, there it is between the futuristic SkyBridge and the guys doing the historic work of booming logs on the Fraser River

What’s N.E.X.T. for the Pattullo Bridge?

I’m here to talk to you guys about the Pattullo Bridge, where it came from, where it is going, and why I think you should care. I have been following this issue for a while, have written a bunch about it on my blog, have been to several community meetings, and have read a lot of reports on the Pattullo, so I am going to start off by supplying you a bunch of facts, then will work my way into a whole bunch of opinions. I will try to make it clear which is which – and I want you to call me on it, if you think I have confused the two!

First the Facts.

The Pattullo Bridge opened in 1937, a year before the Lions Gate Bridge and a year before Superman was published in Action Comics #1.

The bridge belongs to TransLink, which is kind of unique. TransLink only owns and operates three bridges: Pattullo, Knight, and Westham Island. They also own Golden Ears, but it is financed and operated by a concessionaire through the PPP process, so that is best left for another conversation. The rest of the bridges you cross every day either belong to the Province through the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (Port Mann, Lions Gate) or to a City (Burrard Street, Cambie Street).

The Pattullo, for 75 years old, is really showing its age. Worse than the Lions Gate or Superman.

According to TransLink stats, about 60,000 cars and 3,500 big trucks cross the bridge on the average day. This is about the same car count as the Lions Gate, but there are no big trucks permitted on the Lions Gate.

However, the number of cars and trucks crossing the bridge is NOT the reason Translink wants to replace the bridge.

Instead, TransLink has provided an alliterative list of Replacement Factors: Safety, Scour, Seismic, Structure.

The safety issue is probably the one most people can relate to. The Pattullo has narrow lanes, curves at both end, and has a reputation for being accident-prone. For those prone to anthropomorphise, the term “Killer Bridge” has been used. I just want to note that there has not been a fatality on the Pattullo since 2005, when the nightime centre-lane closures were implemented. There are also fewer accidents and injuries per year on the Pattullo than on TransLink’s other bridge- the Knight Street.

The bigger concern is that the bridge is currently faslling apart.

TransLink says it is past the end of its service life, and costs them $3 Million/year to maintain. It will not last much longer without a major re-fit, which will cost about $200 Million. This will bring the bridge up to modern structural code, and get us another 50 years of life out of it, but will not bring it up to the highest current seismic codes.

So TransLink has a plan.

Actually, these plans have been brewing for some time. A commonly cited report from 2001 talks about the federal government paying $1Billion to replace the rail bridge with a tunnel, and attaching some car lanes to it (although it is unclear if this would be parallel to the existing Pattullo or replace is). It wasn’t until late fall of 2010 that TransLink announced the start of public consultation on the project. Then those consultations were abruptly cancelled.

This was unfortunate, partly because that would have given us the opportunity to discuss the future of the Pattullo and the plans that TransLink had in the context of a Municipal Election. That would have led to interesting dialogue on both sides of the River, and in the region.

Instead, the consultations were re-announces a couple of weeks after last November’s elections were over. But it wasn’t until after the Christmas Break that TransLink brought their planto the public: 

There were a series of open houses this spring run by TransLink showing us a bunch of options to consider: did we want a new 6-lane Pattullo bridge just to the left of the old one, or just to the right of the old one?

They also included a few different off-ramp configurations, but did not (as was humourously reported by many) ask us what colour we wanted the off-ramps painted. I would rather re-characterise it as offering us a few different bowl-of-spaghetti off-ramp drawings, and asking us which offended us less. Primavera or Alfredo?

It was also during this consultation that the alliterative reasoning for replacement was provided:
Scour, Safety, Structure, Seismic.

The 60,000 cars a day were not (and remain not) a replacement factor for the bridge. The two extra lanes were instead justified for “goods movement” – and were referred to as “truck priority” lanes. The definition of “truck priority” lanes was not supplied, and is hard to calculate, as no such thing exists in TransLink’s jurisdiction, anywhere else in the province, or in the Motor Vehicle Act.

There were a few other ideas that fundamental to the public discussions, but came out through the question and answer parts of the consultations.

1: the bridge will be tolled;

2: TransLink projects traffic to increase on the new bridge to 94,000 cars a day, and 7500 trucks a day.

Remember those numbers, if nothing else: 50% more cars. 100% more trucks.

Now I cannot speak for the City of New Westminster, I am not an employee of the City of New Westminster – it is not my job to speak for the City. But I do serve on the City’s Master Transportation Plan committee, and have attended a lot of public meetings on this issue. So what you are about to hear is my take on the situation, and I stand to be corrected by the City if I misquote their position.

This plan and the consultation are both – to be generous – less than optimal.

First off, the timing is terrible. The City had already begun its Master Transportation Plan process. This is a master planning document that will outline the shape and form of the City’s transportation network (roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, transit facilities) over the next decade or longer. A major component of the MTP is multi-stage public consultation to determine what the visions and goals of New Westminster are for their transportation network. Here have already been two rounds of public consultations and stakeholders engagement.

So part way through this process, TransLink drops a 6-lane bridge, effectively shuffling the deck.

The City decided to not provide a formal response to the consultation at that time, but to wait until the MTP process got to the point where the goals and visions are reported out, and those goals and visions would constitute the information that TransLink wanted from the City. TransLink recognized this as a valid approach, and agreed.

And that is where we are now.

Secondly, there were some obvious problems with the plan itself, expressed by the public at the public consultations and informally by many of the elected types in New West. Primarily:

Why 6 Lanes? How does 6 lanes address the problem TransLink has with the Pattullo?

Remember what the problem was? Not cars, not trucks, it was:

…an old bridge.

At the public consultations, TransLink claimed the maintenance costs for the Pattullo are $3 Million per year. I have refuted this claim, based on both opinion and fact:

The opinion part is when you walk along that bridge and try to find evidence anyone had opened a bucket of paint anywhere near the bridge in the last three years. The storm grates are plugged with sand, there are birds nesting and plants growing in the steel superstructure.

The fact part is going back through TransLinks public financial documents and trying to identify the $3Million. It just isn’t there. The total costs for bridge operations and maintenance last year was under $300,000, and that is combined for all three bridges. The average over the last couple of years has been $1.2Million a year. I don’t know what they spend, but it is not $3 Million.

And this is an important point. The Pattullo Bridge is an old steel structure. Like other old steel structures: the Lions Gate Bridge (75 years); the Golden Gate Bridge (75 years); the Empire State Building (80 years); the Eiffel Tower (122 years); my Honda Civic (15 years), old steel structures require maintenance to be reliable. They can last forever if appropriately cared for, but will turn to dust in an instant if neglected.

But instead of addressing the issues with the existing bridge, TransLink has decided instead to build a new bridge, and a bigger one.

Now a bigger bridge is an easy sell to people on both sides of the river caught in traffic:

“Whoo hoo! New lanes! The end of congestion! No more mention of the Pattullo in the traffic report- freedom!”

But remember those numbers? 50% more cars. 100% more trucks.

Now, I’m a geologist, which is science code for “I failed Calculus”, but this is not difficult math. 50% more lanes with more than 50% more traffic is not less congestion. It is the same number of cars per lane, the same number of cars per hour in each lane. Just more lanes and more cars.

So what happens when those 50% more cars and 100% more trucks get dropped on New Westminster’s old streets, already stressed by 400,000+ through-drivers every day?

How will 50% more cars and 100% more trucks fix the situation at Front and Columbia? At Columbia and Brunette? On Royal Avenue? On Stewardson?

I’d like to stand here and tell you we need a bigger vision – a longer term plan. But I can’t say we need these things, because we already have them!

The City has its existing Master Transportation Plan, and is updating it currently. TransLink has a long-term regional transportation plan called Transport 2040. MetroVancouver has a Regional Growth Strategy, built on the old Liveable Region Strategy.

All of these documents say the same thing:

The future is in compact urban centres, in smart density, in transit-oriented development, in moving living and work spaces nearer together, in providing people options to use transit, to bike, to walk. The future relies on us ending the dependence on automobiles. Not ending cars, ending the dependency on cars, through an integrated transportation network that supports all users and provides choice. A sustainable region will be the one where sustainable transportation choices are available and supported through sustainable development practices.

And we are building this future today. Look at Downtown New Westminster. Look at Sapperton. These strategies are being built into New Westminster.

You may not realize, New Westminster is second only to the City of Vancouver for our “Alternative Mode Share” – the proportion of our population who use transit, bikes, or walking for their commuting and shopping trips. We are approaching Transport 2040 goals faster than any other City. We will be the densest City in MetroVancouver by 2041- we are leading the way on the regional planning goals. New Westminster is the target other Cities are striving towards, even as we move forward.

So why jab a 6-Lane Freeway-style bridge into the middle of that progress?

How does that serve our long term plan, or the regional long term plans?
Whose long term plan does it serve?

I have an alternative approach (warning: lots of opinion ahead).

First- to TransLink. Please give the City and the region a real consultation on this. Don’t come to the first community open house with a bowl of spaghetti and ask us what flavour of sauce we prefer. Even Anton’s lets you choose the noodle first.

Let’s discuss the local and regional impacts of a 6-lane bridge; of a 4-lane bridge; or of no bridge at all.

Some have suggested the solution is to move the bridge, upstream to Sapperton Bar and Coquitlam, or downstream to Tree Island and Burnaby. I’m not personally a big fan of this argument, as it stinks of nimbyism, and if this bridge is a bad idea for New West, it is probably just as bad an idea for Coquitlam. But hey, show me the business case, and I’m ready to be convinced.

How about an evaluation of this approach: what I like to call the Lions Gate Solution.

The Lions Gate Bridge is an interesting parallel. The bridge is the same age, and had the same problem. In the late 90’s, the old steel structure was falling apart and it needed replacement.

The public consultation process started with a public call for proposals, and evaluated a suite of solutions- replacement, twinning, refurbishment, tunnels…

Here is the first lesson for TransLink, the public consultation process lasted 3 years. They even opened an office on Denman Street that operated for two years, so people could come down, look at the proposals, learn about the strengths and weaknesses.

It is a long story, and a great thesis was written at SFU on the topic, but the short version is that the West End of Vancouver and West Van would not accept increased traffic. No-one wanted a major shift in the Stanley Park Causeway. North Shore commuters would not agree to tolls. No PPP partner could be found to expand the bridge to 4 lanes (the preferred approach) so the Provincial government spent $80 Million refitting the bridge, starting in 2001.

$80 million, replaced structural components to increase the load capacity, seismic upgrade, replaced the entire deck, and kept the same number of lanes.

This is the only graph I will show, because I want you to know this is not my opinion, these are real numbers from the Ministry of Transportation (from Here, Here, and Here.) 

During the consultations for the Lions gate, they looked at tunnels, twinning replacement, because they were certain they needed more lanes. The argument looks pretty familiar: “Traffic is coming, it will grow, it always does, so we need to build a bigger bridge, here is our chance”.

They got three lanes, and this graph shows what happened to the traffic.

Over the same period, 22% population Growth in Vancouver (more on the downtown peninsula), 125 growth on the North Shore, Combined jobs growth over 18%. Housing prices are up, employment is up, every indication is robust economic growth, even through an earth-shattering recession. Where did the inevitable traffic go?

Maybe it is magic. Or maybe it is the Plan.

OK, Back to opinion:

Good enough for Lions Gate its good enough for Pattullo.
Good enough for West Vancouver, good enough for New Westminster.

So I am suggesting we fix it. Let’s spend the $200 Million fixing the Pattullo Bridge, and the $3 Million needed to maintain an old steel structure. We will still be $800 million ahead. That money TransLink can use to give Diane Watts and Surrey the transit system they want and need. I don’t care if it is light rail, heavy rail, SkyTrain, street cars, fast busses, or jetpacks. Let them build the transit sytem of their dreams with an $800 million blank cheque.

Because every person South of the Fraser who is on transit is one less car driving through New West.

Let’s fix the historic, iconic, non-killer, repairable, and affordable Pattullo.

Sapperton Day(s)

I had a great Sapperton Day(s), again this year.

This has become my favourite one-day festival in the City, not the least because it is the only festival with guaranteed Penny Farthing appearances.

As usual, there were lots of kids activities, lots of Food Truck options, a kick-ass Pancake breakfast with Real Maple syrup and free-range pork sausages, numerous community and volunteer groups, a few giveaways, random entertainment, and the music was loud and really well defended:

I did a tour of Cap’s “Bicycle Museum”. I’ve been going to Cap’s since I bought a Diamond Back Arrival from them in 1987, but I have never seen their remarkable collection of bikes, some dating back to before the Penny-Farthing era. It is amazing, as a bike geek, to see how the same simple engineering problems were solved in so many different ways, based on the best technology of the day. It is well worth the $2 admission to walk through that collection. Maybe we can get them museum space at the new MUCF?

Sapperton Day(s) also gives you a chance to see some of the new businesses in Sapperton. Last year’s big surprise was the great pulled pork at the Graze Market/The Ranch BBQ, this year it was the Pad Thai at the new Thai restaurant just up the Street, named (if I remember correctly) Thai New West.

For the second year in a row, the Sushi Restaurant right across the street from my booth remained closed for Sapperton Day(s); a strange business decision to make when 10,000 people would be walking by the front of the restaurant that day…

I spent most of the day at the NWEP booth, talking transportation with people from across the City, and across the region. I noticed a difference at this event compared to the dozens of previous events where the NWEP went to talk policy stuff: almost universal agreement.

Previously, we have been out helping the City promote the Clean Green bins, or collecting ideas for the Master Transportation Plan, or promoting backyard composting, we are introducing people to the ideas for the first time. This means you have to try to keep their attention while trying to get enough info across that they will care to learn more before wandering next door for lemonade.

And the Lemonade at the Sapperton Day(s) was great. It was a lemonade kind of day.

This time, where the main topic was the Pattullo Bridge (note it was our main topic, the TransLink Booth at Sapperton Day(s) was paradoxically bereft of any information on the Pattullo expansion plans…), it seemed most people in New Westminster knew something was going on and just wanted to know more. They were engaged in the topic before we even started talking. The first question I asked people as they wandered by was “what do you think about the Pattullo Bridge”, and the conversation flowed easily from there.

The most common question I got from New Westminster residents is “what can we do about it?”

That’s not to say everybody had the same opinion. There were a few people who had better ideas to spend more money (on tunnels, cable cars, jetpacks) to “solve our traffic problems once and forever”, but most recognized that more lanes into New West means more cars in to New West means more traffic to deal with. Oh, there was also a long, circular and soul-crushing discussion with our local Libertarian Torch-bearer who kept saying that “you people rely on violent coercion to tell people how to live”, without explaining how voting was an act of violence or who, exactly, “you people” were.

But no-one was without an opinion on it, and that is the good thing. All we need to do is channel all of those opinions into the upcoming TransLink Open Houses, on June 23. It hadn’t been announced by Sapperton Day(s), but our main advise to people was to keep your eye on the local media and on the TransLink website, and show up at the next Public consultation.

Thanks especially go to HUB for lending us the tent: we thought it might be rainy but in the end it just reduced sunburn. We also gave away a tonne of pocket-sized folding bike maps for New Westminster and neighbouring communities, and promoted the upcoming HUB Streetwise safe cycling course in New West on the 16th.

I suppose it will appeal to folks like James Crosty and Ted Eddy, who wouldn’t be caught dead at the Pier Park Grand Opening.

This just in….

This just in from TransLink (emphases mine):


In February 2012, TransLink gathered public and stakeholder feedback on bridge location (alignment) and connection options in New Westminster and Surrey for the New Pattullo Bridge Project. We invite you to attend a series of Open Houses to learn more about the proposed project, its status, and share your views.

Please join us on the following dates:

Date: Thursday, June 21
Time: 2:00 PM-8:00 PM
Location: Surrey SFU

Date: Saturday, June 23
Time: 10:00 AM-3:00PM
Location: Sapperton Pensioners Hall

Date: Tuesday, June 26
Time: 2:00 PM-8:00 PM
Location: Sapperton Pensioners Hall

Date: Wednesday, June 27
Time: 2:00 PM-8:00 PM
Location: Surrey SFU

For further information about the project, please go to www.translink.ca/pattullo or contact Vincent.Gonsalves@translink.ca at 604.453.3043.

Mark Your Calendars for the 23rd.

Bicycle Boxing

I managed to survive Bike-to-Work Week, despite the actions of one idiot and the reality that my schedule did not allow me to ride my bike to work even as many days as I did the week before or the week after. In honour of Bike Month, I want to talk about the most persistent threats to cyclists on the road.

Although I had a run-in with an idiot who seemed to be offended by my presence on a bike, I need to emphasize this is a real anomaly. I cannot remember the last time I had a deliberate assault like that in Canada.

I lived in the MidWest of the United States for a couple of years, and when riding my road bike on country roads through corn and soybean fields, having someone brush you off (speed by so close it causes you swerve towards the ditch by reflex), or throw a beer can at you while yelling “fag!” was not that uncommon. I’d put it at less than once a week, more than once a month, but maybe I have a really faggy peddling stroke.

Interesting aside: Budweiser is by far the preferred brand of beer amongst the type of people who throw cans at passing cyclists while yelling “fag”. You would think they would market that more.

Regardless, this type of aggressive behavior towards bikes is very rare, and I don’t see it as a real threat when riding my bike. At least these idiots see me, and acknowledge I am on the road. What is much more dangerous are the large number of people who don’t even see cyclists on the road. This commonly results in a two-punch attack to bicycle commuters that have come to be known as the Right Hook and the Left Hook.

The Right Hook occurs when a cyclist is riding along “as far right as practicable” as per the Motor Vehicle Act, commonly in the bike lane. As drivers pass by on the left, you note one slowing down just after they pass you. The car then pulls a right turn directly into you or directly in your path. A cyclist has virtually no defense. A faster car catches up to you, passes you, then cuts in front of you at an intersection or, even less predictably, at a driveway.

The Left Hook is when a car turns left into your path. The typical situation is when the cyclist is rolling along “as far right as practicable” as per the Motor Vehicle Act, maybe even in a bike lane, with a string of cars steaming by to your left. You roll into an intersection just as there is a gap in that string of cars, and an oncoming driver, who has been patiently waiting to turn left sees their gap and goes for the left turn, and either hits the cyclist, or the cyclist hits them.

In both cases, the cyclist does nothing wrong, riding in full compliance with the law, and has absolutely no defense, yet takes the brunt of the crash. With all the talk of cyclists running stop signs or weaving through traffic, or any of the other hundred behaviours that drivers criticize in cyclists (yet turn a blind eye when other car drivers do them), the majority of actual bike-and-car accidents are either a Right or a Left Hook. I had near-misses of both types on the same day during Bike To Work Week. This happens ALL THE TIME.

When the impact or near miss happens, the driver’s defense is universal: “I didn’t see you!”

Let me give you a tip, drivers. This is an admission of guilt, not a defense. This is the definition of driving without due care and attention. When I ride my bike in the City, I am dressed up like a freaking MardiGras Parade. If it is twilight or darker, I have more flashy lights and reflective surfaces than the last 5 minutes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here is a picture of me back in my racing days…

If you did not see me, you were not driving with the attention or care due for a person operating a 3000-lb 200-HP piece of machinery in a public space.

This excuse is especially hollow when (as commonly happens) the person delivering the Right Hook actually accelerates to get in front of you before pulling the hook. You know they saw you, they know they saw you. What they are really saying is that they did not understand how to deal with you. People who don’t ride bikes in traffic (the majority of drivers) simply don’t know how they are supposed to interact with a bike in the right lane.

One approach that seems most unlikely is to slow down a bit and let the cyclist pass in front of you before you make the turn. This is likely because most drivers still see bicycles as faster pedestrians (“get on the sidewalk!”) and not a slow motor vehicle (as the Motor Vehicle Act chooses to define our role).

Active aggression towards bikes is really rare in Vancouver, despite Bruce Allen’s hysterical blathering; it is the passive misunderstanding of bike that is more deadly for people who use them.

Two (+) Upcoming Events (edited to add more panic)

It should be a couple of interesting weeks, and if I don’t post too often, I have some good excuses. I have said this before, but believe me, this time I am really busy.

I have both the Royal City Curling Club AGM next week (my report is written, but I may need to prep a speech and be prepared to be peppered by questions on my role as Ice & House Committee Chair) and the Environmental Managers Association of BC AGM and Awards Luncheon is also next week (I am expecting to return to the board as a VP at that event). There is also the Westminster Pier Park Grand Opening coming up, and I did my volunteer training for that yesterday. I also have an Emergency Advisory Committee meeting tomorrow evening. Don’t forget the first Royal City Farmers Market of the year is this Thursday (great fundraiser, by the way!).

Bonus last-minute panic-causing addition:
Sapperton Day is also this Sunday! See us at the NWEP Booth talkin’ transportation and Pattullo!

Although these are keeping be busy, there are two upcoming events I want to talk about here:

Tomorrow (fortunately, after the EAC meeting), there will be a Forum on the Future of the Pattullo Bridge at the River Market. Although the list of presenters is interesting, I can’t shake the feeling that this is a bit of a smoke screen.

The topic for discussion is what to do with the Pattullo Bridge after TransLink builds the new 6-lane bridge. There are some interesting ideas, including keeping it as some sort of linear parkway or re-purposing as development space. Having visited the original HighLine last year, I agree it is a compelling piece of urban infrastructure, and the impact on the part of Chelsea where it was built is undeniably positive. It is getting so every developer building an elevated walkway in every City in North America is putting a few trees on it and saying it is “a HighLine like design”.

HighLine, the type sample.

I’m interested to see what learned people have to say about this type of use for the Pattullo, but I can’t help but thinking about all of the people in this town turning themselves inside-out over a much less ambitious waterfront park very close to the Pattullo. I also wonder why, if TransLink is so convinced the bridge is in immediate peril of collapse, we are entertaining fixing it for a recreation or development space. So although I enjoy speculative thinking about the future of the City as much as anyone, let’s not take our eye off the ball here. The livability of our City is not currently threatened by a lack of elevated or waterfront park space, it is threatened by the risk of increased traffic resulting from a 6-lane Pattullo.

Ultimately, I think the best use for a refurbished Pattullo Bridge is as a transportation corridor with 4 lanes and improved pedestrian and bike facilities, or even three lanes with a counter-flow middle lane. If it can be fixed, I can’t imagine a better use for it than the one it currently serves.

Which brings me to the second event of note. Next Tuesday is a N.E.X.T.NewWest event featuring some random blogivator talking about the Pattullo Bridge.

In my natural envrionment: hiding behind beer.

I am going to give a very brief background of the Pattullo situation and talk a bit about the community open houses I attended and the City’s approach to the TransLink process. I will also have some interesting data to present about aspects of the plan, and then present a bunch of opinion about where the City should be going with its transportation system, and how the Pattullo fits into that.

It should be fun and informative, as N.E.X.T. is exactly the group of “New” New Westminster business leaders whom I was whinging about being too silent in the discussion of the Pattullo up to now. My only goal for the evening will be to convince as many of them as possible that they should be getting involved in the discussion, and not let these decisions be made without their important voice. I also hope to make a few of them laugh… with me, as opposed to at me. But I’ll take it either way.

I hope to see lots of folks at both of these events, as they demonstrate one of the strengths of New Westminster – a community coming together to discuss an issue from various different angles. The more voices we have, the more likely TransLink will listen to us.