Digging Deeper

I love it when I agree with the people I am disagreeing with.

Chris Bryan, the Editor of the New West News Leader, is building a reputation for some compelling opinion pieces. This week, he definitely hit that mark with his column entitled “New Westminster’s traffic discussion must dig deeper” .  It is compelling because I can agree and disagree with almost every idea in the column.

The essential question (if Bryan will afford me the benefit of paraphrasing) is: “How long can New Westminster resist the paving over of our neighbourhoods to service the cities on our borders?”

My simple answer is as long as we are here. Because what is the alternative?

Yes, Surrey (pop 468,000) and Coquitlam (pop 126,000) would love it if New Westminster (pop 68,000) would get the hell out of the way and allow their residents to get from house to work or shops quicker. I would argue that is firmly in the category of “not our problem”.

Douglas Adams, in my second favorite piece of absurdist writing, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy discussed the idea of building freeways through people’s homes:

“Bypasses are devices that allow some people to dash from point A to point B very fast while other people dash from point B to point A very fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what’s so great about point A that so many people from point B are so keen to get there, and what’s so great about point B that so many people from point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be.”

This was just as relevant to Arthur Dent’s house and his planet, which were (spoiler alert) both destroyed to make way for bypasses, as it was to Jane Jacobs in Washington Square Park (spoiler alert) which she helped save along with the soul of Greenwich Village and New Westminster in 2013.

I’m not sure why we, in New Westminster, the first City in British Columbia, the former Capital of the Colony, and the original heart of the region, should give a rat’s ass what upstart suburbs like Coquitlam and Surrey need, now that they have built huge communities of sprawling auto-oriented neighbourhoods whose very economic survival relies on their expanding populace having an unfettered ability to drive through the New Westminster community – through our very neighbourhoods.

It isn’t our intractable resistance to plowing over our City that got them into this mess, it is their continued choice to develop on the assumption that we would eventually plow our City down to accommodate their needs.

Yes, The Strange Case of the Bailey Bridge is a great example of how New Westminster concerns itself with preserving its character and historic neighbourhoods instead of sacrificing everything we are to allow Coquitlam to build (to quote Chris Bryan) “a rapidly growing big-box retail area, and… the redevelopment of Fraser Mills into a residential community housing thousands of new drivers poorly served by transit.”

Perhaps a better example is the history of Braid Skytrain Station. Coquitlam was given the opportunity, back in the 1990s to have SkyTrain service to Maillardville. Fears of the “CrimeTrain” and density caused Coquitlam to resist rapid transit in their most historic neighbourhood, and the line and station were moved to more forward-thinking (and more historic) New Westminster.

By their own preference, Coquitlam instead got 8 lanes of Highway 1, and 6 horribly congested lanes of Lougheed Highway in Maillardville. They are now afraid that 7,500 people living in Fraser Mills will be the gigantic strawpile that breaks the back of their community. It may dump too many cars across their shiny new overpass into the traffic quagmire of their own (terrible) planning. A 4-lane Bailey Bridge and overpass looming over Sapperton will surely afford them some temporary relief, but only by pushing the traffic pinch point, idling pissed-off drivers and livability impacts a few hundred metres into New Westminster neighbourhoods.

These bad planning decisions were not made by New Westminster- in fact we were not even consulted on them. Why should we suddenly acquiesce to their unanticipated “needs”?

So Coquitlam is willing to finance the slow destruction of our 150-year-old City? Thanks, but no thanks. Their generous offer only makes us enablers.

Instead, New Westminster is taking the principled, responsible stand. We are leading the region in building a compact, transit-friendly, sustainable community. We are developing a Master Transportation Plan that builds on our current strength as the Municipality with the second-highest alternative transportation mode share in the Province (excuse the emphasis, but this is a pretty big point!). We are making it easier for people to live, work and shop in the same community. We are building mixed commercial-residential developments on SkyTrain lines. We are increasing density, and are taking risks building office space and investing in community amenities.

For those who must move across the region, we are making it easier to do so through transit, through cycling, through car-sharing. We are making genuine efforts to reduce our community’s load on Coquitlam and Surrey roads. The results are demonstrated in our region-leading alternative mode share, and we are aiming to do better!

So do we need to “dig deeper”? Hell yes. We all do. We are facing major growth, climate, and economic challenges. In New Westminster, that means we need to have cojones to say to our neighbours that their car-driving problems are a result of their poor planning, and we are terribly sorry, but you are not going to fill our community with pavement to solve them.

If Coquitlam wants to put 7,500 residents in Fraser Mills, they had better figure out a way to move them around that doesn’t include cars passing through Braid and Brunette.

If Surrey needs a billion dollars to expand rapid transit to serve their growing population, we will be the first to step up and advocate to senior governments on their behalf to get them the transit system of their dreams. But if they want to spend that billion dollars to expand a freeway bridge into the heart of our City, they will have a hell of a fight on their hands.

We are ready, Chris. We are ready to help the region move forward and fulfill its Regional Growth Strategy, its Regional Transportation Plans, its Sustainability Plans.

It may look to them like we are “dug in”, but we in New Westminster are actually leading. Maybe it is they who need to dig deeper.

3 comments on “Digging Deeper

  1. Great piece, Patrick. I agree and disagree with you on most points as well! First off, yes New West’s model is better and more sustainable, and yes we’re capitalizing on the fact we’re a compact, smart-growth city. But our situation is largely a result of when we developed (horse & buggy era) so while we can celebrate the fact, we shouldn’t be smug.
    And yes we should build on our strengths, and yes we should encourage and support sustainable city design throughout the region, well supported by transit and other non-auto modes.
    But. My concern is that, as I said at the end of the column, we need to be ready. With the UBE, I was amazed how willing TransLink was to listen to New West’s concerns and say, well, if you don’t want it we won’t build it. And I was also impressed with the fact they listened and took the Pattullo off the table for re-consideration after hearing our concerns.
    Look at Delta’s situation, though. They opposed the South Fraser Perimeter Road and — BAM! — they got it anyway. TransLink may be responsive to our needs, but historically, the province (if it feels the region is generally in support) has a tendency to pound things through.
    Believe me, I don’t want highways through this town or to capitulate to the region’s desire to use us as a thoroughfare. Just the opposite.
    When I say ‘dig deeper’ I’m saying we’d better propose better solutions than saying “no,” and while the big-picture ideas of a smart-growth region are awesome, they’re broad principles, not concrete solutions that our neighbours can easily see immediate results (e.g. like a big bridge) and buy into.
    My hope is the Master Transportation Plan will put us in a better position to take a leadership role in the discussion. Instead of saying No More Cars and Trucks! it will be ‘here’s what we want to see…’
    Again, great piece Patrick, on an important issue.
    Chris Bryan
    Editor, NewsLeader

  2. Chris, I too agree and disagree, I think (am I allowed to say “we” anymore?) New Westminster is proposing alternatives exactly as Pat is pointing out:

    “If Surrey needs a billion dollars to expand rapid transit to serve their growing population, we will be the first to step up and advocate to senior governments on their behalf to get them the transit system of their dreams.”

    And Pat isn’t the only one who has been saying things like this for years. Let’s build out the region wide rapid transit system, let’s get those funding mechanisms is place to expand the bus network, personally I’ve been saying for years, charge me $10, $20, $30 more bucks a month in taxes, I will *gladly* pay that to help build a rapid transit network for the region to solve these problems (and a Broadway subway please!). New Westminster, Vancouver, the “inner” communities have been saying for years we’re ready to set up and support/contribute to building these alternatives for the “outer” communities. But the province and federal government, the ones who truly control the purse strings and implementation of mega-projects haven’t acted on this.

    We are digging deeper, we are offering solutions, it’s up to Surrey, Coquitlam and these higher level of governments to actually act on them. We haven’t simply been negative, nimbys, these other entities have been one tracked tunnel vision in what they’re willing to see as solutions to their people and goods movement problems. Pat’s right, the ball’s in their court.

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