Is there enough shame in being the “Second Worst Road”?

It didn’t start last month. I have lamented the BC Parkway for quite some time.

There was a time, back in the late 1980’s when I lived on Royal Avenue and worked in a warehouse just off Royal Oak, and I would ride my bike along the Parkway to get to work. Back then, it was great – an actual road just for bikes and pedestrians! In hindsight, the connections and some of the route choices were a little sketchy, but that is only with the benefit of hindsight. For ca. 1988, it was a kick-ass bikeway.

Twenty-five years later, I live two blocks from that crappy apartment I shared with my brother on Royal, and the lovely Ms.NWimby has a new job in Downtown Vancouver. A fair-weather bike commuter (the Skytrain ride is only 20 minutes!), we pulled out a bike map and tried to figure the route to her new job for those sunny days when the bike is calling.

We both immediately ignore the BC Parkway and look for alternates: CVG? (stays at low elevation, but seems a long way around New West). Cariboo to Adanac? (nice, but a little out of the way- and killer hill on the way home) Tenth to London to Griffiths to Rumble to Patterson to Moscrop to Smith to 22nd to Slocan to Charles to…(ugh).

Nope, the near-straight line, on a gentle slope (as it used to be a rail grade) that makes the most sense is the BC Parkway. If only it was safe or lived up to its promise. Instead, 28 years of local re-development, new roads, and failing pavement (along with a few original design elements that look hysterically outdated now) have made the route one to avoid for most cyclists.

So now that my little campaign to get the BC Parkway noticed is having its little media push– the whinging has gone as far as it can- so what to do?

First off: Jurisdictions. The BC Parkway is almost completely on TransLink property, and is ostensibly TransLink’s responsibility. Portions of it, however, are clearly on the property of and subject to the decision-making of, the three municipalities through which it passes. Any comprehensive refurbishment will require partnership between TransLink and the Transportation Departments in those Cities.

It’s not like TransLink doesn’t know the Parkway needs help. Back in 2008 there was an assessment report prepared for TransLink. I quote from that report:

Over the years, the dual trail design has proven to be less popular with BC Parkway users while land use adjacent to the trail has intensified, resulting in the paved portion of the BC Parkway becoming a heavily used, mixed-use facility that is generally narrower than the Transportation Association of Canada’s guideline of 4.0 metres for a shared, bi-directional urban path. Intense use of this inadequate facility and lack of proper maintenance has lead to its physical deterioration. The route is indirect in some locations and wayfinding is poor, making navigation difficult, particularly where the route transitions between the off-street pathway and urban streets. Efforts to upgrade sections of the Parkway have resulted in disjointed designs and application of the TAC standards that are not contiguous with other sections of the Parkway.

Yeah, that’s what I said!

Stakeholder meetings and concept plans were drawn up to fix the problems in 2009. Then what happened? Two things come to mind: the Canada Line, and the entire TransLink funding crisis.

The Canada Line Bridge is a great piece of cycling infrastructure (worthy of its own blog post, which I will do at some point soon), but few know it wasn’t actually part of the original Canada Line plan. Canada Line was not, strictly speaking, built by TransLink, but was a PPP dedicated to getting the damn thing in the ground before the Olympics started. The idea of putting a pedestrian-bicycle path on the side of the bridge came from strong lobbying by cycling groups in the City, and concomitant support from Richmond and Vancouver Councils. However, strapping the path to the side of the bridge was not part of the original plan, so the concessionaire building the Canada Line was certainly not going to pay for it, leaving TransLink holding the bag. The only solution was for TransLink to take it out of the bicycle infrastructure budget.

Notably, the cost of attaching the pathway to the Bridge (about $10 Million) was only 0.6% of the Canada Line budget, but represented 200% of TransLink’s annual bicycle infrastructure budget. So for two years, little other bicycle infrastructure got built by TransLink.

After the happy glow from their massive success moving people during the Olympics wore off, TransLink somehow became the whipping boy of the media and most levels of Government – for reasons poorly understood by anyone. I have gone on at length about this in the past, but short version: everyone has decided it is time to stop paying for the transit system at the same time other sources of revenue have been failing (some the fault of TransLink’s own success). The bicycle program budget is alternating between deep cuts and complete defunding. In this financial climate – when TransLink is actually cutting bus service as the region continues to grow – it appears the BC Parkway was simply not high enough on the priority list to see the plans realized.

I recognize I am only pointing out the problem, not what to do about it. I wish I knew.

The first obvious answer is to fund TransLink. There seemed some real promise that this was going to happen before the last election, but the surprise winner seems to think tax collected for Public Transit is the one type of tax that requires a referendum! There is no doubt, based on TransLink’s plans and policies, that they want to have safe, accessible bike routes as part of the integrated regional transportation system, especially ones that connect to their stations and bike lockers. People who ride bikes to SkyTrain stations buy tickets on SkyTrain, the business case is obvious. They just can’t afford to prioritize this right now.

So that leaves the Cities, Vancouver, Burnaby and New West all have budgets for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and all are challenged in setting priorities when transfers from senior Governments increasingly come in the form of responsibility, not compensation. For the BC Parkway to be improved, the Cities will need to take them on as a “Pet Project”, and through direct infrastructure spending or finding innovative funding strategies (remember, 7-11 and Molson paid for the first iteration of the Parkway) they will need to come to TransLink with some kind of matching fund. Given an opportunity to “share the cost” will be the only way that TransLink is likely to push this route to the top of the priority list when so strapped for funds.

Ultimately, the BCAA “Worst Roads” campaign is about shaming whomever owns the “Worst Road” (Municipality, Regional Government, or Ministry of Transportation) into in prioritizing the identified roads in their medium-term planning. Note that last year’s #1 finisher also finished first again this year- despite the $19 Million this particular “Pet Project” has recently received. Finisher #3 this year is also in the middle of a multi-million dollar planning process to find what will no doubt be a billion dollar solution. So maybe shame works.

But I don’t want to shame TransLink – I think they know the problem, and they wish they could do something about it. The shame here should go back to the multiple levels of government who have consistently failed to fund alternative transportation programs with the fervour used to provide smooth driving surfaces for cars.

One comment on “Is there enough shame in being the “Second Worst Road”?

  1. You point out exactly the problem. If TL fixes the BC Parkway, with say just 10 million (compared to 300X that much spent on a highway), it will come out of the cycling budget, and equate to 333% the annual 3 million dedicated for cycling from TL. It’s great that TL is kicking in some of the cost of the separated bike lanes in Vancouver, but reality is that the money spent in Vancouver is money not spent on as important cycling improvements around Metro.

    Truth is that the road budget is mammoth AND bottomless, while the transit but specifically cycling budget is minute and fixed.

    Province to Road engineers: “How much do you want to fix that stretch of road with a few potholes?… 10 million? … How about we give you 60 million and you can widen the road and give the deal to a private business!”

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