On soccer, caution, and optimism -UPDATED!

Right up front, I need to say the idea of having the Whitecaps’ second-tier team call New Westminster home, and having the first USL Pro team in Canada set up in Queens Park sounds like an exciting idea to me. I’m hardly a soccer fanatic, and have not attended a Whitecaps game since the new roof was put on the stadium downtown, but I am exactly the kind of guy who would buy tickets to see a pro soccer team operating in my hometown (as I would for a pro baseball team… but let’s not get off track here). A close friend of mine is a bit of a soccer fanatic, and is raising two pre-teen soccer fanatics, and when he found out New Westminster might be hosting a USL Pro team, he was immediately jealous (once again) of New Westminster.

So safe to say, I went into the open house on Tuesday evening with a pretty positive attitude, and wanted to be convinced that this was a viable plan that the City could get behind:

Unfortunately, I left with more questions than answers. I don’t think any of my concerns are “deal killers”, but I am afraid there is a complexity here that will be hard to get through to everyone’s satisfaction before the (very short) deadline. Although I would suggest a slim majority of the people in the room shared my cautious optimism, I heard many concerns raised, and maybe I’ll take my typical topic-by-topic approach to these issues, but first a short summary of the proposal, as I understand it.

The proposal is to re-purpose the Queens Park Stadium, repairing the concrete section and expanding bleacher seats to hold 3,500 people, while installing a new soccer-only regulation field. There would also be new bathrooms, concessions, locker rooms, and ancillary buildings to support those 3,500 fans and two pro soccer teams on game day. There would also be a smaller “warm-up” field built about where the tennis courts and fill storage are now beside the Arenex. The (as of yet unnamed) USL Pro team would hold 14 home games a year here, and would have exclusive rights to those field at those times.

Now the issues:

Money: There was simply no discussion of what this will cost, and who is paying. The field changes and improvements will no doubt reach into the millions of dollars. As these facilities are being built on City-owned land, there are rules under the Local Government Act that must be followed. As the Whitecaps are a for-profit company (not a non-profit like other park users), they have to pay (at the minimum) “fair market value” for their use of public lands. Some sort of capital injection to build the facility along with a long-term lease deal will need to be worked out. Admittedly, I have no idea what that will look like, and there will be devils in those details. I am sure the negotiations around these numbers are going to be a key determinant if this deal gets done.

The spin-off value for the City is the second aspect of the financial equation here. There will be increased cost (policing, clean-up, traffic management, etc.) but these should be well offset by the spin-off financial benefits in jobs, driving customers to local businesses and that less-tangible benefit that comes with having your City named on the evening sports news with regularity and having pictures of one of the picturesque parts of our community beamed on TV around North America. One good detail that came out of the meeting was the commitment on the part of the City to have an independent third-party analysis of the economic impact of the proposal for the community.This will no doubt inform the property lease/capital injection math above, so the independence of the analysis is vital. See devil and details above.

Transportation: This was a commonly-discussed issue. With 3,500 people coming to 14 games a year, and only about 550 parking spots in Queens Park, the potential for parking chaos exists. Doing a quick scan of air photos, there are various lots around the Canada Games Pool and Justice Institute that are an acceptably short walk (1 km) from the stadium, and the Parkades of 6th and 6th are only a little further away (1.2 km). Ultimately, though, the plan will have to be for many attendees to NOT drive to the games. Between drawing a large number of locals, there is also a SkyTrain station only 1.2 km away. Sapperton Station is a little further, but a shuttle program to get people to these stations would likely be part of the plan.

In talking about getting to and from the games, I thought of Nat Bailey Stadium (5,000+ seats and only a few hundred parking spots), or Wrigley Field (40,000 seats and virtually no parking nearby). Build it and they will come, they say, but that doesn’t mean they need to bring a car. Yes, there will need to be a traffic and pedestrian management plan to reduce the impact on the Queens Park neighbourhood for those 14 days a year, but this is a manageable problem, in my opinion.

Neighbourhood impacts: That is not to say there won’t be impacts on the Queens Park and Victoria Hill neighbourhoods. 14 games doesn’t sound like a lot, but sports events in Vancouver can sometimes be loud and disruptive. The relatively pastoral setting of the existing stadium will change, and 3,500 people wandering the streets all hopped up on hotdogs, popcorn, and fight songs might be tiresome for many of the community members. This is a place where the Whitecaps organization is going to have to work with the very active Residents Association and nearby neighbours to assure complaints are addressed and problems managed before they become trends.

Fate of the Stadium: In the Queens Park Master Plan developed in 2012, it was suggested that they may knock the stadium down. It is an old building, and one in need of extensive repair. This was considered to be bad money after good by the City for a relatively unused asset (the field was well used, the stands were not). There was serious consideration of removing most of the stadium building and having a more open ballpark design. This plan will actually “save” the stadium, but upgrading and expanding it. It will also result in the building of an adjacent all-weather field, and (see below) a replacement baseball field. Presumably, these fields will all be useable by other community groups and the general public on the 350 days of the year when USL Pro teams are not using it.

One interesting discussion I had was with a Queens Park resident talking about the (my term, not his) Social Licence implications of allowing a for-profit corporation use City-owned park space to make that profit. It is an interesting topic, and I could only think that there needs to be a demonstrated good for all of the residents of the City, be it a financial gain for City Hall (and the taxpaying residents and businesses) that outweighs the lost opportunity of the space. I am sure there are people who will never be happy with an arrangement like this, and I’m not sure that philosophical debate can be solved on this issue alone.

Baseball: Of the vocal opponents at the meeting, it seemed to me the members and supporters of the New Westminster baseball community. The existing stadium is the only “full size” baseball facility in the City. The New Westminster Baseball Association have invested energy and money into making it an exceptional field for long-ball, and don’t want to lose that investment. There was a lot of discussion of moving the baseball field elsewhere, but that’s not an easy proposition. Aside from the cost of building a high-quality baseball facility and moving things like lights and batting cages, there is a simple geography problem. A “full size” baseball field requires a square about 400 feet on a side, or a 1.5 hectare square (to fit ~350 foot foul lines, a ~400 foot centre field, and ancillary buildings behind home plate). People suggested a few locations, so I played a bit of cut’n’paste with GoogleMaps images of the existing field to see what a relocated field would mean to the few existing park-owned spots in the City:

Moody Park – the Stadium footprint is much larger than Justin Morneau field.
Upper Hume might be a tight fit, if we removed other facilities.
There just isn’t enough room in Lower Hume
The currently no-quite-completed Muni Evers Park is also a tight squeeze,
with a bit of a water problem on one side, and road problem on the other.. 
This is the biggest space in Queensborough, but the existing powerlines probably
 make this a non-starter.

It is only when you try to find an empty 1.5-ha space in New Westminster when you start to realize just how compact our city is!

The idea of just putting the field behind the proposed new soccer field is the one that was suggested as most favourable for the proponents, and might be the only place in the city where the field would actually fit without taking too much dedicated space from existing facilities:

Note, this is my depiction, based on verbal description, and not the official plan. 

Fortunately, even this issue appears to not be a “deal-killer” as long as there is a plan in place to have a field ready for NWBA to use before they lose their existing field.

So where from here? There is another open house next weekend (August 9th), where hopefully a few more details will be available. After that, time is short for Council to approve this very complex plan by September 15, which is required for the Sappers to be included in the 2015 USL Pro schedule (see what I did there?). So go to that open house if you missed the first, and fill out the on-line survey here. It is early yet, but we need to get the right questions in now so they can provide us the answers we need to make this thing work.

Despite the tight deadline, this should not be your only opportunity to listen, learn, and provide feedback. I heard suggestions at the meeting that Council might decide to have a Public Hearing-type meeting before the September 15th decision is made. As much of the detailed negotiation over real estate terms will be (necessarily and completely legitimately) in camera, we may not know the full details until that Public Hearing. So until then, right me down as somewhere between cautiously optimistic and optimistically concerned. I need to learn more.

UPDATE: As irascible commentor “Anonymous” pointed out, I missed one potential spot – the all-weather field between the Justice Institute and the Glenbrook Firehall. This is actually a pretty good spot for reasons my unknown critic points out, and it just fits the footprint:

Truck Routes – Disappointing, not surprising.

I suppose the refusal by TransLink to remove various New Westminster streets from the designated truck route network is not surprising, but the wholesale dismissal of the concerns with a paucity of supporting arguments is definitely a disappointment. I hope this is not the end of this discussion, but the beginning of a conversation about the specific routes, and just a small setback to eventual progress*.

I don’t think anyone really thought Royal Ave would be removed from the designated routes at this time, not at least until there is a significant change in how the Pattullo Bridge connects on the north side of the River. However, there is no reason for keeping East Columbia through the Sapperton business area as a truck route, and a re-evaluation of the East 8th Ave connections are definitely in order.

Part of the frustration is the TransLink news release itself. Apparently released to a few news outlets, there is nothing on the TransLink media page, and the reasoning behind the decision is not made clear. The City of New Westminster provided rationale, alternate routing proposals, and justifications, and TransLink essentially said “no” without addressing the specific points.

Of course, they “took feedback from… Port Metro Vancouver, BC Trucking Association, and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council” – that last agency essentially being the marriage of Port Metro Vancouver and the BC Trucking Association. It is unclear of they consulted with any of the residents being impacted by these trucks, by the PACs of the impacted schools, or by the businesses in Sapperton or elsewhere in the City that are meant to be serviced by these trucks. Nor are they reporting out on the feedback they received.

They basically asked kids if they want ice cream or Brussels sprouts, and got the predictable answer.

On the positive side, there is language in the news story about working with the impacted neighbourhoods to find solutions, so let’s hope this dismissing the proposed solution out of hand doesn’t set the City back too far, and we can start an expanded conversation about accommodating goods movement while protecting the livability of our City.

“No” isn’t an answer I want from any level of Government. I would rather hear: “That solution doesn’t work, but lets find one that does”.

There is an ongoing Facebook conversation about this topic in the Group “Rattled About Traffic In New West” with a variety of voices piping in, some more rational than others. The voice I find most interesting is that of Dave Tate, who is both a trucker, and cognizant of the impacts truckers have on neighbourhoods. He has been promoting the idea that a weight restriction on the Pattullo would increase safety, prolong the life of the bridge, and would remove much of the heaviest cohort of the truck traffic from Royal- those triple-axle container trucks that are typically the ones that rattle and bang down Royal, have the biggest impact on road wear and traffic, are typically the worst performers in the random roadside safety inspections, and are most likely to be using the Pattullo as the “toll free alternative” between two points that could easily be connected by an alternate route.

It is good to hear from a balanced group of people on this issue, as it is refreshing compared to the comments one might hear on the AM radio call-in shows. Yes, I’m looking at you Simi Sara.

If you listen to CKNW and (I cannot believe I am suggesting this) listen to the comments, you hear little but ill-informed people complaining that New Westminster is a progress-hating problem child, and has always been. There are a few major themes that are constantly repeated, so I thought I would touch on them as a point of retort:

“If New West keeps putting up barriers, I will avoid it, and will not shop there!”
If a significant proportion of the several hundred thousand cars that pass through New Westminster every day actually stopped to shop here, this would indeed be a strong argument to use, but unfortunately, this is just not the case. In actuality, it is the massive number of through-commuters and heavy truck traffic that makes it harder for people from around the region (and our own residents!) to access our business storefronts. It also makes our retail areas less attractive to spend time wandering around in. Removing trucks from East Columbia would improve, not worsen, conditions for businesses in Sapperton.

“Without all these trucks, your store shelves will be empty!”
Admittedly, New West does have a resounding number of Save-on-Foods outlets, but I doubt they require the 3,500 trucks a day crossing the Pattullo, with similar numbers coming in from Brunette and across the Queensborough to keep the lettuce shelves stocked. Besides, these truck route changes would not impact at all local delivery or pick-up of goods, because trucks are permitted on non-truck-route roads when actually having business on that road.These closures would only effect through-traffic trucks with no business in New Westminster, the ones that we just spent $5 Billion on new bridges and highways to accommodate.

“New Westminster needs to get with the program and build roads around the perimeter!”
Problem is, there is no perimeter, unless you define perimeter as “where someone else lives”. The roads at the perimeter of our City run right through the heart (and other vital organs) of our community, and right past people’s homes. 10th Ave is residential west of Kingsway, and residential and way too steep for trucks east of McBride. 8th Ave is residential most of it’s length. Columbia is both residential and home to a lot of ground-based retail, and is the heart of two of our most historic neighbourhoods. One can argue Brunette is a perimeter, but it only connects to non-perimeter roads to the west. Front Street cuts through our resurgent waterfront area – downtown will only succeed if Front Street succeeds as human space that connects downtown to the River. McBride, Royal, 12th Street, 8th Street – these are urban streets in the middle of bustling neighbourhoods surrounded with parks, residences, and commercial districts. Where is this mythical “perimeter” where you want to put all the trucks?

“How many of those New West people commute through surrounding Cities – they’re just being selfish!”
The short answer to the rhetorical question: fewer than any neighbouring community. New Westminstergenerates fewer car trips per capita than any Municipality in Metro Vancouver excepting Vancouverproper. Our “alternative mode share” (people who use their feet or transit for their daily commute instead of their car) is the second highest in the region. If the Northeast Sector (~82% of trips in a car) and South of Fraser region (~82% of trips by car) [data available here] had New Westminster’s mode share (~65% of trips by car) or took steps towards reaching the goal New Westminster is reaching for in the new Master Transportation Plan (~50% of trips by car), that would be a huge step towards addressing the traffic problems in New West, and a huge step forward for the region and the Province.


This all brings me to the real point here: New Westminster is not the selfish, parochial, progress-impeding “speed bump” in the regional transportation system and we need desperately to get past that narrative. New Westminster is a leader in moving towards meeting its regional commitments to a more sustainable transportation network. It has lead by building a more compact City, investing in mixed-use developments near transit hubs, but taking a SkyTrain station that Coquitlam refused, and by holding the line on mega-freeway development while suggesting increased transit investment might be preferable if the region hopes to meet its Sustainable Region goals. New Westminster has been demonstrating transportation leadership, both in words and in action, and we should not be shy talking about it.

*Since someone asked:  Progress, by my definition, is moving towards an efficient transportation system that serves the community, not a community that serves the least efficient transportation systems. “Building more lanes” has not represented progress in traffic management circles since the late 1970s; where providing affordable, efficient alternatives is how the 21st Century sees progress in Transportation planning.

Campaign Launch

New Westminster’s 2013 Citizen of the Year Patrick Johnstone to run for City Council

New Westminster, BC – Patrick Johnstone has announced he is running for a seat on New Westminster City Council in the upcoming November election.

“I love New Westminster, and have always believed in working to build your community,” he said. “I think I have the skills to be an effective Councillor, to keep the City moving forward, and will bring new ideas and a strong voice to the Council table.”

Johnstone chose to make his announcement early so he can spend the summer listening to voters from the many different neighbourhoods in the city, and learn more about their concerns.

“I have been blogging and leading conversations about issues for years. I‘m not afraid to express my opinion, but a Councillor needs to listen first. That’s my goal for the summer: knocking on doors, attending events, and listening to people who will challenge my own ideas about what New Westminster wants and needs.”

The announcement might be early, but it’s not surprising. For the last couple of months, people have been asking if he was intending to run. With encouragement from the New West community, and from his supportive partner, Johnstone decided to take the plunge. “I think the timing is right for me to take my community volunteering in this new direction.”

Johnstone is a director of the New Westminster Environmental Partners, the Royal City Curling Club and the Brow of the Hill Residents Association, and he volunteers in various other capacities in the City. He has also been a noted presence in local social media, active on Twitter as @NWimby and writing a locally-focussed blog “New Westminster – In My Back Yard”.

“I am a communicator, and want to continue to communicating  first as a candidate and ultimately, as a Councillor. People tell me they feel separated from decision-making in government. I want to help create stronger channels of communication, so residents are heard at the Council table, and residents better understand how and why Council makes decisions.”

Contact us!



Yes, it is true. I have decided to run for City Council in New Westminster in the upcoming November election.

I think many of my regular readers suspected this, and it was funny at the PechaKuchaNW event this past weekend, pretty much every second person asked me if I was running. My standard answer was something along the lines of “not yet”, but playing coy starts to get stale. That is why I am announcing a little earlier that usual. Once I was sure I was actually going to do this thing, I wanted to announce as soon as I could get a press release together.

There is another reason for announcing now. I like to talk, and I like to listen. I like to have conversations with people about issues in the City and hear what people think. I even like talking to people I disagree with, because that is where the learning opportunity lives. So I plan to spend the summer talking to people. I’m going to knock on doors and attend City events, and I have a few fun and creative ideas to better connect with people. I want to get outside of my usual “bubble” and talk to people not in my Twitter-sphere, people who don’t read this blog, and people who aren’t in the various groups I volunteer with in the City. For all of those people in New Westminster who I don’t already know, saying “Hi, I’m running for Council” is a natural conversation starter.

I will be doing the typical roll-out-the-platform activities in early September. I have some ideas, some themes, and some goals, but for the summer, I want to listen more than talk.

Naturally, there are going to be some changes around here, mostly in the frequency of my blogging, as I just won’t have as much time to write. However, I do plan to keep blogging here, and @NWimby will continue on Twitter. For the purposes of the campaign, there will be a new website (patrickjohnstone.ca), there will be a campaign-only Twitter account (@PJNewWest), and a campaign-oriented Facebook Page. I encourage you to go to those places and link, like, tweet, comment, vote, volunteer, donate, or pretty much hit any other button you are presented with.

One commitment I will make right up front: I am not going to stop communicating during the campaign, nor will I stop communicating once elected in November. The way I see it, my success as a Councillor will be in remaining the outspoken, opinionated, honest, and talkative guy who wrote more than 400 blog posts over the last few years.

So things are going to be weird around here for the next few months, but hang in there, and it should be fun.

When Pipelines come home

I apologise once again for not posting as often as I would like here. There are many things afoot, bringing a completely different meaning to what I call “free time”. I am also working on a major project related to my pledge (a little more than a year ago) to take a risk – more details on that will be released really soon.

However, this issue has piqued my interest and I had to stay up late to write about it, because these hydrocarbon pipeline projects people keep talking about in other regions of the Province have come home to New Westminster.

After having attended last week’s NWEP meeting where Mark Allison from the City outlined the City’s approach to the project, and Elmer Rudolph from the Sapperton Fish and Game Club came to talk about the Brunette River, I think it is time we in New West started talking about Kinder Morgan.

You probably have heard that Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based uber-pipeline company that purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2005, wants to “twin” thee pipeline. To quote directly from the project site:

“Trans Mountain is proposing an expansion of its current 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, BC. The proposed expansion, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline that would increase the nominal capacity of the system from 300,000 barrels per day, to 890,000 barrels per day. At present, the Westridge Marine Terminal handles approximately five tankers per month. Should the proposed expansion be approved, the number of tankers loaded at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase to approximately 34 per month.”

What we don’t know about this project could fill a blog post, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of this project here. There has been some excellent analysis of the project opportunities and risks prepared by CRED, which you can read here.

However, few people in New Westminster up to now realized that this project will likely be passing though our own backyard, and may have a significant impact on one of the few remaining local areas of high ecological value: the Brunette River. When first announced, it appeared that the pipeline was to be “expanded”, suggesting that it would follow the existing right-of-way through central Coquitlam and skirting along the south side of Burnaby Mountain. However, the proposal showed a different routing for the new pipe, which passed through south Coquitlam, and essentially paralleled the Lougheed Highway. Now, and “alternative route” has become the favoured one – and this one passes though the green spaces on the New Westminster – Burnaby border, immediately adjacent to the Brunette River.

This is where Elmer Rudolph comes in. For those who may not know him, Elmer is a real local hero and a legend amongst western Canada’s Streamkeeper groups. He and his group from the Sapperton F&G Club have spent 40 years pushing the envelope on salmon habitat restoration in urban streams, improving the world’s knowledge of salmon ecology, habitat recovery, and environmental protection in urban areas. He did this mostly through sheer persistence and elbow grease. When the Brunette was a “dead” river as recently as 1970, a lot of very smart people thought any attempt to bring salmon back to the River and its would be wasted time. It was only 15 years later that the River came alive again, and for 20 years since, Elmer and his volunteers have made slow, steady improvement in habitat and water quality along the river and throughout its massive basin.

The route along the Brunette is also part of the region’s best Greenway route, the Central Valley Greenway. That route is a green oasis paralleled by development, density, and traffic, a heavily-used place for pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers, and anyone wanting to escape the sun on these hot summer days and cool off along a bubbling salmon-bearing stream, right in the middle of our City. If you travel along the CVG, you see large areas of habitat enhancement – areas that were improved to improve water quality and habitat diversity – for the Port Mann Highway 1 expansion project only a year or two ago.

So I’m glad the City is getting involved in the project, and the idea of a Public Meeting in New Westminster to discuss the project and get the mood of the community about putting this project adjacent to the Brunette River (like the City did last year for the still-up-in-the-air Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal project) is a good idea.

More on District Energy

I wasn’t able to attend the City’s open house last month on the potential District Energy Utility (DEU) system, tentatively proposed for the Sapperton area (it was the same night as the Royal City Curling Club AGM, and two or three other events I would have like to have attended. I need a clone). I have read a lot about DEUs, and have toured systems in a few different places. I have previously written at length about the many benefits of DEUs, so I was really interested to see what direction New Westminster was planning to go with the idea.

Based on what I read in the consultation materials, I like what I see.

The basic idea behind a DEU is that thermal energy systems can be more efficient if they are built larger. This is why there is commonly a single boiler in a large commercial or residential building, instead of having little boilers in each apartment or office. If a single energy source could supply heat energy (hot water or steam) to multiple buildings, it can be run as a utility to those buildings: a DEU.

Many large cities have had systems like this for decades. Downtown Vancouver has a gas-fired steam system that ties multiple buildings together. However, the modern resurgence of DEUs is coming out of Europe, and is being driven by low- or zero-carbon energy supplies. In the last decade, DEUs of different size and design have popped up in Victoria, Vancouver, Richmond, and other cities.

Although DEUs can be retro-fitted into existing buildings, the most cost-effective application is one where the buildings are constructed with the DEU in mind, around a development hub. Having an institutional or industrial user in the core to provide cost-buffering “baseline demand” makes the business case even stronger. A well-designed DEU will sell energy to the customers at similar rates as other energy sources (while buffering the customers from the volatility of gas or oil prices), pay for the infrastructure costs, and even turn a small profit for the utility owner. When a low- or zero-carbon energy source is part of the plan, there are spin-off environmental benefits for the entire community.

The New Westminster situation has many of the elements that could make for a very successful DEU. There is an institutional customer interested in reducing its carbon footprint for regulatory reasons, and there is relatively high density development (commercial, industrial, and residential) occurring nearby that will allow gradual scaling up for increased efficiency. There also happens to be a zero-carbon energy source right nearby.

The analysis provided by the City here shows that the sewer heat option is viable, at least in the preliminary analysis. This is really good news, because although the wood waste option would provide GHG and cost benefits over not having a DEU, the math when it comes to emissions related to a sewer heat recovery system are obviously order-of-magnitude better:

Emission estimates of different systems, click to enlarge.

Yes, scrubbers, filters and the such can improve the baseline particulate numbers, but you really can’t argue with the near-zero emissions of the sewer heat system.
As I said, I missed my chance to go to the open house, but I can still provide my feedback. So can you!

Read the materials here. And more here.

Then provide some feedback here.You can ask questions, let them know your concerns or ideas. Here is your chance to give them the feedback you want. But you better hurry, you have until this Friday!

On the Bailey Bridge

At least we can stop fighting about this and move onto more important issues, right?

I’m not sure it is a “disaster”, but the results of the arbitration on the Bailey Bridge dispute are disappointing, and a little frustrating.

The disappointment comes from the fact that this result will do absolutely nothing to solve anyone’s “traffic problems”, as a century of traffic research and Braess Paradox tell us that adding capacity has never reduced congestion when there is a near-infinite supply of vehicles. Instead, it will likely increase induced demand and create more congestion in the Braid Industrial area, making it harder for New Westminster businesses to access Brunette or United Boulevard.

As was already made clear, the “Ambulance Argument” was either bluster or bullshit, as a critical care ambulance is unlikely to risk getting stuck behind a train when an alternative is available, and an alternative is available from Coquitlam. An ambulance at the south foot of the new King Edward overpass can get to the Emergency room at RCH via the Bailey Bridge (2.8km) or via Lougheed and Brunette (3.4km), a difference of 600m. To save that 30 seconds, they would run the risk of getting stuck behind one of the 60-odd trains a day that cross Braid, and now will run the risk of getting stuck behind a line of cars in one of the few places where cars would not be able to pull over to get out of the way – a two-lane Bailey Bridge. I suspect the 4-and 6-lane alternative route provides higher response speeds, more room for people to get out of the way of lights and sirens, and more reliable transport times. But hey, one thing have in common with Richard Stewart is that I’m not an ambulance driver.

The frustrating part is how little information we have about why the decision was made the way it was. If you read the actual arbitrator’s decision, it clearly states that under Section 287 (e) of the Community Charter, the arbitrator is not to provide written reasons for their decision. We (the voters, the citizens, even our elected representatives) are specifically forbidden from knowing why the decision was made, or what evidence was used to inform that decision. Essentially, your parents just answered “why?” with “Because I said so!” For someone who gets engaged in local politics, and expects accountability and reasoning behind policy, this is a frustrating way to resolve a 20-year conflict.

To understand why this is the case, you need to go back through the Community Charter , which is the Provincial Legislation that governs, amongst other things, boundary disputes between municipalities. Under Part 9 of the Charter (Division 3- Dispute Resolution), there are two types of arbitration available to the disputing Municipalities in this type of case. Section 287 describes the “Final Proposal Arbitration” process, where the two parties provide their proposals and supporting justifications to the arbitrator, and the arbitrator chooses one of the two, based on whatever criteria (s)he deems appropriate, with no room for compromising middle ground or requirement to justify that choice. Section 288 describes the “Full Arbitration” process, where the Arbitrator can conduct whatever proceedings they deem appropriate (including hearings, negotiations, etc.), the arbitrator can provide an alternate solution to the ones proposed by the two parties, and the decision comes with a written explanation of the decision and justification. Clearly the second is the more open, transparent, and accountable process.

This more open and accountable process was the one argued for by New Westminster. Coquitlam wanted the closed process in the interests of expedience (because, you know, after 20 years, this needs to be settled right away). As there was no agreement on this first point of arbitration, the Province stepped in and made the decision that the closed process would be used. Which is why the New Westminster Council is now scratching their heads about how the decision was made. They are not allowed to know. Take your complaints to… uh… no-one.

Regardless, now that the arbitration result has been released, it is all (wait for it) water under the bridge, and we need to move on. Hopefully, the City will find a way to reconfigure the traffic patterns on the New Westminster side so that the businesses down there on Canfor Ave are not completely choked out when the inevitable commuting rush arrives on Braid. Also hopefully, Coquitlam won’t use this as an excuse to uselessly blow United Boulevard just east of the bridge out to 4 lanes, and take away the cyclist and pedestrian-friendly layout they have recently created between the bridge and the King Edward overpass.

Clearly ,we will find out which prediction comes true: Mayor Stewart’s assertion that his City’s (sarcasm) biggest traffic issue will finally be resolved (end sarcasm); or New Westminster’s prediction that the 5 rail tracks and already-problematic Braid and Brunette intersection are just going to mean the traffic pinch point has been moved 400m to the west, making the rail crossings less safe for everyone, and hurting New Westminster businesses for no gain whatsoever. But we likely won’t know the answer to that question until after the election, so Mayor Stewart can enjoy his gloating in the meantime.