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.