I know we have all enjoyed the quieter streets when the Pattullo Bridge has had weekend closures. We have all equally cursed the increased afternoon congestion as irregular lane reductions have confused and vexed our daily drive-through customers. So the pump is primed for a talk about the future of the Pattullo Bridge.
For those who have lost track of the many changes in the on-again off-again Pattullo Replacement Project, the short version is thus. Much preliminary design and evaluation went into the replacement project to determine the need and urgency of the project a few years ago. TransLink recognized the need to replace the bridge (a position I don’t necessarily agree with, but there you go), but was constrained by simply not having the capital in their budget to start the project. It was rolled into the Mayors’ 10-Year Transportation Investment Plan to create the initial capital, and then provide a framework for capital recovery through tolling. Of course, that Plan received a NO Vote setback (causing me to wonder how many of those people stuck in traffic behind that bridge voted NO… but I digress), but that doesn’t remove TransLink’s perceived need to replace the bridge.
In fact, the repairs happening right now are a scaled-back version of the repairs that were once anticipated if the capital to replace the bridge could not be found. As disruptive as the work is now, it is limited to deck-replacement repairs required to eke out another 5-7 years of service life from the bridge, not long-term repairs required to get another 20 or more years. So you may read from this decision that TransLink sees a replacement bridge being operational within that 5-7 year time frame. Assuming a 1-year Environmental Assessment a longer design/procurement stage and at least two years of construction, they have a bit of work to do and need to get started (funding pending, of course).
New Westminster has signed a three-party MOU with TransLink and the City of Surrey that clearly defines the parameters for a new bridge. It will be tolled, it will be 4 lanes (with underpinnings to support eventual expansion to 6 lanes if there is demonstrated need and with all-party agreement), and it will connect with the surface streets in New West in a way that respects the urban nature of our surface streets. It’s that last bit that is the topic of upcoming public engagement being led by TransLink.
As the project looks now, the bridge will land in a very similar place to where it does now, but there are oodles of details about how it interacts with Royal Avenue, with McBride, and with the access to Victoria Hill. In my role in the Mayor’s Transportation Taskforce I have seen some preliminary sketches, but I don’t know exactly what proposed options TransLink will be presenting to the public starting next week.
My take on what we should be looking for in this phase of consultation is tied up in that phrasing around the urban nature of our community. The north foot of the Pattullo Bridge should look like other urban bridges in the centre of residential and commercial areas in the region – think of the No 2 Road and Dinsmore bridges in Richmond or the Cambie and Burrard bridges in Vancouver. This as opposed to building overpasses and flyways and offramps like the Alex Fraser or Golden Ears. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First is safety. This bridge will be built to “modern” bridge standards, which likely means 3.5m or 4m lanes, physical separation of directions, and wide open sight lines. They may slap a 60km/h speed limit on it, but everyone is going to go 90km/h, because all of the visual cues telling you how fast to drive are going to tell the reptile part of your brain to go 90km/h. I have no interest in making McBride or Royal 60km/h zones or faster, it is simply not a safe speed to be operating a vehicle in an urban environment. There needs to be visual cues that you are entering an urban environment and have to slow the hell down, and those cues need to be designed in, not sign posted. One only has to look at eastbound Stewardson Way to see what happens when cars leaving flyways and crossovers enter a 50km/h zone with nothing other than a traffic sign telling them to slow down:
The now-worn-away red flags on those signs do nothing to reduce speeds, but remain flaccid tokens of a design failure. I don’t want to repeat this design failure at Pattullo.
The second is simply livability of the local neighbourhoods. People living in Victoria Hill need to be able to access the Downtown of New Westminster without a freeway cutting them off. The Central Valley Greenway is one of the City’s primary bike and pedestrian routes – it needs to be a comfortable, safe space for all residents and street users. There is no place in this environment for elevated freeway ramps. Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure needs to be well-marked, accessible, and not pretend to service active transportation users while actually being built to accommodate higher-speed traffic. Victoria Hill, Queens Park, Albert Crescent Park; these are neighbourhoods and public spaces in New Westminster, not through-fares. We need to design with that in mind.
What will that look like? I don’t know yet. But I am as curious as you to see how this develops.
So if you live in New Westminster and care about transportation, especially if you live in Victoria Hill and want better access to the rest of New Westminster, I recommend you register for one of the small-group meetings, or attend one of the public open houses. It might even be fun to attend a Surrey open house or two, and see what the conversation on the other side of the river is.
The schedule is as follows:
Go! Show up! Take Part! If experience is a guide, TransLink does take public consultation seriously, and we will only have one chance to make this right and lock in the interface to the Pattullo that residents of New Westminster will have to live with for a decades. We need some voices from New Westminster to help make this thing fit our neighbourhoods, and the future of our city, as best as possible.