Pattullo Consultations & Cautious Optimism

Call me cautiously optimistic.

As promised, TransLink is back in town, talking Pattullo. I have attended a small-group talk on June 4th, and dropped into the open house on the 6th to hear the public feedback part of the event. I have also poured through the presentation materials.

Interesting that this new round of consultation is starting in New Westminster only a week after TransLink moved their office to the Brewery District, not two blocks from the Sapperton Pensioners Hall where the meetings were being held. This is no doubt a coincidence, but damn convenient for staff.

What is not a coincidence is that much of what we are seeing at this consultation looks very much like what the New Westminster community was asking for a year ago when the first attempt at consultation took place in New Westminster. At the time, New West was clearly not happy with the several iterations of 6-lane Pattullo offered, or with the lack of discussion of higher-level policy directives that were pushing us towards placing a bigger bridge within an already-constricted road system.

There is a lot of information provided in the consultation materials this time around, and I want to give some of it time to breathe, so this will be a multi-stage blog as I try to wrap my head around the various topics and options. Classify everything that follows as “first impressions”.

Without getting too deep into the options, there is much in the consultation documentation that should make New Westminster happy.

First look at Page 5 of the booklet where TransLink presents the problem statement:

“The Pattullo Bridge may not survive a moderate earthquake or ship collision, the piers are at risk of being undermined by river scour and many bridge components have surpassed their useful life”

Right up front, this is a vast improvement from the earlier consultation, because (as I suggested last year) TransLink is no longer talking about solving a traffic capacity problem, they are talking about solving an old bridge problem. This is the biggest reason why there is a much broader range of solutions being presented to deal with the problem, including the fundamental idea that fixing the bridge we have is viable.

Beyond the problem statement, there is a list of other issues that are to be considered while seeking an approach to solve the old bridge problem:

1. The Pattullo Bridge does not meet current roadway design guidelines, including for lane widths and curvature, potentially contributing to collisions.
2. Pattullo Bridge facilities, such as sidewalks and barriers, and connections for pedestrians and cyclists, are inadequate and do not provide sufficient protection from traffic.
3. During rush hours, travel demand on the roads leading to the Pattullo Bridge results in queuing and unreliable travel times for the movement of people, goods and services.
4. Current traffic (including truck) volumes affect the liveability of adjacent communities due to air quality, noise and resulting health impacts, as well as due to neighbourhood traffic infiltration.

Again these messages are very different than last year. Only point 3 acknowledges current traffic volumes, and point 4 correctly characterizes the biggest issue with traffic volumes is their negative impact on livability.

This problem set simply does not add up to adding lanes within the Pattullo Bridge corridor.

Looking at the traffic discussion on Page 7 provides some interesting context to the recent changes in traffic patterns. Notably, traffic on the Pattullo is not, as most would contend, worse than it was a decade ago, or even 20 years ago.

TransLink graphic, click to zoom in. 

Perhaps more interesting is the preliminary traffic data showing the impact of the new Port Mann tolls and connection to the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Anecdotally, traffic has been worse in New West since those changes in December, and data does support a slight increase in numbers. Although the data is preliminary, there has been a 4% increase in traffic of all types (both on weekdays and the weekend). Truck traffic has only increased 3% on weekdays and is apparently unchanged on the weekend.

This doesn’t seem like much, but 200 extra trucks a day might be noticeable if they are all going the same way after crossing the bridge (you have to think during business hours that is about one extra truck every 5 minutes).

Still, the numbers reinforce what the real traffic load on the Pattullo is: not trucks carrying lettuce and cheese to New Westminster stores, but cars moving people though town. 92% of weekday traffic and 96% of weekend traffic is cars. Keep those numbers in mind when anyone talks about alleviating traffic congestion by building truck-only lanes.

Probably the most important new info in this package is on page 11- the statement of Objectives for the review, because these will be the measuring stick used to measure the various options. The option that best fits these eight objectives should be the one chosen, if the evaluation is a good one.

So let’s look at them in turn:

1. Moves towards the regional goal that most trips will be by walking, cycling
and transit.

This objective is straight out of the Regional Growth Strategy, TransLink’s Transport 2040 long-term planning document, and the goals of the draft City of New Westminster Master Transportation Plan. It also coincides with several Surrey long-term policy documents (Cycling Plan, Walking Plan, Sustainability Charter) and the Provincial Cycling Policy and Climate Action Plan. So easy to see where this is coming from.

2. Minimizes single occupant vehicle use and vehicle kilometres travelled.

Again, this objective fits all of the above plans, and speaks directly against any plan of expanded road capacity for the Pattullo.

3. Minimizes emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pollutants.

Interesting. People taking transit, cycling, or walking produce much less GHG and pollutants than drivers, including trucks. Moving freight by rail instead of truck reduces GHG and pollutants. Building transit infrastructure South of the Fraser will reduce GHG and pollutants much more than any road-building project crossing the River will. Keeping the old bridge will produce less pollutants and GHG than building a new one, just in relation to the amount concrete that would be saved.

4. Is capable of supporting neighbourhood liveability by minimizing and
mitigating impacts, including during construction, and provides an aesthetically pleasing structure.

Here is a big one that should make New Westminster happy. Livability of the surrounding community is taken into account. Another strike against bigger road capacity. Unless all of that traffic goes into the mythical McBride-Stormont Tunnel, but we will address that later. Aesthetically pleasing might be a challenge- I think the existing bridge looks great, but needs a coat of paint. “Pleasing” is pretty subjective, though.

5. Supports local and regional land use plans and economic development.

Once again, the regional landuse plan and local community plans for New Westminster and the portion of Surrey right across the bridge, are for compact, dense, urban centres where alternative transportation modes dominate.

6. Provides reliable access and predictable travel times for all modes, users, and
for an appropriate level of goods movement.

Some interesting wiggle words here. “Predictable” travel times don’t mean reduced travel times. A fully congested bridge is predictable, a bridge where traffic moves at 50km/h is predictable. A closed bridge is predictable. A bridge where traffic sometimes goes 50km/h and sometimes goes 80km/h, and is subject to accidents and poor visibility and crumbling bad pavement produces unpredictability. Transit and bicycles? Super predictable.

7. Provides a safe crossing for all modes, is structurally sound and meets current
standards for seismic and ship impacts.

No-one can argue against that.

8. Is cost-effective.

No-one can argue against that, except that there is no description of what they mean by the term. As TransLink has no money, one has to presume they are going to have to toll this bridge to pay for it. At the consultation I attended, it was strongly implied that tolls were the most likely option to finance the bridge, but they were not discounting the potential for contributions from senior governments.

For some reason, I doubt there will be a referendum to decide how to pay for this bridge (like was floated during the election as a proposal to find funding sources for TransLink operations). However, the question of Tolls is not secondary to this consultation, many of the goals around GHGs, improved livability, and predictability of travel times can be effectively addressed through Transportation Demand Management, including road pricing. The needs of this crossing, and other crossings in the region, will depend on whether they are tolled or not.

Ultimately, I am for the least-expensive option that maintains a link while improving alternative transportation access. Clearly, fixing the existing bridge is a viable and affordable option. At the other end of the spectrum cost-wise are the various tunnel modes. As I’ve said before, tunnels are great for trains, but for cars full of people, they are monumentally expensive. But I will save a complicated options analysis until another post.

Short version: This is what we asked for, folks. Last year when New Westminster showed up in force at the consultations and asked TransLink to go away and come back with something better, this is what that something better looked like. We are early in the process this time around, but looking at the problem formulation and evaluation criteria being applied, it is hard to see how anything larger than a 4-lane Pattullo (refurbished or new) could be accepted as the best approach.

If you have questions or opinions, your last chance to take them to TransLink in person is on Saturday at the Inn at the Quay. The on-line parts of the consultation will be running for a couple of weeks yet, and there have been reports of phone polls happening in New Westminster. There are lots of opportunities for you to take part here.

Do the Math (the Movie)

Every month or so, the NWEP hold an informal get-together of like-minded folks to chat about sustainability issues. This follows the international movement known as “Green Drinks”. The original Green Drinks model was to have a regular informal networking and conversation session for environmental professionals, sustainability activists, and like minded folks to create a crucible for action. There are literally hundreds of Green drinks held internationally, and each has its own character.

Here in New West, we are trying to attach a small-scale event to each Green Drinks, a speaker or such to lubricate the conversation and to increase the reach to the general community. As per the Green Drinks code, the evening is not “about” the speaker or a specific topic. The conversations after are broad-reaching and held in small informal groups constantly migrating, really it is just a cocktail party not a rallying session. Above all, it is a social night out where folks can meet new people and share new ideas. As a bonus in New West, we can meet in the Back Room of the Heritage Grill, where the license if food primary, so it has a “pub” feel, but people under 19 can attend, and there is no expectation to imbibe in alcohol if that isn’t your thing. There is even live music up front for those who do feel like hanging out a little later.

Last week’s Green Drinks was moderately well attended, considering short notice and the burgeoning nature of this new iteration. 25-30 people gathered to see a short documentary film that was just released last month:

Just to put things into a local perspective, I gave it a short intro, and tried to put the local and personal spin on it all. For the record, here are my speaking notes from the night (of course, I ended up speaking more off the cuff and may have missed some of this or added new stuff- you’d have to have shown up to recognize the difference).

Tonight we have a short new Documentary; “Do the Math”

Don’t be afraid of the title, there are only three numbers discussed, and the movie is less about the math behind those three numbers, and more about what those three numbers means to us as denizens of Earth in the 21st century.

The film revolves around Bill McKibben, who has become one the most vocal environmental activists in the Land of Freedom, therefore the subject matter is almost exclusively about our southern neighbours – but maybe that is an interesting thing to keep on your mind during the film: how does the situation there relate to Canada? Or does it relate? What are the similarities and differences?

Finally, I like this film because after the first third talking about the problem, McKibben makes a compelling case about how it is time to stop playing defense for the environment, and if we are going to make any difference at all before it is too late, we had better start playing hard offence, and hitting the people who are perpetrating climate change right where they hurt: their stock value.

Clearly an academic who got dragged into activism (much like Marc Jaccard, Andrew Weaver, James Hansen, Michael Mann, etc.), McKibben has an academic’s speaking style. He wants to be understood more than heard, so what he lacks in bombastic, he makes up for in factual information.

So without further ado: on with the show.

I want to mention a number that was alluded towards, but not part of the “big three numbers” in McKibben’s argument. That is the number 400, as in parts per million CO2.

Sometime last month, while many of us were distracted by a Provincial election, the global atmospheric concentration of CO2 exceeded 400ppm for the first time in about 3 million years. This number is much higher, I hasten to mention, than 350 – the number that the globe agreed was the limit we had to shoot for long-term to prevent unpredictable and catastrophic results of the global atmospheric temperature increasing by more than 2 degrees due to fossil carbon in the atmosphere.

It might be seen as ironic that this arbitrary milestone was passed in the middle of an election where the winning party set as their main policy goal – as their great vision of the future and economic salvation of our Province – a rapid expansion of fossil fuel extraction and quick sale through the most energy-intensive and unsustainable means possible. That this position was supported tacitly by the poll-leading opposition party might be part of the reason we saw a strong surge in support for the Green Party.

Look, mea culpa: I own stocks in Exxon. I own stocks in Encana and Suncor and BP. Not by choice, mind you. I work for a municipality, and am required to contribute to the Municipal Pension Plan. All of those companies are listed amongst the holdings of the MPP. I also have a small personal RRSP, and until recently, Suncor (a large bitumen sand producer) was included as part of my “Ethical Fund” investment. For many of us, we either cannot know where our retirement savings are invested, or have no influence over how they are invested. Maybe the first thing we should take out of this film and McKibben’s “disinvestment” idea is to find out. See if we can change that.

But even if you are not lucky as I am to have some retirement savings, think about what those election promises meant. We have a government right now who wants to invest in hydrocarbon extraction and burning in order to put the Provinces’ finances in order. That is your money they are investing in extracting part of that 2000 GigaTonnes of carbon that needs to stay in the ground if we hope to leave a recognizable global ecosystem to our kids and grandkids. Maybe here in BC, that is where divestment starts. But in this case, we are not just the shareholders- we the voters are the corporation.

There is a coal terminal proposed for across the water that will be responsible for more GHG per year than the City of New Westminster, all its citizens and businesses and cars and schools and everything puts out over 200 years – but our local Chamber of Commerce is all for it because it promises 25 local jobs. Is that a good investment?

There are two pipeline proposals to make BC the export port for bitumen bound for gas tanks and boilers around the Pacific Rim – risking our coastline and our water supplies to expand bitumen sand extraction in Alberta. Is that a good investment?

The big proposal on the table right now is to use your tax dollars to double BCs electrical generating capacity, not to wean ourselves off of less-sustainable energy sources, or even to sell to neighbouring jurisdictions to offset their more carbon-intensive electrical generation, but so we can refrigerate methane extracted through fracking, transported in pipelines, with up to 20% of the methane lost during drilling, pumping, and transportation activities, letting all of our chips lie on the roulette table known as the global natural gas market. Is that a good investment?

To quote the film- we need to start taking money from people causing the problem, and start giving it to people solving the problem. But first, we, as British Columbians, need to stop being former, and start demanding that our government become the latter.

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.

Fix it.

Not sure how you haven’t heard- but TransLink is back in New Westminster to talk about the Pattullo Bridge. Consultation meetings start this week, and go on for most of June. You really should think about attending one. Or more.

This got me thinking that it was this time last year that Pattullo Consultation Part 1 occurred. It was 13 months ago that I wrote this long Blog Post about how the Pattullo was showing signs of neglect. Short version: the Pattullo is an old steel structure, and like all old steel structures from the Eiffel Tower to my Honda, they will last nearly forever if properly maintained, but will turn to dust in a flash if neglected. In that post, I showed some pictures of the bridge, demonstrating that TransLink is leaning towards the dust-making approach to maintenance.

So it being a year on, I went by the Pattullo Bridge today to see if there was any sign of the alleged $3 Million a year TransLink once claimed they spent on maintaining the Pattullo. Just for fun, I tried, as best I could, to repeat the photos I took a year ago. So here are the before-and-after photos:

No change here. 
Pretty much the same rust
Paint continuing to peel
This catch basin still jammed, with some of the same debris!
I guess wheel-damaging potholes are a bigger priority than failing bridge structures
Admittedly, it looks like a couple of the more potentially tetanus-causing pillars had
their jagged metal sawed off, and a bit of new paint applied to them. 
It’s been a slow year for Plaque-taggers.
…and for those concerned, the plants in the trusswork are still doing fine!

I took a few more pictures this time, just for the fun of it:

There is still a healthy mix of rusted-through railings and pillars, even if a few have been painted.
Along with new potholes, this one demonstrating what happens when a catchbasin
is blocked for too long, and the water needs somewhere to go.

The point I want to make here is not that the bridge is rusty and unsafe; it is certainly rusty, but TransLink assures us it is safe (but ominously won’t be for long). The point is that TransLink is, for whatever reason, still failing to do the maintenance that might keep it safe.

The Pattullo is an historic structure, the most iconic structure on New Westminster’s skyline for 75 years. It is every bit as historically significant as its contemporaries at the First Narrows of Burrard Inlet and Sydney Harbour. Allowing this historic structure and vital transportation link to degrade to its current state is shameful, and an irresponsible way to manage public infrastructure. It is time to fix it.

That is the position I am taking into TransLink’s consultations, one that can be summed up in two words: “Fix it”

Fix it: We don’t want or need a new bridge, or a wider bridge, or more bridge or the bridge to be moved or removed. The bridge serves a purpose, and can continue to for the next generation, but it needs to be fixed.

Fix it: The bridge is iconic, historic, and an important part of the heritage of the City and the region. It must be preserved, protected, and celebrated.

Fix it: The bridge can serve its users by replacing the sidewalk with a lighter, wider structure (similar to the approach on the Queensborough), and by reducing the driving lanes to 3 with a central counter-flow, much like the Lions Gate.

Fix it: The bridge suffers (like most of TransLink’s infrastructure) from a profound lack of funding for a transportation authority in a rapidly-growing region. The funding model for TransLink needs to be fixed.

Fix it: Transit in Surrey is woefully underdeveloped and underfunded, forcing residents to be overly dependant on this bridge to get places. The region’s transportation options are broken – fix it!

Fix it: yes, TransLink has provided us a compelling list of the current bridge’s problems, but they have not talked about how they will fix them. Time to get started.

C’mon TransLink, we are all in the same camp here. Let’s agree on a plan, let’s lobby the senior governments to get you the funds you need, and let’s fix the damn bridge.

Community Open House on Coal Exports

Thursday Night, there is a Community Open House to discuss the proposed addition of a coal terminal at Surrey-Fraser Docks. This one featuring City Officials, no less than 2 (two!) Members of Parliament, a Member of the Provincial Legislature, and and array of energy, health and environment experts.

I have already opined once on this topic, but it might be time for an update.

You might have heard about this issue. Local Candidate-in-Waiting James Crosty has been characteristically outspoken, the Quayside Community Board has raised concerns, as have the NWEP, and others during a recent public rally on the topic. Now, the City of New Westminster has officially opposed the project until come concerns are addressed.

In direct opposition to the City’s elected officials and the vocal portion of their customer base (but toeing the line of the Surrey Chamber), the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce just released a presser indicating their support for “environmentally sound coal shipments” – apparently unaware of the oxymoron contained within that phrase.

Nothing about the shipment of coal is environmentally sound. Simply put, this bituminous coal from Wyoming (Montana?) represents the dirtiest energy available to mankind, and is a small piece in the Global Climate Change Problem. This is not high-grade anthracite coal used for making steel that we can beat into ploughshares, this is scrubby brown coal that will be burned in a power plant somewhere in the far east to produce electricity or steam cheaper than the same energy can be produced by more sustainable means. The annual greenhouse gas and climate change implications of burning this much coal (not including the extraction or transportation impacts) will be equivalent to 200x the annual GHG output of the entirety of New Westminster – all the homes, businesses, cars and industry combined.

Port Metro Vancouver (the only legislative oversight body involved here, and therefore the party we are talking to when discussing this project) and Fraser Surrey Docks simply brush these greenhouse gas concerns away – the coal will not be burned here, therefore it does not count in “our” greenhouse gas accounting. This is the same argument being made by proponents of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion. This argument is also used by Christy Clark at al. when talking about LNG exports, despite the fact the most damaging GHG impacts of that project will be released right here in BC, and not at the eventual burning site. Without getting too sidetracked by that particular lie- the central argument is ethically compromised.

A simile one could apply is the street drug trade. If one does not manufacture Crack Cocaine, and one does not smoke it, there is no reason we should restrict the business growth that comes from selling it. Hey- I’m just moving this stuff offshore (or off the sidewalk) to people who want it- I’m not responsible for where it goes! Why should we stop the job-generating resale of Crack Cocaine?

Another more direct comparison is to Canada’s asbestos industry. Canada banned the domestic use of asbestos decades ago because it apparently killed people. However, Canada has refused to ban the mining and export of the material to the Third World – even going so far as to lobby the UN from officially recognizing the scientifically-established cancer-causing properties of the material. The Harper Government(tm) was even willing to subsidize the industry in a couple of important Quebec ridings, until the newly-elected Quebec government shut that shit down.

Similarly, this crappy coal from Wyoming (Montana?) would never be burned to make electricity in BC, it is actually illegal for BC Hydro to burn this stuff because of the nasty environmental impacts. Yet, we are willing to transport it through our Ports, have it do it’s environmental and social damage elsewhere, and take our skim off the top. In this case, the skim is 50 jobs. Does that sound like an ethical approach to business? Does this sound like “environmentally sound coal movement?”

Much like the oil pipeline and LNG examples, the increase in coal export flies in the face of BC’s claims to be a “carbon neutral” province, or that because it has a neutered Carbon Tax, it is a leader in Climate Change Policy. Currently, According to the Government of BC oil, gas and coal represents much less that 2% of BC’s GDP and well less than 1% of employment – it is a minuscule portion of our true economy. Yet, we are being told that unfettered support for these industries is fundamental to the future or our Province’s economic survival. Some have suggested we are betting a lot on a pipe dream.

The reality is that these activities are threatening other sectors of our economy: fisheries, farming, forestry, tourism, manufacturing, etc. The Petro-economy is impacting our dollar which challenges all other industries, while the science-stifling required to support the industry is hurting our global competitiveness and global reputation. Climate change is threatening our salmon, and has already decimated our forests. We plan to displace farmland in order to provide electricity for carbon extraction and refrigeration, while depleting and fouling the water supply we need to keep agriculture viable in our interior valleys. This will, in turn, make us more dependent on food imports, push up healthcare costs, and turn SuperNatural British Columbia into something we may not recognize.

Of course, this isn’t all on Fraser Surrey Docks, or even Port Metro Vancouver. They are just the current  active front in a larger battle for the future of our Province’s economy, and the local focus in the discussion about the future of our planet’s climate. Are we going to become a hydrocarbon-exporting Province as our main industrial activity? Are we going to continue to ignore the global implications of our unsustainable business practices? Are we going to continue the drift from a world leader in Environmental Protection to an embarrassing laggard? Who the hell is making these decisions, and why?!

That is why this little port approval process is bringing together elected leaders from Municipal, Provincial, and Federal levels to lead a public discussion on what it all means.

I’m suggesting you show up. It should be interesting.

You can even watch it live on your computer at We truly live in the future, let’s start acting like it.

Pattullo Consultation Redux

Some were wondering what I was doing on Saturday, walking the sidewalks during Uptown Live and the Hyack Parade dressed as a bridge.

I was handing these out:

Yes, TransLink is coming back to New Westminster to talk some more about the future of the Pattullo Bridge. This is a new phase of consultation, no doubt timed to come right on the heels of the Provincial Election. This is actually good news, not something to lament.

Last time TransLink came around these parts talking about the Pattullo to the public, there were two reactions: Almost complete indifference from Surrey, and vociferous concern from New Westminster. The plan presented at that time were for a bridge that both increased the traffic load on New Westminster, while failing to acknowledge the importance of the existing structure to New Westminster’s historical and cultural landscape. The good news is that TransLink got the message, and decided to step back and re-evaluate its approach to the aging Pattullo.

Some people have asked the NWEP members if we are going to hold a “rally” related to these consultations, as we did last time. I cannot speak for the NWEP (Although there is a members meeting tomorrow night where this will no doubt be discussed), but I suspect that the answer will be no. At the successful rally last year, the NWEP and the citizens of New Westminster were asking for better idea: for TransLink to come back with a more comprehensive review of the options for the bridge, everything from replacement to moving it to refurbishing it to just removing it altogether. It appears that is what TransLink has done. Now is time for us, New Westminster, to show up at one or more of the Open House events being held in June and first listen – then think – then provide comment. Right now TransLink is listening, so there is no reason to shout. With this in mind, all I was doing on Saturday was telling people there will be meetings in June on the future of the Pattullo, and we want people to show up.

More information on the Meeting times and locations is available here.

Mark your calendars, there are actually 6 meetings (3 in New West, 3 in Surrey), and if the Surrey ones work better for you- attend those! Last time we did this, the Surrey meetings were sparsely attended, so it might be easier to bend some ears there than in New West. The most important thing is that you get out to one or more of the meetings and get your comments to TransLink. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, Participatory Democracy is those that show up.

Sufferfest (the photo essay)

Disclaimer: I am much better at riding bikes than I am at taking pictures. And I’m not very good at riding bicycles. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. For background, read this:
Day 1: Vancouver to Whistler begins, as all great Bike Rides should, in the traditional Italian Style- Caffeinated. Note Italian-built Steel bike, Canadian-built Steel Bike, and Italian-built Plastic Bike. We are all about diversity.
The pouring rain of Saturday AM was tempered a bit by a social stop at Porteau Cove campground to enjoy some friendly fire
Flat #1 arrived on the edge of Squamish, where it had (momentarily and mercifully) stopped raining, so as far as these things go, that’s success. Squamish people like their roadside dirt curiously angular. 
Brackendale was time for Coffee #2, courtesy of former co-workers. And it was dry there, which was nice for a day where it almost, but never completely, stopped raining. 
AA demonstrated the appropriate technique for acquiring the 5,000 calories a day we will burn. This apparently included adding chocolate to everything, be it milk or pretzels. 
End of Day 1, with a glass raised and shout-out to Red Van Dan who
could not join us this weekend.
Day 2 saw the addition of various Sufferfest hangers-on of note. Today we ride the Ironman Canada Route.
First stop is the end of the road in the Callaghan Valley. Yes, that tattooed calf belongs to an Ironman Finisher. He put some hurt into us before the day was done. 
Then we had to go a little past the end of the road to see the sights. 
Then it was distressingly downhill to here, where we stopped for lunch. Distressing, of course, because  we knew those hills have an “up” as well. 
The Freight Train really began to roll down the Pemberton Meadow Road. Nothing like 4 guys in formation  pulling 40 km/h for 25km…
…until you run out of pavement, and have to turn that freight train around to face the wind that has been flattering you for 25km. 
Flats #2 and #3 both occurred in one of the most beautiful gas station parking lots in the world. 
Less said about the climb back to Whistler from Pemberton, the better. We dug deep into our panniers of courage, and came back wanting. This is me, unraveled in the bus after, on our way from out lodging to the village and an inevitable one-beer drunk.
Day 3: Back at it. I just realized I was frighteningly close to a bike-matching kit here. With me is the human hummingbird: although a misnomer, as he eats more often, has a shorter attention span, and weighs less than a hummingbird, and has all the aerodynamic qualities of a discarded WalMart grocery bag. Dropped us like bad news on the hills, he did. 
Cheesecake: it isn’t just for breakfast anymore. 
Feeling the pain, here Hummingbird poses in properly menacing from with AA, who was acting all Jens on us – putting the hurt on in the rollers and the flats, churning the air in front of us and forcing hangers-on to contemplate their place in life, until he used the sprint to dash illusions. All the time apparently smuggling cantaloupes in his calf-warmers.  
Although we were well over 400km, the Duffy was not available to us, so we need to put a cap on this thing with a quick spin to the top of the Cypress Mountain Road, where AA entertained with his mad donut skills.
The toll for the weekend: about 470km, 6000m of climbing, three tubes, 15,000 calories each. Untold suffering.   

Sufferfest (part 2)

I wrote a couple of months ago about Sufferfest.

A few buddies and I were going to ride bicycles over a three-legged course through the interior of BC: three days, 500km, two major summits, endless good times good times. And I was going to suffer. And it was this weekend.

Ahh… best laid plans.

Turns out life gets in the way of adult life. One of the riders got called up and is currently sweating or freezing (because, apparently you are never doing neither) in the belly of a LAV somewhere. Another went to start a new business this winter, so (as any small business person can attest) he just doesn’t have a long weekend in the foreseeable future. With the 2/3 of Alberta Contingent of the ride not available, logistics for the interior fell apart.

We ride without a broom wagon, so logistics matter.

One of the riders is planning to Race the Ironman Canada in Whistler this year. I cannot support this idea – in a perfect world no bike ride would ever be immediately preceded by, or immediately followed by, a run or a swim – to do so is to detract from the bike ride. As would wearing a singlet. But each man chooses his path, and there is no doubt his path this weekend will stir up some dust, in which I will be riding.

As the Ironman Canada circuit is new this year, our resident Ironman was interested in pre-riding the course, and from this we developed Sufferfest Plan B.

Saturday we ride our bikes from home to Whistler – 125km, much of it uphill, but a good day in the saddle.

Sunday we ride the Ironman Course – 180km, two out-and-backs, 4200ft of climbing, alles gute.

Monday we will ride back from Whistler – after a quick trip to the Cayoosh Summit on the Duffy Lake road – 230km, switchbacks. This is where we suffer.

Last time I talked about this, I was wondering about my training plan- suffer lots in training, or suffer much more this weekend. I cut the difference, and hopefully have found the calculus. I rode my bike a lot, but have done nothing that could be termed “suffering”. I haven’t done a ride longer than 80km in 6 months. Make no mistake; I will be pedaling squares on Monday.

And this gets real as of tomorrow. I can’t believe Past Pat did this to me.

What now?

Yep, like pretty much everyone else in the province (with the notable exception of Rafe Mair), I guessed wrong.

In the end, it appears I was not cynical enough.

After this election we can be sure we will never see another campaign that doesn’t rely on the double-fisted combination of fear mongering and outright lies; at least not a successful one. The targets were there for Adrian Dix:  Christy Clark was lofting soft underhand pitches to him all campaign – she showed a pathological ignorance of the truth, she was wrapped in scandals, she made baffling unrealistic promises, and demonstrated a serial lack of judgement- from letting an 11-year-old goad her into running a red light for sport to illegally using taxpayer’s money for “quick wins” then re-hiring the soldier who fell on the sword.

Alas, Dix stayed on the high road, where he said he would. He relied on the voters to see through the sham, without actually pointing at the sham. However, even Dorothy needed Toto to pull the curtain back a bit. When Dix did start to point out the factual errors in the Liberal “Fact Free Campaign”, he did it by talking about the facts, not the liars telling them, and it just didn’t stick. This will be lesson #1 coming out of this election for all future campaigns: Positive does not work.

Voter turnout was low, and that no doubt hurt the NDP. Some suggest strategies to fix this: mandatory voting, on-line voting, a “none of the above” on the ballot. Of course, actual proportional representation might help a bit with the general disenfranchisement of the voting populace, but as low voter turnout almost always helps the incumbent, the impetus to change does not exist. The NDP did not support the STV referendum in 2009, and if they had, we would probably now be looking at an NDP /Green coalition government and Andrew Weaver would be Minister of Environment.

I argue against on-line voting because it won’t help, and the lack of a paper trail makes fraud a certainty. There is no lack of access now to the ballots, and at the polling station I worked, 95% of people were in and out in under 5 minutes. Not bad considering you get 4 hours in which to vote.

I also argue against mandatory voting for various reasons, mostly because it perpetuates the dangerous idea that Democracy = Voting. We hear people riling about how voting is our “duty” and “the only way to express your voice” or saying if you don’t vote you are not taking part in democracy and are not, therefore, allowed to complain. To all of that I say: Bullshit. Voting is one of the least important acts in a properly functioning Democracy, and your duty is not just to spend 5 minutes every 4 years going to a voting booth to mark a circle. Allow me to explain.

I was a scrutineer at the Armoury this election and a few booths over I saw a youngish woman drop off her voting card and ID, pick up a ballot, and pull out her SmartPhone to operate her browser. She spent about 5 minutes scrolling through pages, occasionally looking at her ballot and entering a few words (presumably the Candidate’s names). At first I thought she was photographing (illegal in a voting space), but it became apparent she was doing her research to see whom she wanted to vote for. A few moments in the voting station looking at candidate’s photos and maybe a few short phrases (“I Support Families!”, “I Hate Taxes”, “My Opponent Eats Puppies”), and she felt prepared to vote for one of them.

She wasn’t doing her Democratic Duty, she was shirking it.

Casting a ballot based on alphabetical order, or the haircut of the candidate, or pithy statements on a webpage is not doing a duty, or part of any functioning democracy. Learning about issues, understanding what you are voting for and why, then voting is your duty. This is not something one can do in 5 minutes once every 4 years, even with a SmartPhone.

I’m not saying people should not vote, I am saying that your duty doesn’t stop there. If Democracy was just about voting, then we have separated ourselves too much from the process (“Don’t blame me! I voted for Kodos!”) Democracy is much more about what you do the other 10 Million minutes between casting ballots. It includes learning about issues, understanding how the process works, and understanding who you are voting for. It includes getting involved to make the process happen, whether that means joining a Party, helping out with a campaign, or supporting an independent candidate with your time and your money.

I attended two sparsely-attended all-candidates events in New Westminster during this election. Every press article in the local media was a puff-piece, a thinly veiled press release. No-one asked the local candidates any difficult questions or tested them (myself included!)

I also attended an Open House this spring with two sitting MPs in the building. Prominent members of the Official Opposition were there to hear directly from the 120,000 citizens they represent. There they were, standing in a room, with an open invitation for any of those 120,000 people to ask them questions, give them credit, complain to them, give advice, throw pies – whatever – for two hours. Less than 3 dozen people bothered to show up. Do you know who your MP is? Do you know where his/her office is? When is the last time you asked them a question? Surely you would like them to do something!

There are New Westminster City Council meetings where there isn’t a single person in the audience – yet everyone is ready to complain about the decisions made there. I have found every single MP, MLA and Councillor in New Westminster is approachable and reasonable and will listen to ideas from constituents. I have agreed with some, disagreed with more, but they all had time for me. Some even reach out to me asking my opinion. Is this because I am special or “connected”? No. It is because I have reached out to them in the past to ask questions. Apparently this is so rare, so unusual even in a proactive community like New Westminster, that it stands out as remarkable.

Above that, democracy is not just about elected officials. It is about the Citizenry running the country. There is hardly a week that goes by that you can’t take part in a consultation or outreach meeting – directly helping your government make decisions. As I write, the City is seeking feedback on their Master Transportation Plan, on their Sustainability Framework, there are Residents Associations Meetings coming up this month. Many Council Advisory Committees struggle to get enough volunteers to assure quorum at meetings – where is everyone? Translink and Metro Vancouver are holding public meetings right now where the future of our region will be decided. Care about Coal? There are meetings coming up over that. Care about Tankers? The Process to approve that project is starting up right now. Want to find a group to discuss and learn about these issues and more? How about the NWEP? Think the voting system sucks? There have been people beating that drum for years – instead of wringing your hands at home or commenting on your favourite Social Media site, why not get in touch with them and help make the change you want to see?

Democracy is about those who show up: not on voting day, but every day. So if you don’t like what happened yesterday, what are you doing about it?

I walked home last night disappointed and disenchanted. Today was a glum day, but I had to think deep about how to turn it positive. So far, the best way I have thought to react is this: I’m not going to get discouraged. I am going to keep fighting for what is important to me and my community. Today I joined a Party (for the first time in a decade), and I will start taking more of a role in how that party operates. Instead of just helping out during the election, I am going to help build the Party into something that can win, and deserves to win.

When I don’t like something, I try to change it – that is my Democratic duty.

What are you going to do?

To the Victor goes the Landmines…

I am writing this before the polls close, so read this as a warning to the winning party, whomever they will be

Ah, screw it. I’m a local blogger, not the traditional media, I don’t have to pussy foot around pretending there is a real exciting race here and can just say it – we all know the NDP are going to win this election with a comfortable majority of more than 55 seats. So this is a warning not to the NDP (they know what they are in for) but to NDP supporters and the centrist voter who this one time just couldn’t put Christy Clark’s name down.

The next two years are going to suck.

It will not be the fault of Adrian Dix, it will be because of the vast minefield of trouble left behind by Christy Clark’s two years of campaigning in lieu of governing. Every step Dix and his team make in the next couple of years will be in the context of this minefield. The best case scenario is that they can get a handle on these issues and get past them in a meaningful way before the next election, because if he governs responsibly, the next two years are going to look terrible on paper.

So I present to you, in extremely short form (each of these affords its own long blog post): the landmines left behind by Christy Clark, all of which will likely explode in the next 5 years:

Pipelines: Assuming the NDP win, we will witness a monumental battle between the Federal Government and BC regarding the NGP. This fight serves the Conservatives well, as they will be seen by their base as champions battling the true enemies of Conservatism: an unholy axis of Socialist Hordes, First Nations, and Dirty Hippies. The Kinder Morgan line twinning will be no less ugly, even if the playing field will be less obvious. Closer to home, the proposal sail Panamax tankers full of jet fuel up the South Arm of the Fraser, offload in Richmond and pipe it to the Airport is stuck in EA limbo, as Minister Terry Lake cynically delayed the signing of the EA Certificate just two months before the election (no coincidence that the project had vocal public disapproval, and ran through several key Liberal ridings). All of these fights are going to be ugly, and there will be a lot of private money spent criticizing any government that opposes pipelines to the Pacific.

BC Hydro: The legacy of run-of-the-river small hydro projects has been well explored, but they are just a symptom of the monumental mismanagement of BC Hydro by this government. From signing terrible long-term contracts to buy power for much more than its re-sale value to deferring debts to some future date, to blithely ignoring the recommendations of the BC Utility Commission and the partial-privatization experiment – the Liberals have put BC Hydro on very shaky financial ground. The Cash Cow has been milked for billions in the last few years, and will soon be coming up dry. It will be increasingly difficult for the next government to hide the bleeding, especially as we try to provide power to new resource industries. Much like TransLink (below) and BC Ferries (below), this is not a criticism of BC Hydro as a Crown Corporation, but of political fettering in the business by the Premier and Darth Coleman which has limited Hydro’s ability to fulfill its mandate.

AirCare: The BC Liberals made an announcement last year that they were going to end AirCare and replace it with… uh… something. This, despite two recent external program reviews that showed AirCare to be not only an effective regional air quality protection system, but also one of the most cost-effective greenhouse gas reduction measures in the Province. It works, and it will continue to work for years to come. The Liberals, as per their habit, announced the end, but didn’t actually do anything about it– the Provincial legislation requiring TransLink to run AirCare is still on the books, so the NDP will either have to pass legislation to end it in 2014, or sign a new contract with the provider to continue it- no doubt facing Liberal criticism either way.

Water Act: Interesting fact: BC is the only jurisdiction in North America with no laws protecting groundwater resources. Anyone can drill a hole in their back yard and extract as much groundwater as they want, even if it draws the neighbour’s wells (or adjacent surface streams) dry. Recognizing this problem a decade ago, the BC Government started working on an update to the century-old Water Act. Then promptly threw it on the back burner to simmer – a limbo it has been in for several years. The failure to move this file forward one inch will be Terry Lake’s legacy as Minister of Environment  One might suspect they got push-back for attempting to download groundwater protection to municipalities (see the paucity of Water Management Plans completed in 5 years), or perhaps it is the vast quantity of water needed to fuel the fracking dreams of the Oil and Gas Industry and proposed coal mine expansions in the Rocky Mountain Trench. For whatever reason, every year without an effective Water Act means less water security for our future.

Translink: I don’t know what more to say about TransLink than they need to be given the resources to build the system back to where it was 2 years ago (yes, we actually have less bus service now than when Christy Clark took over a Premier), then we need to get the governance worked out so stupid money-losing projects like the Falcon Gates and expanding the Pattullo are forgotten, and we can start laying groundwork for real Transit expansion to UBC and (not “or“) South of the Fraser. Again: poor financial management and a lack of leadership on this front mean just fixing what has been broken will cost a lot of money and take some political will. Minister of Transportation is going to be a key (if thankless) portfolio.

Gateway: We can also expect the Minister of Transportation to suffer when the bills come due on the asphalt-laying decade of the BC Liberals. Neither the Golden Ears Bridge nor the Port Mann are meeting the fanciful traffic projections that would be needed to make the Tolls pay for the works. The SFPR will no doubt be over budget and unsatisfying as it pushes traffic back-ups around (as opposed to removing them). Some money will need to be found for the Tunnel and Pattullo refits (not “replacements“). Yes, the latter is TransLink, but their larder is bare, and the Minister can’t let a bridge fall down on their watch. Ugh. What a mess.

BC Ferries: Yet another case of a Crown Corporation not being run at arms-length, being partially sold off to profit-taking buddies, starved of revenue, then being the victim of a lack of decision-making at a crucial time. The current government wants Ferries to be self-supporting (a litmus test not applied to any other transportation system in the Province, from roads to sidewalks to bike paths to transit) while increasing rates to the point where Float Planes and Helijets are threatening to become the affordable alternative. Much like other aspects of the Province’s Transportation “Strategy”, they are worried more about moving cars than people (try to get from Vancouver to Saltspring on transit or from Victoria to Vancouver on bike- and you will see what I mean). Contracts are coming up, ships are aging and the system is failing. Something is going to have to happen soon.

Oh, I could go on – the unaccountable fiasco that is PavCo and the new BC Place Roof, the Pacific Carbon Trust, the ignored carbon emission targets, faltering timber supply for the few non-exploded lumber mills left up north, the Teacher’s contract, School seismic upgrades, Hospital upgrades, fixing the Ambulance Service, Regional Policing models, Waste-to-Energy plants…

As much as I hope Adrian Dix wins, I wouldn’t wish his job on my worst enemy.