on the Reasonable Approach.

This is a really good document.

I don’t want to go through the many reasons why I agree with the City of New Westminster’s position on the Pattullo Bridge, because I have said it all here before. For those new to my blog (Hi Tiffany!), there is a longish summary here.

If you really want the background from my viewpoint, you can read this, or this, or the two-part piece I did comparing the Pattullo to the Lion’s Gate that is here and here, or maybe look at this or this, or any of the other hundred posts about the transportation situation in our dear city I have slogged through over the last 5 years. But this is not about me, this is about the City of New Westminster finally laying their cards on the table, and in doing so, showing that they are holding a hell of a good hand.

New Westminster is clear that anything larger than a 4-lane bridge is undesirable. Surrey has stated that they prefer a 6-lane bridge. The difference, as explained in this 40-page volume put together by the City of New Westminster, is that the problem set which was agreed to by all parties (New Westminster, Surrey, and TransLink) more than a year ago does not support the building of a 5- or 6-lane bridge. Also, those larger options come with costs, both monetary costs that could be better invested in Transit South of the Fraser, and livability costs on New Westminster.

You can get the gist from reading the 4-page Executive Summary, and I think anyone interested in the topic of traffic in New Westminster and/or the future of the Pattullo Bridge really needs to read those 4 pages before commenting at length about New Westminster being “NIMBY” or “parochial” about this topic. I’m including you, Mayor Stewart. However, there are rewards for digging deeper into this position paper, because it actually provides data to back up its assertions.

After a review of the consultation and planning process to date (reminding TransLink once again that they don’t have a bridge-too-small problem, they have a bridge-too-old problem), the City lays out the case that there is no need for increased capacity as the problem is solved. To back this up, they demonstrate that the traffic volumes on the bridge were stable, or even declining until tolls arrived on the adjacent bridge, and the Ministry of Transportation started installing signs telling people to drive through New Westminster to save a few bucks.

All graphs here cribbed from the City report.

The City is also right to point out that the number of crossings of the river is increasing at such an (exponential?) rate that it is hard to rely on any modeling of actual or projected growth until new patterns establish themselves. I tracked the crossings back to 1900, they stuck to the more recent data:

I didn’t even ask permission to crib them from the report. 

Despite the rise in crossings, people still argue that more lanes are required to facilitate growth. I have heard Vancouver used as an example of growth not requiring more roads, but the City decided to look at the Richmond example, pointing out how it paradoxically grew by more than 50% since the last time there was any significant bridge construction (with the notable exception of the SkyTrain Bridge!)

but hey, i’m a taxpayer, so I paid for the report. 

In Sections 3.3 and 3.4 of the report, it is demonstrated that the building of a higher-capacity bridge is not supported by TransLink’s own Regional Transportation Strategy or the Regional Growth Strategy, and in fact counters those strategies by inducing development that is counter to the region’s goals. If any part of this report is weak, this is it, only because the City seems reluctant to toot its own horn. So I’ll do the tooting here.

New Westminster has the second-highest “alternative mode share” of any city in the Lower Mainland, second only to the City of Vancouver. This means that New Westminster residents are leading the region in finding alternatives to driving cars for their work commute, for shopping, or for school. New Westminster is building the compact, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly City that is outlined in the regional transportation and land use plans.

When Surrey says New Westminster is being intractable and a terrible regional partner, the point needs to be retorted, firmly, with bold print, underlined and in contrasting colour: How is doing exactly what our regional partners have agreed is the best course an example of being a bad partner!?! It is time Surrey started looking at their own choices: utterly failing to protect farmland; continuing to build unsustainable auto-oriented neighbourhoods; for continuing to threaten the livability of the entire region. When is the region going to start to question Surrey about the ways it is falling short in the “regional partner” relationships department?

This is why the City of New Westminster is taking the “Reasonable Approach” of asking TransLink and the Province to take the money that is being set aside for the Pattullo Bridge replacement, and invest it in helping Surrey meet its regional commitments.

I am also happy the City took a direct approach to the “Killer Bridge” stigma of the Pattullo. I have written about this meme and its accessory suggestion that the Pattullo must be replaced because it is so dangerous. The City effectively demonstrates this is not the case, and once again relies not on hearsay or platitudes, but the actual numerical data:

So I don’t feel bad having lifted them, at least I’m citing them.

The New Westminster report then goes through a comprehensive discussion of the preferred options, and touches on a number of aligned issues in the region and the City. This includes the current hot-button topic of truck impacts on New Westminster streets. On this topic, the report pulls out this provocative quote:

“It is of interest to note that on the other side of the Fraser River, the issues of truck traffic appear to have been substantially addressed. An article in BC Business reporting observations made by Jim Cox, then-CEO, Surrey development Corporation, noted ‘Cox gives full credit to Watts and her big-picture vision, such as changing the name of King George Highway to King George Boulevard, and creating South Fraser Perimeter Road to divert all that ugly truck traffic away from the heart of the city, making the streets walkable for the first time in Surrey’s car-loving history.‘ It is also worth noting that the costs of the South Fraser Perimeter Road have been covered by the Province.”

At the same time Surrey is touting the removal of trucks from it’s neighbourhood streets on the Province’s dime, it is advocating that the Province spend more money to put those same trucks on New Westminster’s neighbourhood streets.

I also liked that New Westminster included a statement on building a well-designed bridge, reflecting its importance as an icon in our skyline and a major piece of infrastructure in the middle of an urban neighbourhood:

“If a new structure is to be built, it should be the subject of an architectural design competition in which the cities of Surrey and New Westminster are full participants. If a rehabilitation option is chosen, attention should be paid in the design and maintenance processes to improve significantly the present appearance of the
bridge.”

And yes, the City of New Westminster has come down clearly and firmly in favour of tolling the Pattullo bridge, both as a revenue generator to pay for the replacement of refurbishment, and also as a “leveling of the playing field”, to end this unfortunate phase where our neighbourhood streets are deemed the cheap alternative to paying for road infrastructure through tolls.

Even better, with flat growth of traffic and tolls on a refurbished 4-lane or new 4-lane bridge, there will likely be no need for senior government money to build the project. As the Report summarizes:

“As the Pattullo Bridge Strategic Review indicated that the rehabilitated 4-lane option and the new 4-lane option can be self-funded through tolling, there is the question whether senior government funding is necessary if one of these options is selected. The reality is that public money that is spent on the bridge will restrict the ability to fund other much needed projects such as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system within Surrey. The City is supportive of reallocating capital cost saving from a rehabilitated 4-lane bridge project or a new 4-lane bridge project to the much needed rapid transit system in the City of Surrey.”

So in summary: The City of New Westminster does not care if the Pattullo if refurbished or replaced, as long as it is tolled, has no more than 4 lanes, and is build in such a way that respects the urban character of the neighbourhoods and the importance of this structure to the region’s history. Not just because that is what the City wants, but because that solution fits the problem analysis best, saves senior governments money, meets regional goals, and reflects the values of our regional community in 2014. Compared to this well-assembled, well-supported, and comprehensive analysis, Surrey’s completely unsupported “More Bridge now!” argument is embarrassing.

Now to my major point: TransLink is stuck in neutral, Surrey is lobbying senior governments, and the Minister of Transportation sounds like he is listening. New Westminster has now presented a solid case, and will be taking this forward to those interested parties. The City needs your help. Get this report to your Residents’ Association meeting and get them to write a short letter of support to Mayor and Council. Are you active in the PAC in your local school? Ask then to also write a letter of support, and ask your school board to do the same. I hope the Downtown BIAs and the Chamber of Commerce, and even my friends at the NWEP can also get a letter together ASAP and show that this position is not that of a few people on Council, but is the position of a united, involved, informed, and proactive community.

TransLink cancelled the consultations that were supposed to be occurring right now in New Westminster to discuss the future of the Pattullo, but let’s make them hear from us anyway.

Rethinking the Region 2014

I really need to get a life. I spent most of Saturday in a classroom at SFU Surrey. I was not taking a course for which I would receive credit, nor was I paying or being paid to be there. Instead, I was attending a workshop for planning geeks (which I may someday aspire to be) that was addressing some of the Big Questions about the future of Metro Vancouver.

It was actually interesting, inspiring, and fun. See my opening sentence.

The event was called “Rethinking the Region”, and despite it’s revolutionary-sounding title, it was actually a more nuanced discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of our current local and regional governance systems. The crowd was mostly SFU Urban Systems graduate students (a room full of young, fresh faced, excited, interested, smart and fashionable students only a slightly depressing reminder of how long ago I was a University Student!), with a fair amount of faculty, and a number of representatives from various local governments and other agencies.

There were many different aspects of the program that piqued my interest, I met some interesting people, and lots of fun discussion ensued. However, for this post I just want to run through my impressions of the opening addresses by the panel of experts that opened the program. I didn’t take extensive notes, so my apologies to the presenters if I mischaracterize their points here a bit – these are my impressions, not transcripts, so I will be careful with actual quotation marks.

The Program was opened by a former senior planner for New Westminster Ken Cameron, who set the tone by encouraging us to not think of Metro Vancouver as 22 border-sharing municipalities, but as a single entity- he used the term “organic” to describe this entity, and it was apt. It has defined boundaries (the sea, the mountains, the US Border), we can talk about it’s inputs (resources, goods, energy) and it’s outputs (resources, goods, wastes), and we can think about different components (roads, houses, businesses, schools) as interacting organs that process those through-puts.

His talk was broad-reaching but brought some interesting insights. One was that we are fortunate to live in a region with well defined and immutable limits, as this forces us to view our resources (including physical space) as finite, and therefore worthy of careful planning to allow us to manage them better.

A second point made by Cameron was that “governance always happens”. Whenever people get together, from the smallest hunter-gatherer tribe to the largest nations, humans assemble a governance system to allow us to work together. It doesn’t always work well, but it has always worked better if the governance has a coherent plan and everyone being governed is on the same page about the goals.

This last point sounds idealistic on the surface when it seems we are always arguing about every decision our governments make. It becomes more obvious when you think about the things our modern governance systems deliver: an economic system to trade goods, a system of laws to protect the security of the person, infrastructure to support our movements and our communication, etc. It is the details around the edges of these things that we argue about, as the essential structures and ideas have pretty much been worked out, or we wouldn’t be currently enjoying all of those things.

The second speaker was Anita Huberman from the Surrey Board of Trade. She was there to speak for the need of the region’s business communities to work together with a regional vision. She spoke of the need to get out of our municipal- and industry-specific silos, and start proactively sharing resources and infrastructure, while cutting politics out of the equation (that said, it was a Board of Trade speech, so totally non-political phrases like “cutting red tape” were common).The central message was a good one: we don’t have a single regional economic planning group working together, nor do we have a regional economic strategy. However, those much-coveted “global markets” are not interested developing relationships with individual cities as much as with economic regions.

There was room to develop this thought that we didn’t get into at the meeting. Did someone in Mapo-gu, Minami, or Abu Hamour really care if the person she was doing business in was in New Westminster or Surrey or Port Moody? They would, dollars for donuts, just call the area “Vancouver”, just as we would call the above areas just parts of Seoul, Yokohama, and Doha respectively. In this sense, Surrey probably benefits more from Vancouver’s international economic development efforts than vice versa…

Anthony Perl spoke next on the topic of the regional transportation system, obviously a topic close to my heart.

He started with an anecdote about Greater Toronto of the 1980’s, when it was described as “Vienna surrounded by Phoenix” – a region that had squared the circle of providing a compact, walkable and public-transit oriented downtown core based on smart growth principles surrounded by endless car-oriented suburban sprawl. This best-of-both-worlds scenario only hit its pre-Rob Ford crash when it became apparent that having two parallel and disparate transportation systems cost twice the money to move the same number of people. Arguably, it was this unaffordable path that led to the faux-taxpayer-revolt that is Ford Nation.

The object lesson is that Metro Vancouver appears to be, 30 years later, heading down this same economically perilous path. However, Perl outlined three potential ways we could design our regional transportation system, using symbolism from the 2010 Olympics (a time when, as he noted, Vancouver had the third highest transit mode share in North America, only after the two largest Cities: New York and Mexico City).

The “Gold Standard” is epitomized in Greater Zurich. They have a similar population and physical constraints as Metro Vancouver, and have a system where the automobile is secondary to a multi-mode and integrated transportation system. They share our limited top-down planning, and little senior government investment, and make many decisions via referenda (!). The two big differences are that they never ripped up the rail infrastructure they installed in the early 20th century, and they do not have a natural resource extraction economy that requires large-scale movement of bulk goods. “Going for Gold” in Greater Vancouver will require and organized regional coalition of stakeholders, not unlike the Gateway Council but with a broader mandate than the building of roads to move freight.

The “Silver Standard” would look like Lyon, France. This would require the following of strong global trends towards shifting to post-carbon mobility. Unlike Vancouver or Zurich, Lyon benefits from significant Federal investment in moving away from fossil fuels, and has a top-down approach that has brought high-speed rail between cities and Metro within them. They also have a carbon-tax like structure that provided incentives away from burning fuel, even if it isn’t called a carbon tax. This approach in Greater Vancouver would require significant investment by senior governments, not something that seems likely in today’s political climate.

The “Bronze Standard” is what we have seen work in New York City and London, England. In both cases, it was the actions of a single strong leader having the courage to make a bold change, though not breaking completely from traditional motor vehicles. Both Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Livingston took concrete steps to end what Dr. Perl (tongue on slightly in cheek) calls “Road Socialism” – the idea that road use should be free, regardless of the cost to maintain those roads or greater costs to society. This Bronze approach, however, relies on a strong and visionary regional leader, something Greater Vancouver seems bereft of.

Dr. Tim Takaro then took the floor, ostensibly to talk about health policy in the region. Right from the start it was clear what he saw as our major public health issue: the “wicked problem” of climate change. He showed us a few familiar hockey-stick shaped graphs, and did a quick and extremely gloomy run-down of the storms, pestilence, drought and war that are in our future unless we leave 2/3 of our hydrocarbon reserves in the ground.

I loved this summary, and will talk more on this topic in an upcoming blog post:

The final panelist was the one who surprised me the most. Vicky Huntington is a two-term Independent MLA from South Delta, and she spoke frankly and compellingly about the struggles of regional governance, in the context of current threats to Democracy in out nation today. It was stunning.

She began by talking a bit about the struggle to get where we are today as a nation, and the importance of protecting our “strange, difficult, and messy democracy”. Not to put too fine a point on it, she made a case that this is the fight we must have right now in BC and in Canada, or we risk losing our voice, and our representation. There is a real and present risk of a “Plutocracy” developing through the slow and inexorable growth of influence on decision makers made by what can only be described as “wealth”. This is tipping the balance towards a certain economic point of view, and it may not be the one that serves our community or the globe best.

Our Democracy needs accountability, responsiveness, and clarity of purpose. Unfortunately, we are increasingly ruled by the needs of Corporations, who have no requirement to be accountable to the people. Although there is much current talk of “social licence” by Corporations who want to re-draw our region, that very licence is increasingly defined by them, not us.

They create these new consultation structures where they tell us what they are going to do, instead of having a conversation with us about what we will allow them to do. The conversation is narrowly defined and expertly directed by public relations professionals. We can see this with the recent Environmental Assessments (VAFFC, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, Fraser Surrey Docks, etc.), with Port Metro Vancouver expansion plans, with the expansion of the Gateway and projects like the Pattullo Bridge. Quasi-government agencies (the Port, TransLink, BC Ferries, etc.) that ostensibly belong to us and work for us are leveraged by Corporate interests, and when the people try to speak up and challenge their intention, they have the power to shut that debate down. Through tightly-structured “consultations”, people cannot hear each others’ questions, cannot speak outside of the pre-designed debate. If they get too loud, they are marginalized and bullied.

Huntington spoke about the contrast between government and corporations, and how they impact environmental assessments, putting context into the “red tape” complaints of business. We live in a Confederation that is slow and methodical. Developing consensus and true consultation to assure the public interest is served is a deliberately cautious and organic process. That is the reality of a parliamentary system, and is an unfortunate (?) byproduct of our desire for “Peace, order, and good governance”. Corporations, in contrast, need to react quickly – this year, or preferably this quarter. They cannot afford to wait. They need their social licence, and they need it right now, because the anonymous shareholders demand it. Democracy just gets in the way. However, what Corporations see as the “inefficiency” of democracy is the only protection we have.

These were just the opening panel talks. They were followed by Q&A, and a long program of small-group dialogue and workshopping around the bigger themes, and maybe I will talk about those in future blog posts. Overall, it was a great program, and I learned a lot. Makes me want to go back to University…although I suspect I now lack the fresh face or vitality.

The Gas Works

There is one site in New Westminster that seems to come and go from the public eye and conversation, but never seems to go anywhere. The empty lot with the decrepit red brick building at the corner of Third Ave and Twelfth Street: the “Gas Works Site”.

The conversation popped up on Twitter this week, and got me back to thinking about it. The last time I had a conversation about the site it was with a business operator in the area who asked over a beer why the City wouldn’t let him park used cars on the site. It made sense to him: the City could get a little revenue from it, and it sure beats the hell out of having it sit there empty and ugly. I started to explain to him the myriad of technical and legislative reasons why the City couldn’t just let him do that, and his eyes soon glazed over, he dismissed my points as “Hogwash”, and we went back to talking about curling. I love this town.

So here is a fuller explanation, best I can figure, and call it hogwash if you like. But first, I need to throw one of my disclaimers out there, in case there is an actual hog being washed.

Everything I know about the Gas Works Site comes from the City’s published documents, most of which you can read here. I have no insider knowledge, nor have I talked to the City to find out if there are unpublished or updated plans for the site. Also, I work with contaminated sites in my professional life, so I know a lot about their technical reality and their legislative challenges, but my knowledge about this particular site is limited to the City’s released reports. Nothing following this should be construed to be professional advice, just informed opinion. The former costs money; the latter is always free!

Gas Works were once common in North American and European cities. These were facilities where coal or coal tar was converted to “town gas”: a mix of methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen and various other vapours. The gas was then piped all over town to provide gas for streetlamps and some domestic cooking and heating. This was before the technology of pulling methane out of the ground for the same purpose was developed. The gassification process in the 19th Century also produced a fair pile of by-products, come useful, some not. At the time, there was a general practice of dumping whatever waste you may have wherever it could percolate into the ground and go away, presumably forever (the word “pollution” probably was only applied in the biblical sense at the time).

As a result, these sites commonly have soil and groundwater impacted with a variety of persistent and ugly contaminants – from rather unpleasant monocyclic hydrocarbons like benzene and xylenes through to a nasty collection of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and things like phenols, heavy metals, and cyanide. At the New Westminster Gas Works site, some of these substances persist in the ground even 100 years later. The site is big-C “Contaminated”, and not in the biblical sense.

The building on the site also happens to be one of (if not “the”) oldest extant industrial buildings in New Westminster. It is a bit of an architectural treasure, as long as it is still standing. Problem is, the building is standing on top of contaminated soils that will be hard to remove with a building standing on them. If the City wants to do something useful with the site, it first has to clean it up, and before they can do that, they need to decide how to deal with the building.

The site does not currently belong to the City. As the business that operated the Gas Works is long gone, this is a technically an abandoned contaminated site. The BC Environmental Management Act makes the Province responsible for cleaning up abandoned sites. However, like any other landowner, the Province is not compelled by the Act to clean it up any time soon, as long as no-one is currently being harmed by the contamination.

The situation here is not unlike “white pipe farms” we find around British Columbia. The person who owns the land (in this case, the Province) is responsible for the contamination, and if anyone wants to develop the property, they need to deal with that first. The Province is unlikely to sell the land in its current state, because if they do so, they are still, under the Environmental Management Act, responsible for the liability caused by the contamination and are not permitted to sell that liability. Therefore, they are motivated to sit on it, because if anyone uses that land they may expose the owner to unanticipated liability (by doing something dumb like drilling a well into the contamination zone, or starting a day care in the basement exposing the kids to toxic vapours). Notably, because the City owns the road, if it was really concerned about the contamination under 12th Street, they could go out there tomorrow, dig it up and send the Province the bill. If the Province didn’t want to pay, they could drag it out in the courts for years, but none of this is a very nice way to interact when it is much easier to just make a deal.

Apparently the Province was interested in 2009 in getting this site off its books, and the City was interested in making it happen. According to the City reports, there was an initial agreement or MOU signed between the City and the Province for the City to take over the site with some conditions that the City not sell it for commercial use or market housing, yet the affordable housing component that would have been included in market housing for the site be accommodated elsewhere in the City. This conditions was, it would appear, not an issue for the City. Therefore the City went through a Land Use study and public consultation process back in 2009, to determine the community interest in the use of the site. It seems that some combination of a new Firehall, a park, and a community amenity building (or even community gardens!) was the preferred direction.

From what I can glean from the available reports, a deal was outlined where the City would receive the land as a free crown grant (yes, for free!) from the Province (conditional on it being used for public, not commercial, purposes) and the Province would pay for the cleanup of the site. Remember, the Province is already responsible for this cost, but this deal would have just caused them to take this action sooner, rather than sitting indefinitely on the site.

The Province suggested complete remediation of the site (i.e. digging up and trucking away the contaminated soils and treatment of groundwater if required). The details had yet to be worked out how the excavation under the building would occur, but the lowest-cost and lowest-risk alternative seemed to be inserting a sub-foundation under it to support portions of the building while excavation takes place.

The contamination has also spread under 12th Street, and the Province proposed to “Risk Assess” that. This is a common technique for managing low-concentration stable contamination, similar to the way the “toxic blob” at the Pier Park was managed: you isolate the contaminant, make sure it cannot reach humans, plants or animals in a way that might harm them, then monitor it over time to assure conditions under the ground don’t change. There is a good reason for doing this in a location like 12th Street, as there is a big water main and other utilities under the ground there, and if the contamination is located a few metres below those utilities, it will be remarkably complicated (and therefore expensive) to try to dig it out without damaging that infrastructure. From the report, it appeared the City requested that the Province to do a full remediation under the road, but it is not reported if the Province agreed to this and the increased cost. If the Province really wants to remove the liability related to those contaminants and not be stuck with long-term monitoring costs and potential hassles, this would be a reasonable approach for a piece of land (the road) that they do not own.

So that was 2009; where are we now?

The City and the Province apparently still have some deal-making to do. To remediate and dispose of the land will cost the Province up to $2 Million. This cost will depend on how they decide to deal with the heritage building on site, how they plan to deal with the contamination in the road, and what the final land use plan is (community gardens or institutional buildings may require different remediation standards than open park space, at different cost). Once this work is done, the City will be stuck with a large, highly disturbed gravel lot with a dilapidated building on it. To realize the dreams brought up during the Land Use Study and public open houses will cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, all of which will have to be raised by the City.

Currently, the site is surrounded by used car lots and a church – not huge tax revenue drivers for the City. However that church is currently looking at an ambitious redevelopment, and there are bigger dreams for the longer-term development of the Lower 12th commercial area. Where does this particular Park/Amenity project fit on the priority list for the City? How engaged is the Province in the plan to remediate this site? When will something finally happen to the Gas Works?

The only thing I know for sure is that the old brick heritage building in the middle of it is not getting any younger. The flashing is failing, and there are gaping holes in the wood roof. I hope that the parties can come up with a plan before the “what to do with the building” problem is solved for them by gravity and rot.

Why Delay? Why Now?

This has me perplexed, and disappointed.

POSTPONED: Pattullo Bridge Review Consultation

TransLink is deferring announced public consultation regarding the Pattullo Bridge, which was to begin next week. This deferral will allow TransLink time to work with the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation to respond to last week’s request from the Province that the Council work with TransLink to develop a plan for transportation in the region. As the Pattullo Bridge is one of the key priorities for the region, TransLink needs time to confirm with the Mayors’ Council how options for this project will fit into the regional plan, which the Mayors have been asked to deliver by June 30, 2014.

TransLink anticipates completing this work as quickly as possible and commencing Phase 2 public consultation of the Pattullo Bridge Review later this spring. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This is perplexing, because it is so very wrong, and threatens the integrity of the consultation process that has been taking place for the last two years.

The purpose of the Pattullo Bridge Consultations, according to TransLink is to:

“review and evaluate alternatives to rehabilitate or replace the Pattullo Bridge, and to determine a preferred alternative that meets the needs of communities connected by the bridge, as well as the broader region served by the bridge.

The last round of consultations took place in June of 2013, and TransLink brought to our communities a list of 25 options, ranging from complete removal of the bridge to a myriad of refurbishment, twinning, replacement, and relocation options. They had already “shortlisted” 6 options as meeting their declared objectives and warranting more discussion. They were sent back to their Sapperton Offices with comments (including some strong opinions that a few of the “not-recommended” options might require some re-consideration), presumably to apply some engineering and costing to the options to further evaluate their suitability.

At the time, they promised to be back in New Westminster in October 2013 with a refined list of alternatives, and for a preferred alternative to be offered in January 2014.

We are still waiting for that first meeting. Delays happen, I recognize. Some of the delay may be the fault of New Westminster asking for more time to work within the Master Transportation Planning framework, the group has sought further input from Coquitlam about alternate locations, and TransLink has been, for lack of a better word, distracted of late.

However, I encourage you to look at this diagram from the 2013 consultations:

See the pointy bottom of that pyramid? That is where, after extensive study and consultation, the alternative that “best meets community and regional needs” has been determined. Right below it is the next step: “review in context of other transportation priorities for investment and funding”. That sounds an awful lot like reviewing “how options for this project will fit into the regional plan”, which is what we are now awaiting before consultation can come back to the City.

Somehow, the Pyramid got mixed up.

I am disappointed, because I know what was coming to us for consultation, and it was exactly what we might expect coming out of the earlier consultations: the 6 options that were shortlisted in the earlier phase, with three of them eliminated from further analysis:

Gone: the rehabilitated 3-lane bridge, the rehabilitated 4-lane bridge, and the Coquitlam alternative.

Remaining: a new 4 lane bridge in the same spot, a 5 lane bridge with the outside lanes connecting directly to the SFPR, and a 6 lane bridge with the outside lanes connected directly to the SFPR and including some local road widening in New West.There are rumours of an extremely unlikely tunnel under Royal Ave.

The plans were completed enough that they were presented to the City of Surrey’s Transportation Committee this week and tweeted out by various participants.

If we know the plans, if the detailed engineering analysis we have waited 7 months for has been done, if information has already been leaked out, if the rooms are already booked, why, at the 11th hour is TransLink changing the consultation game? How does this help the credibility of an organization that (in my opinion) does great work with limited resources but is suffering a bit in the public relations department right now, and has done and excellent job (after a rocky start) at making this consultation process public, open, accessible, and accountable?

The future of the Pattullo Bridge is the single most important transportation issue in New Westminster today. Every other transportation issue from truck traffic overload to pedestrian safety is related to it. The Pattullo’s future will impact how and where our City will grow, and how we will apply our Master Transportation Plan to continue to develop one of the most “alternative-mode friendly” Cities in the region. Delaying these decisions does a disservice to the City TransLink now calls home.

Lets get on with it.

Truck Routes Open House

I have been a little busy of late, sorry to be not updating this blog as often as I would like. It’s not like there aren’t many things going on, just too many to write about them in full!

I do want to make mention of the well-attended (even crowded) Open House last week at City Hall. The topic was proposed changes to the City’s truck routes maps. This comes on the heels of two related media storms. Well, media dust devils at least.

First was the release of preliminary traffic count data that shows a spike in vehicle traffic through New Westminster concomitant with the tolling of the Port Mann Bridge. That this is happening was a surprise to no-one who lives or works in New Westminster, but the Ministry of Transportation at first suggested it was just our imagination. Then the Minister suggested that increased traffic was a result of a boom in the economy. This lead to the unintentionally hilarious suggestion that New Westminster’s economy must have grown by 10% over the last year, for the increase of traffic we are seeing.

That the Ministry of Transportation finds it surprising that people are avoiding tolls should concern all of us. Not only does this reflect the findings of transportation engineers world-wide, the same Ministry of Transportation went so far as to install signs instructing people on the best way to avoid tolls, and have established a policy that assures toll avoidance will always be an option.

The second part of this story is the increased voice of individual people in New Westminster who are being impacted by this increase in traffic- especially the impact of increased commercial truck traffic. A Facebook campaign called “Rattled about Traffic” has grown out of Queens Park, and the topic of the increased traffic is being discussed at the Queens Park, Brow of the Hill, Massey Victory Heights, Downtown and Glenbrooke North Residents’ Association meetings over the previous month.

Always a little punchy about traffic (being a City inundated by vehicles that have no origin or destination here), New West is once again getting loud about the issue.

The overall-traffic-volume half of this equation is going to come up during Pattullo Bridge consultations starting next week, but I want to address today’s pressing issue: the open house that hoped to address the too-many-trucks side of the equation.

The changes proposed by the City are very modest. They comprise the removal of truck route designation from three stretches that are currently only truck routes between 7am and 9pm): the length of Royal Avenue; East Columbia Street through Sapperton; 8th Avenue between East Columbia and Braid; and an appendix-like extension at the east end of Ewen Ave in Queensborough. The other truck routes around the periphery of the City will remain intact.

Here is a before-and-after map of the changes:

Click to make bigger. Orange are designated Truck Routes today, and
dotted lines are the routes proposed for removal from the designation. 

The biggest effect of these changes is not visible on the map, but will be in truck access to the Pattullo Bridge.

East-bound vehicles from Stewardson will simply no longer be able to access the Pattullo. These vehicles will now be required to use the Queensborough Bridge (presuming, of course, that they didn’t come from there) and the Alex Fraser to access the new South Fraser Perimeter Road to get to the Bridgeview area of Surrey (which was the rationale for building the SFPR in the first place). Alternately, trucks from Marine Drive can access the Pattullo by using Southridge Drive, 10th Avenue, and McBride, although modeling and surveys by the City suggest this would not become the preferred route.

Vehicles arriving westbound from Highway 1 or Lougheed would only be able to access the Pattullo via Columbia and the loop in Albert Crescent Park. That loop is currently closed during rush hour due to congestion and safety issues where it merges with traffic on the north foot of the Pattullo (although the City has agreed to work with TransLink to address this issue). This connection could be avoided by sending the eastbound trucks to Front Street and the Queensborough, and westbound trucks to the Port Mann (a connection made much easier if, as Councilor Puchmayr is apt to point out, the Ministry had thought to connect the SFPR to the Port Mann).

Similarly, trucks entering the City from the Pattullo will be limited to travelling north on McBride or turning east on Columbia. They would need to use an alternate route to get to Marine Drive east of New Westminster: the SFPR-Alex Fraser-Queensbrorough route, or the McBride-10th Ave-Southridge Drive Route.

Note this important point: these changes will make no difference to anyone delivering or picking up goods in New Westminster: the proverbial “head of lettuce in Safeway” that the trucking industry always talks about. Trucks having legitimate business in New Westminster have always, and will continue to, use non-truck routes like 6th Street and 12th Street, and will continue to be able to use Royal Ave to bring your lettuce to one of the 17 Save-on-Foods outlets planned for New Westminster. For a similar reason the changes on Ewen Ave. will make no difference to anyone, as that vestigial truck route isn’t a “through route” to anywhere, but just provides access to a few businesses from Derwent Way.

Overall, this looks good. It reduces the impact on the Sapperton business district, and improves safety and livability on residential portions of 8th Ave and Royal. It should also reduce the incentive for some truckers to use to the Pattullo in an effort to avoid tolls, sticking more of them on the SFPR or the expanded Highway 1 where they should be.

If you support these changes, it is important that you let City Council know. THIS WEEK. There is a reason they are gauging public support at this time.

The process to remove trucks routes is a bit complicated, the City can’t just go out there and slap up some signs. They have to apply to TransLink to have the designation removed. Since TransLink is charged with the responsibility of regional goods movement, they have a say on what is and is not a Truck Route. In exchange for allowing truck routes on City owned streets, TransLink provides road maintenance funding through the “Major Road Network”. This $100 Million expense is one of those things TransLink does that few seem to notice when all this talk of a “Transit Referendum” takes place.

So when the City goes to TransLink to explain why Truck Route designation should be removed from these routes, as minor as they are, they will need to provide a rationale, expressions of public support, and some detailed modelling of the impact on the entire transportation network. It isn’t a slam dunk, so the City could use a healthy amount of feedback from the citizens impacted by these routes to bolster their case.

You have to Friday to go to the City site and provide your feedback to the City. You can do it all on-line.

See the entire Presentation here.

Then go Here and fill out the survey.

Go. Now.

on taking the Uptown BIA personally

I haven’t yet waded into James Crosty’s most recent public tantrum, mostly because it at first seemed so absurd at the face of it, and because I had no personal stake in the issue (except as a consumer living near Uptown and generally being interested in improving our community). Then a few letters arrived in the local paper and the topic keeps coming up in conversations around town and on Twitter. So, as opinions are starting to fly, I may as well add mine.

First off: a caveat. I like James. I think of him as a friend, despite all of our on-line bickering. I have continued to argue to people that, despite James’ loose association with facts and woe-filled prognostications of the future of New Westminster, he means well, and only wants what is best for his City and neighbours. However, at times like this, I find it a difficult argument to support.

Crosty appears angry that some other businesses in town have worked together to form a not-for-profit business association, and further propose to develop a BIA that would work towards neighbourhood beautification, special events, and promotion of businesses in Uptown. He appears to be upset he was not invited to their meetings, despite his business not being within the catchment area. His non-invitation appears, to Crosty, to be an indication that something unseemly is going on. Yet his lack of inclusion concerns him less than the spectre of his potential forced inclusion!

I think the organizers of the BIA do a better job addressing Crosty’s concerns regarding the history and model of the BIA proposal than I could. As his business is not within the Uptown area, there was no reason for them to seek his approval prior to registering their Association any more than there was any reason to seek mine or Don Cherry’s. Regardless, as a concerned citizen, if he has concerns about their organization, wouldn’t it have been more effective to, I dunno, ask them?

He also raises a lot of questions about how the BIA would be financed, and what the money would be used for. Most of those details were included in the Council Report that started this all. Some of his other questions are addressed in the Uptown Business Association response, and others are likely details that have yet to be worked out, if the proposal receives the support of the affected businesses and the City.

That most of the questions Crosty raises are answered or easily answerable, combined with the fact that his business is not impacted by this proposal, leads one to ask what exactly is his beef here?

In our Twitter exchanges, Crosty commonly chides me for not doing enough to try to connect the dots and find out what’s “really happening” behind the scenes. I’m not very good at conspiracy theories, but let me try my hand at “connecting the dots” here.

The Uptown BIA idea is being coordinated and organized by many of the same people who organized the massively popular Uptown Live event for the last two years. Uptown Live was associated with the Hyack Festival, though much like the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, and other events you would associate with Hyack Festival, Uptown Live was not “run” by Hyack, but was “associated”. In the case of Uptown Live this means they shared some promotional materials, and coordinated some common timing of events so as to “share the crowd”. Hyack did not organize the event itself, nor did they pay for the event. This is not to lessen their role, coordinating events run by many different groups into one great week is something Hyack does well – many hands make lighter work, and Hyack is good at getting those many hands together.

However, one of the central figures in organizing Uptown Live was none other than Bart Slotman, whose company runs Westminster Centre. He (along with a team of Uptown folks) put a significant amount of time, energy, and resources into organizing and pulling off Uptown Live for two successful years, and had a vested interest in its continued success. When the Hyack situation hit the fan last year with the firing of Douglas Smith and acrimonious rift of the Board, the organizers of Uptown Live saw the potential that this could hurt what they spent two years building, and wisely protected the intellectual capital they had created.

To one of the sides in the Hyack rift, this was seen as a public betrayal, and Bart Slotman joined the “rogue” Hyack members, the former ED of Hyack, and the Editor of the NewsLeader in the increasing pile of “enemies of Hyack”. Therefore, he was singled out for personal attack in the media by various Hyack insiders, including James Crosty and his Partner.

I want to emphasise this point. Slotman is a businessman in New Westminster who manages one of the larger commercial buildings in town. However, he is also a resident of this town, and I cannot think of commercial property owner in New Westminster (with the possible exception of Mark Shieh) who has done more to promote what is good about the City in the last few years. He has stepped up to sponsor events, he has served on committees. He has been present at open houses on various topics, and provided useful input. He has taken risks and spent his own money to improve the streetscape of the City lands in front of his building. He has been instrumental (pun!) in organizing UpTown Live and UpTown Unplugged. He is the model of what this City needs for its business areas to succeed – engaged resident owners who care about making their community better.

Should all of this make him immune to criticism? Of course not. However, by putting Slotman’s name right there in the first grammatically-challenged sentence of his letter to the Editor, then naming him again several more times (including questioning his character with the phrases like “…by the likes of Mr. Slotman”), Crosty makes it clear that it is not necessarily the idea of a BIA that he opposes, but the idea of a BIA where Bart Slotman and “his like” are part of the organizing group. It smells of a personal vendetta, and that smell stinks.

As for the follow-up letter from our resident Ayn Rand aficionado, there is no doubt this is a contrasting opinion to how and what a business is than the one demonstrated by Slotman. I’ll just say I’m glad we have effective BIAs and a Chamber that do so much to support the community, because I cannot imagine living in a City comprised only of business with the level of cynical disinterest expressed in this letter.

Oh, and I am currently enjoying a bottle of Killer Cab, contributed by Pacific Breeze in to one of the many community events they sponsor. Another example of a positive, community-building business here in New Westminster that deserves our support.

The same, but different.

Another morning waking to the drone of news helicopters. I wake up with my usual lament (“there is no better example of the great feats of human ingenuity squandered, than the Traffic Helicopter”) and flip on the radio to find out that there isn’t a stall on the Pattullo, but that a building a block from my house has been razed.

Another devastating fire; another group of neighbours spending the worst morning of their lives, looking at ashes and wondering how they will go on.

First off, we need to be thankful that, once again, no-one was seriously hurt. The alarm raised by neighbors, the professionalism of our Fire Department, and no doubt a significant amount of good luck means we are mourning things today, not people. We need no better example than last week’s fire in L’Isle-Verte to see how devastating a fire can be.

This is, of course, very different than the last fire. The impacts on the community will be different, as will the impacts on the people directly affected.

To those who didn’t call it home, the old three-story walk up on Ash Street will not be missed like the Copp’s Shoe Store and Royal City Café buildings. It didn’t have the architectural charm, it lacked in heritage features, and there are plenty more where that came from. It was a dull, utilitarian structure built in the 60s to maximize living space on the lot. There will not be a lot of hand-wringing about how to replace the gap it left in the City’s streetscape.

To those who did call it home, however, the loss will be deeper than even that felt by the business owners on Columbia. To lose your business is to lose a totem of your effort, a piece of your dreams, and a valuable part of your life, no doubt. But to lose your home is something else altogether. Every picture, every file, every piece of clothing or jewelry. Everything precious to you. Gone.

Those with foresight and means will have insurance, and will be able to replace stuff. Others will start again from scratch. But the stuff will not replace the loss of “home”, the place we return to for rest, for peace, for security. Even when I was a student and moving residences every year or so, it was easy to make my new place “home”, because I had my familiar furniture, pictures, books, toothbrush. For many who have lost all here, it will take a long time before some new place starts to feel like home. For those living on fixed incomes, and the working poor getting by from paycheque to paycheque, the task ahead is monumental.

As much as the businesses in Downtown, these people need help.

They are all fortunate that we have a well-resourced Emergency Management team in New Westminster, with a strong Emergency Special Services component. It has been educational for me to spend the last couple of years serving on the City’s Emergency Advisory Committee and seeing the different aspects of emergency planning being fine-tuned. I have some training in Emergency Operations, so I had a grasp of what happens during an Emergency response going in, but I did not realize how much work is done in preparing for after the Emergency – support systems to assist the victims after the flames are out and the portable fence is up.

For the dozens of families here, though, this will not be enough. This weekend, please contact one of the folks below to see if there is anything you can do to help. Money, clothes, dinner, petcare, household goods. who knows? The list of needs will be long, but not bottomless. We can do this.

Go to the City’s Website to see a list of organizations who are collecting donations.

The Downtown New Westminster BIA (demonstrating one of the many advantages of a BIA) is expanding their “Turn Down the Heat Week” program to help get some warm clothing for victims.

The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce is also starting a list of contacts for people offering various services. If you are a business with a skill, some resources, or an idea to help, get your name added to that list.

Reaching across the Pattullo, a business in Surrey is offering their storage space to collect larger items for donation. Communities expand at times like these.

Just as we did a few months ago, New Westminster has to step up and help our neighbours. Some may be feeling a little fundraiser-fatigue right now, but help from friends and kindness from strangers will do much to help a few of our neighbours feel “home” again here in New Westminster.

Short Sea Shipping Dreams

I loved this opinion piece in the News Leader last week. I’m just sorry it took me a week to pen this retort.

If I can paraphrase the rhetorical question by Ms. Ouellet-Martin, it is “Can short sea shipping help us manage increased Port activity while protecting the livability of our Cities?”

The answer can be found in this report, which is more than a decade old now, with no sign that any action has come out of it. But first, a bit of background.

This study was commissioned back in the heady days of 2005, when there were still three port authorities in Greater Vancouver. The Vancouver Port Authority was responsible for the Ports around Burrard Inlet, the Fraser River Port Authority for those on the main part of the Fraser River and the North Fraser Port authority for the few remaining port activities along the north and middle arms.

All three Ports were running fine and were financially self-sufficient despite the downloading of many responsibilities (environmental protection of the shorelines, dredging costs) from the federal agencies that used to do them (DFO, Coast Guard, etc.) to the local authorities. Perhaps most importantly, they were run by local authorities who had experience with Port Operations (mostly people who had spent their carrers either operating the Port, or Captaining ships). It was during these times that Fraser Surrey Dock built a container facility, spending $190 Million to attract container ships that instead decided to go to Burrard Inlet after some Merger and Acquisition action hit their main customer. So in 2008, the Federal Government decided to amalgamate all three ports in to a single entity, allegedly to prevent this type of competition. They were so proud of the change that they announced it less than a week before Christmas 2007, and it came into effect two weeks later on January 1. Christmas news releases are a sure way to let you know even the government thinks what it is doing might be a bad idea.

With the amalgamation came another change. The Port People and Ships Captains were out. The Port Authority is now going to be run by business types. The CEO is not a former stevedore, he is a former jet turbine engineer who instead worked his way up the corporate ladder through Mergers and Acquisitions, for businesses that make chemicals and steel or developing real estate. The only thing he knows about Ports is he bought one once. Makes sense, though, as his job is not to facilitate the movement of goods on and off of ships, but to “leverage positions” and “deliver value” for his “capital-intensive, asset- and service-focused large corporate customers”.

His job is not to move goods. It is to use the movement of goods as the tool to create a high return on investment for his shareholder. But I digress…

The important point of the study is that it looked at the economics of moving containers through our region not by road, but on barges. They went so far as to do an economic analysis of 5 potential node sites where short-sea shipping infrastructure could suit the local goods movement market and the existing supply chains to the distant hinterlands that are the Port’s real customers. They evaluated the practicality, infrastructure requirements (with cost estimates), efficiency of goods movement, and even the air emissions related to the changeover.

The conclusions? Allow me to quote:

  • Intra-regional short-sea container shipping in Greater Vancouver offers promising, commercially viable, private sector opportunities in the short to medium-term for specific short-sea container terminal locations on the Fraser River.
  • Short-sea container shipping, for selected terminal locations and routes and with sufficient volume, offers price competitiveness with trucking and some competitive advantages (likely to expand dramatically over time) in the areas of delivery time and delivery time reliability. These advantages occur because of road network congestion as well as deep-sea terminal flow issues, gate congestion, reservation limitations and operating hour limitations. All of these factors impact on truck transfer delivery time and costs but do not affect a short-sea operation with on-dock marshalling areas.
  • Expected increases in environmental emissions from the intra-regional transfer of containers by truck will be moderated to the extent that short-sea operations absorb some of the future growth.
  • It will be critical for short-sea service investors and proponents to invest the capital and make the long-term commitment necessary to establish reliability and confidence in the market place. The Consulting Team is aware of a number of regional operators and external investors who are seriously interested in this opportunity.

There is more, but you get the drift. Short-sea shipping could work based on 2005 container movement levels and density, and the economics improved as container volumes increased along with road congestion. Note the growth in container demand up to 2013 has almost caught up to match the projections from this 2005 study despite the significant blip caused by the recession that started in 2008. The Port is clearly bully on containers, considering their development plans at Roberts Bank.

Now, about that road congestion. The report outlines the major road movement plans that were starting to come to light as part of the Gateway Strategy, all delivered, remember, “On Time and On Budget”:

  • Golden Ears Bridge (promised by 2008, opened in 2009)
  • North Fraser Perimeter Road (promised by 2011, now cancelled)
  • Twin Port Mann, 6-lane Highway 1 (promised by 2011, over-delivered in 2013)
  • South Fraser Perimeter Road (promised by 2011, delivered 2014)

The study proved that short-sea shipping was economically feasible, and would result in cleaner air and less congested roads, all we needed to do was invest in a little infrastructure on Port lands. So let’s look at the 5 highlighted sites from the study and see what type of infrastructure development is happening:

Coast 2000 (Richmond): Since 2005, the Port have bought adjacent farmland with an eye on future expansion, they have built no less than 23 new warehouse buildings for leasing to trucking and logistics companies, and not a single dock to the adjacent river has been built. The only dock facility on the entire 300 hectare site with 2.5km of deep river waterfront is one that has been there since before 2005, and is (rarely) used to move small break-bulk.

Fraser Surrey Docks (Surrey/Delta): Now deciding that importing dirty thermal coal from Wyoming that no port on the west coast of the USA will take is their only economic salvation.

Port Kells (Surrey/Langley): Has seen huge growth in the last decade – of truck-serviced warehouses. The entire area between the Trans Canada Highway and the River, from the Golden Ears Bridge to 190th, is over 630 hectares with more than 3 km of prime Fraser River waterfront, direct connections to two major freeways and a major rail line, and literally hundreds of warehouses, yet the only thing that moves on and off of boats is woodchips onto barges.

Tilbury (Delta): Tilbury is the long industrial strip along the north shore of Delta between the Alex Fraser Bridge and Deas Island. Used to be it was the industrial area you could never get to; now with the SFPR complete, it is becoming the industrial area you can’t get out of. The SFPR has facilitated expanded growth here, more warehouses and industrial land, but of course no new docks. The good news here is the location of SeaSpan – about the only place where a quasi-short-sea shipping mode happens in BC. They have a series of dedicated barges that move rail cars and truck trailer to Vancouver Island and back every day, as they have for the best part of a century.

Pitt Meadows Airport (Pitt Meadows): This area was ripe for development in 2005, but apparently the Port lost interest, and the municipality decided former farmland in the floodplain of the Fraser River was better utilized as residential development. There is essentially no industrial use of the waterfront in this area, despite proximity to the massive CP Intermodal Yard where every container that does not come or go by train must, alas, go on the back of a truck, because the river is way over there – across the street.

I could go on with other industrial waterfront areas that are not even evaluated in this report, the Mary Hill Bypass area of Port Coquitlam, Albion Flats, even the Mission waterfront. They have what you need – navigable river access, rail lines, and relatively direct freeway access far from commercial centres and their traffic hassles. Except for that last point, you could include Queensborough and Annacis Island. All they need (according to the report) is for the Port to invest in some waterfront infrastructure, or create economic incentives for private industry to do the same.

Instead, after amalgamation, this report was shelved, as the Port decided to go the other direction, to fit with the new business plan. They will continue to build warehouses that can quickly return lease money, and rely on infrastructure built by others (after all, you and I pay for those roads and bridges, the Port doesn’t even have to pay property tax). Instead of using their infrastructure investment money to improve the livability of our community and the efficiency of goods movement through the Port, they continue to buy up farmland (or create new land in the sea) so that they can lease that out to logistics and operations companies for a handsome profit. This is why I say the Port is no longer in the goods movement business, they are in the real estate development business.

Is it time for Short-sea shipping? Can it help with traffic congestion on our streets, and still provide efficient movement of goods? Can it reduce emissions, improve air quality, and improve the livability of our cities? The answers to all of those questions appear to be “yes”.

Is it in the business interest of the Port? That is the question we should be asking.

…and bring on 2014

Following on my previous post, the good news/bad news dichotomy of 2013 fails (as all false dichotomies do) on several of the biggest stories of the year, as I find them blending good and bad news.

The Pattullo Bridge: This story started off as bad news, as TransLink appeared dead-set on sticking a 6-lane bridge where it doesn’t belong while offering little in the way of public consultation. However, vocal concerns related to this project from the public and the City of New Westminster lead TransLink to engage in a more comprehensive consultation process. The ‘default” mode of replacing a piece of aging infrastructure with a bigger, more expensive piece was re-evaluated, and a more holistic look at the needs of the community and the role of the transportation system was taken. Looking at the “problem set” agreed to by all stakeholders, there no longer seemed any way to justify a bridge larger than the one there now. Fittingly, a more comprehensive list of options was presented, and it looked like a more reasoned approach to TransLink’s “aging bridge problem” was in the offing.

That said, there are signs the positive feeling we were getting in 2013 might be short lived. TransLink is coming back to the community to consult on the next phase of planning in the next month of two, and the early reports are that the 6-lane bridge is back on the front burner. This time, they appear to be adding a strange bauble meant to appease some concerned about Trucks on Royal Ave., but will in fact make the rat-running and other negative traffic impacts on our City worse. I can’t say too much more at this point, except that this will be the biggest issue in New Westminster in the spring of 2014, and will create a strange local dynamic in the upcoming municipal election and TransLink referendum. Watch this spot!

School District 40: This story is another of the endlessly-long variety, with many twists and turns in 2013. At the beginning of the year, it was all bad news. The budget deficit went from terrible to critical, this as the Treasurer of the district resigned, which threw more chaos into the mix. With lay-offs and equipment shortages, all was bad news. However, as 2013 drew to a close, there were signs of a turn-around. The brutal austerity measures appear to be leading to a more stable budget, there is new leadership on the Board, and while one of the long-awaited new schools is taking shape, another is creeping closer to reality.

However, the austerity will be brutal, and there are signs that the new leadership will not automatically end the partisan bickering that we all know and love around the Trustee Table. Turning a ship as big as School District 40 doesn’t happen quickly, but it is easier to do if the ship is not taking on water. With all the bad news, there are at least a few reasons to be positive about the direction the district is moving as we get into the 2014 Election Year.

The Waterfront: There were a lot of little stories relating to New Westminster’s waterfront that, individually didn’t get much press, but put together, draw a picture of a great future for the City. The success of the Pier Park and the resurgence of the River Market are carry-overs from 2012, but they are part of the positive momentum that is forming down there. The announcements that the City is ready to start thinking post-parkade planning, and the recent announcement that a new, more human-scale proposal for the Larco Property point to a bright future for this important part of the City. I won’t go on length, as I recently did just that, but this is a bigger story for the decade ahead than the amount of media it received would lead you to think.

Of course, I am being a little coy about the two *biggest stories* of 2013, as so much has already been said about them, but there were two events for which 2013 will be remembered in New Westminster.

The fire; Was easily the most terrible news of the year. The City lost some beautiful heritage buildings, and several important downtown businesses (not the least being my favourite Pho place!). The resulting gap in the retail streetscape which, even in the best of circumstances, will linger for more than a year or two, is a step backwards in the momentum we were seeing downtown. I hope this isn’t a nail in the coffin for the Antique Row on Front Street.

But out of the bad news, we managed to find positive in the community. The heroic work of the firefighters from New Westminster and the neighbouring communities to stop the spread of the fire in challenging conditions, the rallying of citizens, businesses, and the City in providing whatever the businesses needed – whatever could be found, from leasable space to cash – to maintain business continuity as much as possible and help those impacted move on. It is still going on with a fundraiser next week at De Dutch, the Shopping bag program, and more. The Fire also brought us all out to think about what buildings and heritage are, taught us how diverse our downtown business community is (there were 20 businesses in just those buildings!?), and reminded us that what we need to value what we have, as it can be lost.

Hyack: Many column inches were spent on this issue, an internal dispute that spun out into the public and shone some (perhaps unwelcome?) light on an organization that we all know about, most of us love, but many of us hardly think about. With this story still developing, and an AGM scheduled for early 2014, it is hard to say what surprise comes next, but there is no doubt that Hyack needs to think about how it will re-build the parts of its reputation that have been tarnished, if they are given the opportunity. The latest shot in the letters section (one from deep inside, apparently) doesn’t help smooth the waves, though.

Again, this “bad news” story overshadowed the good news of the City’s festival spirit. With or without Hyack, the opportunities for sharing and enjoying our City have increased in recent years. Newer events like Uptown Live and the Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Festival compliment the ongoing success of events like the monumentally-attended Show & Shine, Sapperton Day, Riverfest, and yes, the Parade and other events around the Hyack Festival. Pride Week Events were also great this year, and friends involved in the organization tell me the response they are getting is so good that they are looking at serious expansion of that event over the next few years.

So at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, 2014 is looking positive: Everything is coming up New West!

The end of 2013…

I’m back from a long vacation, where I saw many things, learned many things, and caught up on about 11 months of sleep deprivation. Among my adventures was visiting a Museum to Urban Planning – yes, I am that kind of geek. More on that later.

I haven’t done a “Year in Review” thing yet, and I guess as some of us like to pretend a Blog is a form of “media”, I am required to by some sort of law or code or something. However, the end of 2013 was so busy right up to the day I left for vacation, It just never happened. So a few days late, here is my New Year post.

Actually, I’ll make it two posts, because I’m busy and lazy and want to get twice the number of hits for the same amount of effort on my part. That’s apparently the key to Social Media success, don’t you know!

I’m going to start with New Westminster’s Good News stories of 2013:

New CAO: The announcement that Lisa Spitale was hired to be the new CAO for the City of New Westminster. In her time running the City’s Planning Department, Lisa was always approachable, honest, visionary, and hopeful. Her role in the positive direction the City has taken in the last decade is often overshadowed by the elected officials who cut the ribbons she has set up for them, but such is the life of the government staffer. I have had the opportunity to chat with Lisa at various consultations and open houses, and she has always struck me as someone who understands the bigger vision and the smaller details in municipal planning, while leaving the politics (and the ensuing battles) to the politicians, so she can just quietly get her job done. She specifically told me once she “doesn’t read the Blogs”, so I am pretty sure she won’t read this, but I am excited to see what stamp her personality puts on the City now that she is in the big chair.

Good things for Queensborough: The completion (on budget!) and opening (on schedule!) of the expanded Queensborough Community Centre, the development of a renewed Community Plan, regained momentum on the Q2Q pedestrian crossing: things are definitely moving in New Westminster’s “other borough”. As a “mainlander”, I am as guilty as most in sometimes paying less attention to the east end of Lulu Island as it deserves, but there is a real community over there, and it is growing fast. I delegated for the NWEP at the Council Meeting held at the new QCC, and it was great to see it so well attended – people in the ‘Burough are as proud of their neighbourhood as any other in New West- and for good reasons. The waterfront trail system and Port Royal neighbourhoods are real jewels the entire City should be proud of, as is the much more rural and relaxed central parts of Queensborough, where large lots and farmers fields still exist.

There are pressures, however. Some of the densification may be higher than ideal, especially considering the recent clawing back of transit service by TransLink. The re-imagining of Ewen Ave as a “Great Street” is long overdue, and not moving along quickly enough, which might be slowing the retail growth south of the Freeway. The long-term livability impacts of Port Metro Vancouver’s uncontrolled and unaccountable truck-oriented development along the waterfront are also a looming concern. However, Queensborough is no longer being ignored (if it ever was), and has some of the best views in the City for a walk-around.

New MLA: The 2013 election was, locally, a great campaign. Faces familiar and new stepped up and put their ideas to the test, and the totally predictable outcome still resulted in a surprising winner. Yes, we knew Judy Darcy was the odds-on favourite in this town of orange, but what surprised me about Judy was how different she was from the way her critics tried to paint her. Although a life-long labour activist, and relatively new to New West (that last point a characteristic she actually shared with her closest opponent), she did not come across at all like a parachute candidate. She has already established deep roots in the community, and in conversation, the immediate impression was not a polished politician, but a genuine person who has happened to work her whole life on social justice issues. She is a pleasure to talk to, asks the right questions, admits when she doesn’t have an answer, and has an infectious laugh that comes from deep down. She is going to be (and already is) a great MLA.

Given a high-profile shadow cabinet position, she has already become a strong voice for long-promised but not-really-budgeted Royal Columbian, Burnaby, and other hospital expansions, even pressing Health Minister Terry Lake to say, in effect, that those promises were only for election purposes, and were not to be taken seriously: a “quick win” for a rookie MLA against an established cabinet minister. If we ever actually have a legislative sitting, Judy will do us proud.

2013 wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There were some Bad News stories in New West in 2013:

Traffic Troubles: Some would say it is hard to believe traffic could get worse in New West, but people who actually pay attention to things like sustainable transportation management were not surprised. Now we have the situation where New Westminster’s most staunch BC Liberal Party supporter is on the cover of the local newspaper complaining that truck traffic caused by the bad transportation infrastructure decisions of the BC Government of the last decade is hurting his community. The measureable increase in truck traffic was a predictable result of the expansion of the SFPR, the expansion of the Lougheed from Coquitlam through to Maple Ridge, and the expansion of Highway 1 and subsequent tolling of the Port Mann Bridge. One of the results is an end to a decade-long trend of reduced traffic across the Pattullo. Watch for this sudden “surprising” increase to be used as an excuse to expand the roads we have, which will somehow make sense to people who are otherwise smart enough to realize that the cure for drunkenness is not found in more booze. I’ll talk more about this in my next post, and I suspect the entire City will be talking about this a lot in 2014.

Port Problems: The second ongoing bad news story that bubbled to the surface in New West this year is the Fraser Surrey Docks plan to begin bulk shipments of thermal coal. There are way too many aspects of this story to cover in detail in a reasonable-length post: the Port’s complete lack of accountability to the public or the community it serves as it rushes to develop real estate for profit against the opposition of every surrounding municipality; the fact that regional health officers (whose job it is, after all, to protect the community’s health) can be overruled by a business plan; the fact that business plan is somehow seen as critically important to the Port, although it offers so few actual jobs; the continued disregard for the fact that mining and burning thermal coal is a deeply unethical thing to do, on par with the export of asbestos. This proposal is just one current plan on Port lands, and there will be more ethically questionable, environmentally risky, and economically precarious ones coming down the pike, from Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and the local LNG facilities (that no-one is talking about yet), as we transition to a full-on PetroState – the only one in the world without state control of its Petroleum.

Ugh. Now I’m all depressed.

Next, I’ll post the other part of my year in review, the stories that transitioned from good to bad, or vice-versa, or contained a healthy dose of both, and will include a look ahead to the stories that will be important in the beginning of 2014. Hopefully, I’ll finish that one with a more positive feeling.