New West Doc Fest Year 3!

So you all know there is DocFest happening this week, right?

This is the 3rd Annual New West Doc Fest, and the big news is a move to the Landmark Cinemas at New Westminster Station. This was a fun event the last two years at Douglas College, but the move to a new, sleek, comfy, modern theatre will definitely raise the game a bit for the Fest.

There is a great variety of films this year – some probably not what you expect from a DocFest that is organized by the Green Ideas Network and the New Westminster Environmental Partners. Yeah, there are a couple that hit the topic of “sustainability” pretty hard, but there is also a 3D animated movie re-telling an Inuit legend, and a movie about what its like to stare at the back of famous people for a living!

However, what makes this event different from a night (or three) at the movies is the rest of the schedule. There will be live music and other performances each night. Most films will be preceded by a short film – like they used to do for every movie when we were kinds. And each night will have special hosts who can talk about the films that you are seeing, or the topics that were discussed in the film.

And unlike in previous years at the Doc Fest, this year there will be popcorn.

Films are $5 – $7 each, but the best deal is to buy a $20 Full Festival pass – you can see all 5 features, 4 shorts, live music, talks, and you can hang out at the Friday Night Post-Fest social at Spud Shack next door. Three nights entertainment and education for $20 is cheaper than sitting at home!

I haven’t seen any of the movies showing this year, and I ain’t much of a Movie Critic, but I want to mention three of the Docs I am most looking forward to:

The first is Blackfish. This is a film about a captured orca that lived/worked at SeaWorld, and was involved in the death of a trainer. However, that incident just sets the backdrop for a deeper analysis of the entertainment-aquarium industry, and the ethics of keeping large cetaceans in captivity strictly for entertainment purposes. This film opened at Sundance, and has been winning awards at festivals across Europe and North America (there is even some Oscar hype building), but perhaps the real impact is the media exposure that this film has generated, forcing Sea World to fight back and attempt to re-claim the message.

The second is 20 Feet from Stardom. This movie looks at the lives of singers whose work you have all heard, thought you didn’t know it. The film profiles several “back up singers” who worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Stevie Wonder to the Rolling Stones, but were always 20 feet behind them. Clearly massive talents, these singers spent their careers under the lights, but in the “shadow of superstardom”. With remarkably good reviews from critics and fans (the words “universal acclaim” appear commonly in discussions of the film), this is a movie you want to see on the big screen with modern theatre sound.

Third is Bidder 70, a film about an American who went to extraordinary lengths to protect 22,000 acres of pristine wilderness in Utah. When oil and gas development rights were put up to auction on the lands adjacent to Canyonlands National Park, Tim DeChristopher first sought to prevent the auction from happening, then when the controversial auction began, he bid more than $1.8Million for the rights and won them. Not having $1.8 Million, the Federal Government had him charged with fraud and thrown in jail. The movie is about this action, but it is also about what persons in a free society do when the laws are wrong, when an accountable government threatens its own land and citizens, or when an injustice is being done by those sworn to preserve justice. It is also a personal tale about what makes a single person decide to risk their personal freedom for an idea. As we in Canada see hydrocarbon development rushing ahead at a pace that makes so many people uncomfortable, this might be the most important film of the fest to see.

Like I said, there is a great variety of films being shown, and the conversations before and after should make for a great event. The tickets are cheap because the event is run on shoestring – this is not a fundraiser for the NWEP or anyone else – but the movies are the best on the documentary circuit right now, and we are lucky to have them here in New West! It’s a great opportunity to see some interesting films with a distinct paucity explosions, Michael Bay edits, or comic book characters. Each will make you laugh and think. And besides, it starts the day after the Hyack meeting, so we will all be tired of fireworks by then…

See you there!

T2 or not T2?

You have to be a real transportation/Port/Environment geek to know that this is going on, but I thought it might be interesting to call attention to one of Port Metro Vancouver’s current projects. The Port plans to expand DeltaPort- the big island created out next to the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal – to double the capacity for the movement of containers.

PMV graphic, click to zoom in.

They have just applied for an environmental assessment for the so-called Roberts Bank T2 Project, but are doing their own outreach to ask the community a few questions about the current project.

By “community”, I mean people South of the Fraser, because the pubic open houses are all being held south of the middle arm, but there is lots of opportunity for on-line comments, and with a comprehensive EA very likely, there should be more opportunity to talk over the next year or so.

My initial impressions are surprisingly (for some) not all that negative. However, before I present them, I need to do one of my every-so-often caveat things:

Although the footprint of this project is well outside of the City than employs me, my employer has been identified as a potential stakeholder in the project. I am in the department of the City that would theoretically be providing technical assistance to the City’s correspondence on the matter. That said, I have no pony in this race, nor have I any decision-making power in how EA or the Port plans advance, or how my employer approaches the EA. I am not privy to any behind-the scenes information, all I know about the project comes from the publicly-available records. Everything I say here is my opinion, not that of my employer or anyone else who may work for my employer, or any rational person, for that matter. 

With that out of the way, I’ll give a quick description of the project. PMV wants to expand the container facility at DeltaPort. This is part of on-going expansion plans out there on Roberts Bank. To put the expansion in perspective, cast you mind way back to 2009, when Hannah Montana was still a thing, and the Roberts Bank Container facility had an annual capacity of 1.2 Million TEU per year (“TEU” is twenty-foot equivalent units, essentially a 20-foot long standard container. The ones you typically see on the back of trucks on Royal Ave are 40-foots, equivalent to 2 TEUs, although the 2.6 TEU 53-footers at are increasingly common).

In 2010 a third berth was opened, which boosted capacity 50%, to 1.8 Million TEU. Since then, an ongoing project to improve the rail and road connections and off-ship container handling is aiming to boost capacity by 2015 to 2.4 Million TEU. If approved and completed, the current project will boost capacity yet again, to 4.8 Million TEU. As full build-out of this project will not arrive until about 2024, the net result would be a quadrupling of container capacity over 14 years.

PMV’s own graphics Click to make bigger

Clearly, the Port is bullish on containers.

There is much to be discussed here, as the projected growth will impact every bit of our City and region. I want to concentrate on two specific issues at this early stage, both close to my heart. Transportation and the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Transportation
If you think there are too many container trucks on Royal Avenue now, what will it be like when container throughput is increased three-fold? Where are all these containers going to go?

I dug through this recent report commissioned by the Port, and used as the justification for expanded container capacity at Roberts Bank, and the existing terminals in Burrard Inlet. There are a few lessons in here.

First off, Surrey Fraser Docks will not be a significant mover of containers at the Port for the foreseeable future, regardless of the fate of the tunnel or dredging of the river. Simply put, the average every-day container ships being built today are too large to navigate within the Fraser River. At 400m long and 60m wide, their 15m draught is the least of their worries. Port facilities along the Fraser River may have many uses, but moving containers on and off of boats will not be one of them, unless the Port decides to finally start investing in the type of short-sea shipping that was recommended to them a decade ago by this other report.

Second, note from the graph above (page 36 of the aforementioned report) that the vast majority of the import containers, more than 90% from 1990 to 2010, are bound for destinations outside of Western Canada. The forecasts deeper in the report suggest this trend will continue, as most growth calculations are based on competitive advantages accessing the Mid-West and eastern parts of North America though rail. This should reinforce the question – why are we moving these things around by truck? What are the economics of moving these containers from the boat to the truck to the multi-modal yard where they eventually end up on trains?

Part of the answer might be train capacity. It has been suggested by people much smarter than me that the single most pressing goods movement choke point in the Province is the New Westminster Rail Bridge, underlying a challenged rail infrastructure throughout the region.

However, this report suggests quite the opposite- saying that there is lots of rail capacity, and that the economic advantages of direct-to-rail are clear:

… the costs associated with trucking containers from terminals to rail yards were obviously highly uncompetitive. Hence, there was a switch in favour of on-dock rail facilities, and all new container terminals on the west coast either incorporate such a facility or provide on-dock access to an adjacent rail yard.” –pg 146.

So the economics make sense, the global trend is established, and the Port is making plans to take advantage of this reality. Which makes me wonder why we are still investing heavily in the building of truck-freeways to move trucks from the Docks to the Intermodal Yards? Why are we being told we have to accept the community impacts and cost to the public purse of all these container trucks when the economics don’t make sense?

There was one shocking statement a few pages later under Conclusions:

The only possible difficulty if proposed oil exports from Alberta were to compete for rail space with coal and container trains. Clearly, the correct mode for these exports will be by pipeline. This is the only potential capacity constraint for increased container volumes via Vancouver.” -pg 150

I don’t think any of us were under any illusions about the Port being an interested partner in the building of pipelines to move bitumen from Alberta to the west coast, but this dynamic is one that shows how complex, yet strangely tenuous, our transportation network truly is. How Coal snuck into the discussion here is another point of speculation. Are plans for expanded coal movement really suited to the Port’s expansion plans for containers?

Agriculture / Land Use
The current Port Boss has been questioning the preservation of Agricultural lands. He has gone so far as to say we don’t need farmland in BC, as we can import all of our food through his port. So it is really hard to give him the benefit for the doubt about this topic…but hear me out a bit.

It is possible that the building of new land out where DeltaPort is currently located will reduce the pressure to re-purpose existing new land in the lower Fraser Valley from farm to Port servicing. If we accept that the Port’s expansion models are realistic, and we accept that expanded movement of container goods is a great thing for our economy, and Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is designed to primarily move goods on and off of boats and on and off of trains (three big “ifs”, admittedly), then of all the places for this activity to take place, perhaps Roberts Bank is the best option. Maybe this is a project that Environmentalists can somehow “get to yes” on (to borrow the parlance of the day).

The habitat loss out on Roberts bank will be small, and adjacent to already highly disturbed habitat. With some creative design, there is no reason T2 would create any harm outside of its 100 hectare footprint. It could be argued that compensatory habitat required under the Fisheries Act will be of higher quality than that lost through this project, but that is yet to be seen, and something that will come out during the EA.

PMV Graphics, Click to zoom in.

Public meetings:
There will be 5 public meetings, starting tomorrow, led by the Port, and discussing three aspects of the project: Habitat Mitigation Plans, Methods for improving Port-related truck traffic; and ideas for community legacy benefits. As I said, they are all South of the Fraser, but you might want to make the trip and check them out:

October 16 @5:00pm-8:00pm      UBC Boathouse, Richmond
October 17 @5:00pm-8:00pm      Surrey Arts Centre, Surrey
October 22 @5:00pm-8:00pm      Coast Hotel , Langley
October 24 @5:00pm-8:00pm      Delta Town & Country Inn, Delta
October 26 @10:00am-1:00pm    Coast Tsawwassen Inn, Delta

Hyack

OK, I’ll wade in.

For anyone paying attention locally, the Hyack Festival Association has been embroiled in some sort of internal-strife shit-show for several months now. I commented a bit on the situation back in August, when the information was scarce, and appropriately kept my comments limited to hoping that things get worked out. After all, Hyack’s volunteer force and their link to the public face of the City are important to the community. They have for 40 years maintained many of the traditions that describe New Westminster, and I hate to see babies tossed out with bathwater.

But the bathwater is getting so deep and murky, it is hard to tell if the baby is still in there.

Since my initial comments in August, I have had discussions with many people in the City about Hyack. I have talked to one current Hyack Board member (notably not one who has been commenting in the media), I have talked to both Bart Slotman and James Crosty (both of whom claim to have been drawn into this public conversation reluctantly). I have talked to Executive Directors for other organizations and business people in the City who work with Hyack, and even to a former Hyack staff member. I have not talked to Douglas Smith (I have still never met the man) or Gavin Palmer (we have not been formally introduced). I have also tried to piece things together based on various media reports, letters to the Editor, and social media conversations. I am hardly “inside” this issue in any way (although I am now a Hyack member – more on that below), but I feel I have done everything I can as an “outsider” to gather info and understand the issue as a concerned citizen.

As every conversation I list above was casual, social, and off-the-record, I am not going to quote anyone or put anyone else on a particular side of an issue. Coming out of the closet about their Hyack opinions is up to them. If they choose to speak up or correct me in the public record, I am happy to be corrected on any point of fact. I am also going to assume that everyone writing to the paper or speaking out about this is being truthful, because I have no reason to assume otherwise.

So with those caveats, here is the gist of the situation, as best I can stitch together. There is a battle going on right now for the heart of Hyack – what it is, what it has been, and what it will be in the future. There are essentially two “camps” within Hyack, and if I can paraphrase their positions:

One group has a “steady-as-she-goes” attitude about Hyack. The organization has deep roots and traditions, and it is by respecting these traditions that they have accumulated assets worth more than $1 Million, and have an army of volunteers ready to fill roles in the established routines to keep the ship floating. They have been successful for 40 years, and will continue to be successful if they keep running things the way they have proven works. Careful evolution is preferable to massive changes. This group includes the current President, two remaining Executive members, and a large contingent of ex-Presidents and former Board Members (the “Plaid Coats”). This group also probably represents a plurality of the paid Members of the society.

A second group thinks Hyack needs to makes changes to get with the times. They see some of the traditions of the Hyack Association as dated, and feel that money and volunteer effort could be better spent on updated or refreshed events. They are concerned about the Hyack’s lack of transparency and apparent inability to broaden their appeal to a more diverse community. They see flagging interest in some Hyack events (i.e. the Easter Car Parade) and recent successes on new events to attract an audience and sponsorship money (i.e. Uptown Live), as evidence that they can broaden their appeal and be a more successful festival organizer to the benefit of the entire City. This group includes the (now-former) Executive Director, and (this is the important part) a slim majority of the current Hyack Board.

The conflict arose when the majority of the Board (the second group) supported some updating of the traditions through a new strategic plan, and the Executive and Plaid Coats (the first group) did not agree with that decision. Best I can tell, from that single disagreement on long-term vision of the organization, a lot of bad decisions were made that got us to our current situation.

What is the current situation? Not good:

  • The organization is currently without an Executive Director- and seems to be burning through them at a rate that hampers long-term planning and relationship building. Now, back when I worked in retail, there was pretty good staff turnover. Low wages and hard work – that’s the reality of retail. But if I had 4 people I hired for the same manager job and they all quit or were fired after only two years, the owner would be looking at me as the problem, not the people I hire. I’m not saying…. I’m just saying.
  • The organization appears to not have a functioning board. If decisions made by a clear majority of the board can be overturned by a minority, or vetoed by a President, then there are serious governance issues that need to be addressed. Not just to make the organization function as intended, but to meet constitutional and legal requirements under the Societies Act.
  • The organization may be headed for a bad day in court. The former Executive Director has all but told the media that there will be legal action over his dismissal. We can assume from this he will be arguing for wrongful dismissal, and some of the untoward comments made in the media about alleged reasons for his dismissal probably bring an aspect of defamation into the conversation. I obviously don’t know if there were grounds for dismissal, but the hasty invitation back and negotiation of terms suggests someone received legal advice and the organization may need to dust off their chequebook and write down a lot of zeroes to make this go away, or risk spending a lot of time paying lawyers to go to court.
  • The organization is having a problem with sponsors. There have been several news reports of large sponsors distancing themselves from the current imbroglio. Some of them may come back if the confidence in the organization returns (although after making Slotman the villain, and calling for a boycott of Royal City Centre, some bridges might be harder to mend…), and I don’t know how widespread this is, but if three major sponsors are publicly announcing their concern, you can bet there are many more quietly stepping back. Continued strife, lack of direction, and potential court battles will do nothing to encourage any of them to come rushing back any time soon.
  • The organization is eating itself by not dealing with the situation. The roots of this problem go back at least to the strategic plan in the spring, and the current situation came to a head in July with the firing of Douglas Smith. We are now in October, and the Hyack President has yet to make a statement about the situation or discuss how it is addressing what may be a mortal wound. The organization was unexpectedly pulled from the agenda for Tuesday’s special meeting at Council to determine festival planning needs and requirements for the coming year. By looking at the report they provided for the meeting (with important numbers missing and typos) – it seems that Hyack is unprepared to take part in that meeting and provide a cohesive vision for the City. Meanwhile, the President, instead of busting his ass getting this report together, mending fences and reaching out to concerned citizens, is down in Leavenworth, Washington taking his spot in the Autumn Leaf Parade representing the Hyack Festival Association between the Distinguished Young Women of Ellensburg and the Martins Allstar Showteam.

First Law of Holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging.

So where does Hyack go from here? I guess it depends on where you are looking from. In my comments in August, I said I want this organization to exist and be effective. To me, that looks more like this:

The 2013 Uptown Live event- a great compliment to the Hyack Parade.

 And less like this:

The Royal Rosarians of Portland preparing to “knight” the president of Hyack

Much like Douglas Smith stated in his report, I want a Hyack that represents New Westminster in a modern, meaningful way. Events like the Columbia StrEAT Foodtruck Festival, Uptown Live and the very successful rejuvenated Hyack Canada Day Fireworks are better examples of how our City can benefit from Festival funding and the hard work of volunteers. We drew the locals out onto the street to meet and mingle, and we drew people a SkyTrain-ride away into New Westminster to see our businesses, our downtown, our waterfront, and hopefully we put on a good enough face that they will return.

A little Pomp and Ceremony can also be good idea, if it serves to motivate volunteers, bring community together, and increase awareness of the organization and its benefits. Many would doubt, however, what exporting our pomp and ceremony to places like Ellensburg (where!?) Washington does to boost New Westminster’s profile, community spirit, or business connections. This is the case being made by some right now, but there is clearly a fundamental disconnect between the people who criticize these types of activities and those who partake in them. Honestly, I don’t know how this letter argues the case made in the first sentence – to many readers, it argues the exact opposite.

Perhaps the question I have not addressed is – Why do I care? Why should anyone care?

Those who regularly read this blog (Hi Mom!) know I am not the type to stand back and watch when a situation needs fixing, I would rather help, and encourage everyone else to help. That is the reason I had the conversations I did with the people I mentioned above. For the most part, I didn’t necessarily seek them out and corner them on the Hyack situation, but when I did run into them socially or on the street, the Hyack situation came up in conversation. Admitting I didn’t really understand the situation, I tried to get as much information as I could, mostly to separate the rumour and innuendo from the reality.

My first impression was, as I stated in August- this is an important organization in my community that I want to see operate successfully. When faced with the opinions of the “two camps” described above, I found myself agreeing with the later, more “changey” group. With reflection, it seemed obvious that this was my natural viewpoint, because I am not Member, and the traditions and “old way” of doing things were basically invisible to me. I had no frame of reference.

So I joined Hyack, and encouraged people I know to do the same. When there was talk of a September 10 special meeting of Hyack to determine the fate of Douglas Smith and/or the Executive that had him fired, I decided I wanted to join, attend that meeting, and hear the two sides argue their case. I also canvassed some of my social group to do the same, for the sake of everything that Hyack has done for the City, and the potential inherent in the organization. Some of my New West network reacted with surprising vitriol, told me the organization was not worth saving, or didn’t understand why I thought they might care. Others saw where I was coming from, got that the organization was a part of the community, and might be worth saving, if only because of the positive changes that have been seen in the last couple of years.

Then the September meeting was postponed, then cancelled, with no explanation to members or the public. I assumed the parties were working out the details of a settled conclusion and everyone was getting back to work. I could not have been more wrong.

I have not been contacted by Hyack since joining in the first week of September (although they wasted no time cashing my $55 cheque). Frankly, I have no idea when or how they meet, or even how I can get involved. The employee who received my membership forms is apparently no longer with the organization, leaving the same day that Douglas Smith decided to end his short return. Admittedly, the organization has bigger concerns than keeping lil’ ol’ me informed, and I haven’t gone out of my way to seek clarity from them, but as a new Member, I expected some kind of hello. Meanwhile, competing letters to the editor demonstrate very effectively who is in each of the two “camps”. What I do not hear is anyone looking for points of resolution. I also don’t hear anyone talking about a game plan or a way forward. Instead, one of the directors muses about splitting the organization up, while concurrent heart-felt, impassioned defenses of Hyack traditions fail to acknowledge that there may even be a problem.

Love it or hate it, Hyack is a vital part of our community – this is not just about the money taxpayers contribute to the organization (although that does matter), it is about representing the public face of the City. Hyack is quick to point out their efforts are all to promote New Westminster, so what impression of New Westminster are they currently showing? Every person who has staked their future on the success of this City should care about what Hyack represents in this town, and how they do that. For this reason alone, members, sponsors and the community need to know that Hyack is not just burying its head in the sand hoping this blows over, but is taking steps to address the criticisms, manage their structural and governance issues, and find a place in the New Westminster of the 21th Century.

I realize just by writing this blog post, I run the risk of making enemies. That is not my intention. Many will disagree with me about this topic, and some will take it personally. I hope those who do will reach out to me and set me straight, and I will be happy to print their reactions here, unedited. In an absence of certainty about motivations and reasoning, I always appeal to Hanlon’s Razor. I assume everyone involved here has the best interests of Hyack and the City in mind. However, no-one seems to agree on what those best interests are, never mind how to get there. The fact so many community members, even the normally “well informed” ones, are trying to figure out what is happening is not a condemnation of us, it is a condemnation of Hyack for not communicating effectively with its constituents. As a member of the community who wants to believe in Hyack, I am struggling to explain to others why.

Up to now, too much of the media conversation has been about entrenching positions, not about moving forward. Yes, the Hyack Festival Association has a proud 40 year history, but this City and many of its traditions have a history 3 times that long. The City will be able to exist and maintain important traditions without Hyack. There are other organizations, established and burgeoning, that would be happy to step in and take their share of that $140,000 in annual taxpayer support Hyack receives, and use it to promote the City, our business community, and our History. I’m not saying that is the best or most desirable result at this point, but those pulling the strings at Hyack have to keep that in mind.

Therefore, Hyack’s first priority right now needs to be convincing us – the City, the community, and their sponsors, and their members, that they are the best option the City has to promote the public face of New Westminster and bring community events to the Royal City.

Shoreline Cleanup 2013

note: below is a guest post (a first!) penned by Karla Olson, who has been carrying much of the New Westminster Environmental Partners load on her back this year. She has also spent the last three years applying her considerable project management skills towards making the local portion of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup as successful as possible. The 2013 event is coming up soon- and I hope you will take part!  
Site prep team on Queensborough’s South Dyke Road last week:
(LtoR) Karla Olson (author), Patrick Johnstone, Jaycee Clarkson,
Lisa Egan and Harry Buchholz.

Help Nature Return to Its Natural Beauty

Next Sunday, starting from 9:30AM, is the South Dyke Road Riverfront Cleanup in Queensborough. A family-friendly event, it is open to everyone who welcomes taking care of our shoreline. Volunteer to take part in a variety of activities, from active to easy.
At last year’s Shoreline Cleanup, 79 participants removed about 165 kg of litter and invasive species. People came from Surrey, Delta, and Vancouver, and included Councillor Jonathan Cote, as well as Fin Donnelly, MP.  Some of the littered items collected included an oven, a refrigerator door, a microwave, 6 tires, a barrel that was estimated to be forty years old, and bags and bags of waste produced from daily human activities.
Along with all of the garbage and invasives removed, what is equally impressive is how experienced people are getting at doing these cleanups.
Last year, one couple from Surrey removed 4 of the 6 tires, the barrel, and huge blocks of Styrofoam from the river. This year, when I took part in the Queensweep Cleanup with NWEP member Jaycee Clarkson, I was so impressed by the ingenuity of Lisa Egan and her family. They used garbage pickers to get at the litter stuck in the ditches, and the kids’ wagon was a perfect addition to help carry it all.
Besides litter, another concern for this shoreline area is the dumping of yard waste that is occurring. Most likely people think because it is organic that it doesn’t do any harm. But what they don’t realize is that they are introducing non-native species into the habitat and adding nutrients that create an imbalance to this ecosystem.
Jaycee Clarkson, NWEP member, spraying blackberry in prep for the Invasive Plant Pull Shoreline Cleanup 2013 
What Makes a Plant Invasive?
Plants are considered invasive for two reasons. One reason is because people or animals have brought them from their original natural habitat to a different one; they are non-native plants. Which non-native plants become invasive depends on their adaptability—how quickly they grow and multiply in the new habitat.
When non-native plants grow quickly, they take over and force native plants from their home. They rob them of their space, sunlight, water, and nutrients. Over time, these invasive plants change and damage the conditions of the natural habitat. For these reasons, invasive plants are carefully removed to not spread their seeds or other plant parts that can regrow from special habitats like—our Fraser River shoreline.
Patrick Johnstone tagging invasive plants for the 2013 Shoreline Cleanup
For those of us who love the taste of blackberries, it can be hard to learn that the Himalayan blackberry is considered an invasive plant (Invasive Species Council of British Columbia). But one of the best ways to stop it from spreading is to eat the berries before their seeds grow new ones! Now that berry season is over, it’s important to minimize the hazard of the plant’s long shoots, which can be hazardous to humans and animals alike.
Invasive Plant Tagging
Two site visits were done in preparation for the cleanup to target those invasives that are best to remove—morning glory, Lamium, bamboo, English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry—by tagging them with orange or white paint. The first visit with Claude Ledoux, Parks Horticulture Manager, helped to verify the success of our volunteer efforts.
Claude Ledoux, City’s Parks and Horticulture Manager, identifying morning glory.
Some invasive plants can take years to completely remove once they have been introduced. But even so, the minimal re- growth of these plants in the areas that were pulled last year was quite apparent. Our efforts are really having a positive impact.
Data Collection
In addition to the invasive pull and picking up garbage, an important activity is collecting data on the numbers and types of garbage found. By keeping track of what’s collected by members of your team, participants help shine a light on the types of litter people throw out and which types make up the most garbage. This information leads to understanding the behaviours that trigger littering and to finding ways to stop it from happening. If you would like to help out with this activity, please bring a clipboard, if you have one, and a pen.
To show how much litter was collected, a graph will be displayed at RiverFest on Saturday, Sept 28 to show just how much litter was collected.
Patrick Johnstone, NWEP member, standing on an oil drum recently washed up onto the Shoreline
And if participants find any “unexpected” litter that can be kept safely, it will be on display at RiverFest too. Hint: Expect to see a lot of cigarette butts that will be bagged to go to TerraCycle, a company that specializes in recycling previously non-recyclable items, such as pens, inkjet cartridges, and Tassimo coffee, tea, espresso, milk and hot chocolate T Discs.
Show Your Love for the Fraser River: Join the South Dyke Road Riverfront Cleanup
For us in New Westminster, this Shoreline Cleanup launches the start of RiverFest, an art and environmental festival inspired by the Fraser River that celebrates BC Rivers Day at the Fraser River Discovery Centre. It is also part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup™, an annual event that helps keep our oceans, rivers, and lakes healthy. People from all across Canada join in to remove the human-made litter and garbage that was either dumped or accidently deposited into our water systems.
This year on Sunday, Sept 22, at 9:30am, meet at the Spagnol Street Walkout on South Dyke Road to join in. To register and get more info on the Shoreline Cleanup, click on the link—Registration isn’t necessary, but does help with planning.
Attention: YOUTH, participants under 19, if you are taking part without your parents or guardians you need to bring 2 signed waivers with you and you can find them on the New Westminster Environmental Partners’ website, nwep.ca and go to the Shoreline Cleanup menu tab.
The South Dyke Road Riverfront Cleanup is organized by New Westminster Environmental Partners (NWEP) in partnership with the City of New Westminster and the Fraser River Discover Centre.
Patrick Johnstone Standing on Oil Drum Submerged in our NW Shoreline

The ALR development cycle

This is a story with more layers than an onion, and is so absurd that it should be in the Onion.

The City of Pitt Meadows, against the protestations of its citizens, wants to fix a traffic problem by building a big-box retail strip mall on 80 acres of ALR-protected farmland.

Read that again. That is the case Pitt Meadows successfully made to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Boggles. The. Mind.

The longer version of the story is thus:

You see, Old Dewdney Trunk Road  (ODT Road) is a rural two-lane that runs through farmland in Pitt Meadows north of Lougheed Highway. Mostly protected from development by the Agricultural Land Reserve, the ODT Road area is mostly larger farms, and protected from the strip mall and low-density housing explosion that has grown around Lougheed Highway – stretching almost undisturbed from Coquitlam Centre to Haney. Problem is, being the “back route” around the inevitable Lougheed Highway congestion, ODT Road is suffering from more traffic than the old rural two-lane is designed for.

This problem was apparent in the 1990s, but Pitt Meadows was not all that concerned, because the Pitt River Bridge was being expanded, and more lanes of Lougheed were being built. As a bonus, the Golden Ears Bridge was coming to take some of the traffic load off of Pitt Meadows, and a brand new semi-express way was being blasted through farmlands to the east, providing easy access to the Golden Ears Bridge for all those single-family homes that have been built out around Abernethy Way, which was all, notably, farmland less than 30 years ago. Pitt Meadows was not worried, because with all these new roads being built, traffic congestion on Lougheed would soon be a thing of the past- and ODT Road could go back to serving local farmers.

Except, of course, the roads did not take the traffic away, the roads brought more traffic. With easy highway access came more single-family homes that can not be served adequately by transit when TransLink is cutting services, and came more strip-mall retail shops to serve the needs of the growing car-dependent community. Few real family-supporting jobs are created in these strip malls, so people cannot actually work near their single-family home, and commuter traffic inevitably got worse, not better, with the new roads. That is what we call Induced Demand.

So the City of Pitt Meadows, shocked (shocked!) that these new roads have not fixed their traffic problem, has found a solution: one more road. This is where we get the proposed “North Lougheed Connector”. Problem is, after the Ministry of Transportation blew their budget on the Pitt River Bridge and Lougheed Highway improvements to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows, and TransLink is bleeding through the ears in part because of a shitty Golden Ears Bridge toll deal that was supposed to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows, neither have the money to build this one last road that will finally fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows. Even with all the single-family home building and strip malls, Pitt Meadows doesn’t have the money to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows.

Along come Smart Centres, strip-mall builders of some fame. They have the money to fix the traffic problem in Pitt Meadows. They are more than happy to build a short stretch of highway through land they don’t own (because like the Golden Ears Way, and a fair chunk of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the North Lougheed Connector will be built on protected ALR land, no need to exclude from the ALR for roadbuilding, alas). Only catch is that the new road has to include off-ramps to their parking lots for their new strip mall. The parking lots and strip mall they want to build happen to be on land they bought at ALR rates, and that they will lease out at Commercial rates now that they can get more than 80 acres of that that cheap land out of the ALR just for building a road through more ALR. Good business if you can get it.

The 80 Acres in question is between the golf course and Harris Road. Click to enlarge.

It is the circle of progress: build low-density housing on ALR land, build freeways and bridges to access them (if someone suggests alternatives like density, transit, or bike lanes, cry “tax grab!”), when traffic gets too busy, build more roads, take more land out of the ALR and build houses on that land to fund it, lather, rinse, repeat.

So why do I, a local blogger in New Westminster care about Pitt Meadows strip malls? Because this is, boiled down to its essence, New Westminster’s traffic problem. When TransLink or the Ministry of Asphalt talk about the North Fraser Perimeter Road– turning local New Westminster streets into highways for through-traffic, it is this strip mall in Pitt Meadows that will be at the east end of that highway. Traffic problems being generated by bad planning in the Pitt Meadows (Surrey, Langley, etc.) today will be used as an excuse to destroy the livability of New Westminster.

The ALR does more than protect agricultural land, it protects the livability of our region. Don’t let Bill Bennett destroy it.

On Festivals, recent and future.

I just had one of the busiest and most interesting, weekends in recent memory. Many conversations had, many things learned, many ideas shared. A large amount of it I just can’t get into right now, but suffice to say there are very good things brewing (in the metaphorical sense) right now, and I feel pretty positive about the year ahead.

Amongst the craziness of the weekend was a few hours spent in the beer gardens at the Columbia StrEAT Food truck festival thingy. This was shocking, and yet refreshingly not. For those out of town or otherwise unaware, tens of thousands of people showed up on Columbia Street Saturday afternoon/evening to sample the wide variety of food truck offerings that have descended on the Lower Mainland (and the rest of North America) in the last few years.

How successful was the event? So many showed up, that the food lines were often an hour long, and many of the trucks sold completely out of product before the end of the event. I sat in the beer garden waiting for lines to shrink, then went to get a grilled goodie at 7:00ish. I asked the operator how it was going, and she said she apologized for the limited offerings she had left.

I said “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Well,” she replied, looking exasperated, “We have another event tomorrow, and we have no more product. It’s not like we can pick these things [her delicious homemade sausages] up at Costco.”

The only complaints I heard from the crowd was that the lineups were too long. A complaint not unlike the old saw “No-one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”.

This got many of the noble beer-garden patrons with whom I was sharing stories contemplating what this event might mean for future “Car-free days” on Columbia Street, and what relation this has to the other big festival-related story in New Westminster right now.

On the first topic, I think we have learned that if we choose to build it, they will come. The ongoing massive success of the Show & Shine has some wondering if more “Car-free days” could work on Columbia, around different themes. Some other street festivals are really hopping in New West (I think especially of the newer “UpTown Live”), while there is no doubt some other events are getting a little stale (examples redacted – but you know who they are). I think this event shows there is an appetite, as long as there is some variety of themes, they offer something new or interesting, and they are well marketed.

The question remaining would be how would more events on Columbia serve the merchants along Columbia, seeing the effort that the Downtown BIA put into organizing them? It appeared everyone from the Heritage Grill to Starschmucks had huge days, and even further-afield businesses like SpudShack and Re-up BBQ commented on how they saw a big sales on Saturday (no doubt benefiting from those 1-hour lineups on the street). The spin-offs from having all of these people downtown should be obvious to the merchants who support the BIA.

I’m not sure the wedding shops benefited as much, but I digress.

So I look forward to what Kendra and the rest of the folks at the Downtown BIA do with this new knowledge and the vigour it promises. I could think of a few different types of events that would similarly bring hungry, thirsty, happy people to Columbia Street on a sunny weekend. Nothing against the Show & Shine, but it should be the beginning of something, not the only thing!

As for the other festival-related story about these parts, I just don’t know what to say. I have had casual conversations this weekend with a half-dozen different people who are, or should be, “in the know” about what is happening at Hyack, and from those 6 people I got at least 7 different stories, most of them contradicting each other.

I think speculation from those of us who are not “in the know” probably doesn’t serve any purpose, but I am concerned when some of the same people who usually call for openness and transparency for all things at the City are now the ones counselling that everyone should just be quiet and let this pass. Hyack spends a lot of taxpayers’ dollars, and are responsible for much of the public face of the City. This type of mysterious back-room battle erupting into public hissy fits does nothing to improve confidence in their ability to continue doing the good work they do.

For my part, I’m glad the City has Hyack, and that so many volunteers are willing to work so hard to make it successful. They are not without fault, however, and some of the allegedly-sacred traditions around Hyack may need to be updated to appeal to a growing 21st century urban centre full of young families, hipster doofuses, and the transit-oriented consumers from surrounding communities who are only a few minutes away from one of our five SkyTrain Stations.

I get the sense that was the direction the no-former Executive Director (whom I have never met, by the way) was leaning, and it seemed like there was some success towards that direction. Then today I read a letter by Bart Slotman, who is not one of the people I have chatted with about this, but for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, and it sort of confirms my worst suspicions. Something is amiss here, and needs to be fixed.

My (in this case, actually humble) opinion is that Hyack does a great job getting folks in New Westminster to look inward and enjoy our wonderful City, but needs more successful events like Uptown Live and the Columbia StrEAT Festival to bring others into New West, to show our neighbors who we are and why they should come back. We have something to show off here, so let’s quit arguing about it, and do it!

Too Busy to Blog

Sorry, long time fans and first time listeners. I’m just too busy these days to write much here. I have many things on my mind, and several half-written blog posts, but I just don’t have the time these days to get the words down.

What am I doing?

Some NWEP stuff – there are some events coming up, and we are a little short on volunteer help right now.
[p.s. if you have some time and energy and need some environmental karma points to earn, drop by that site and contact us to sign up for helping out!]

Quite a bit of RCCC stuff – lots of off-season projects to get completed before the ice returns in September. [p.s. if you own a business in New West and might want to advertise at the RCCC, get in touch with me soon!]

A fair amount of time is being spent here:

Some time managing these:

Some quality time doing things like this:

And a fair amount of time doing this:

and still setting a little time aside to spend on the more important stuff:

So light blogging anticipated for August. Please, talk amongst yourselves, and keep in touch!  

Alas, the Queensborough Bridge works.

I’m really going out on a limb on this one. I’ve said some unpopular things in the past, but this might be the one that ends my blog, and has me run out of town on the end of a burning pitchfork. Against the advice of all whom I respect and trust, I am just going to come right out and say this:

The intersection at the north foot of the Queensborough Bridge functions as well as possible, and could not possibly work better.

I know what you are saying now. It is a fiasco! The last fix was good money thrown against bad! A perfect example of how engineers have no idea what they are doing! An epic boondoggle that has ruined our City for a generation! The cause of the region’s (if not the world’s) worst traffic quagmire!

I suggest this well-worn trope is not true. I do not do this lightly, because I know it is a sore point for people stuck in the queue down 20th every morning, or the people stuck in the Sixth Ave access awaiting light cycles that seem red for 5 minutes and green just long enough to let three cars through, or the people lining up in the right lane on Stewardson behind the endless line of container trucks inching towards the bridge, or even the people scooting up the left lane on Stewardson hoping that one of those trucks will open just the barest fraction of a gap they can scoot into after passing a kilometre of dupes lollygagging around in the right lane.

I commute across the Queensborough Bridge, often by car. I have been all of those people. I not only sympathize with their plight, I empathize with it. I have lived it. I just don’t agree with them that the intersection where Sixth Ave, 20th Street and Stewardson Way all come together is the problem. Or maybe I should say there is no way to change that intersection that will fix the problem.

First, the quick-and-dirty history of the Queensborough Bridge. It was originally built not as part of a freeway system, but to provide community access to the Queensborough neighbourhood back in the late 1950s. Like every other bridge of the era, the Queensborough’s construction was financed and paid by tolls. By the standards of the time, and considering it was connected to local roads at each end, the four narrow lanes and 1.2m sidewalk (all without separation barriers) were appropriate and did the job.

In the mid-1980s, the building of the Alex Fraser Bridge and the East-West Connector suddenly attached the Queensborough to a couple of bustling new freeways, so the Ministry of Transportation took over the bridge and significantly re-built the southern approach. With the SkyTrain arriving around the same time (resulting in re-configuration of Stewardson Way) and the opening of the new Marine Way (a semi-freeway that move Marine Drive traffic down into ALR lands in south Burnaby), the Queensborough was gradually morphed into dealing with “freeway” traffic loads, for which it was clearly not designed. The traffic load was mitigated somewhat by the traffic lights at Howes Street, on Marine Drive to the west of the bridge, and at the foot of 20th, but as traffic increased concomitant with the new highway capacity to the south, the queues on Stewardson and 20th became endemic (in both senses of the word).

Starting in 2003, there was a major re-design of the bridge approaches at both ends. On Howes, an overpass/exchange removed the last traffic light on Highway 91 (until the notorious 72nd Ave compromise), and on the north end, the not-to-standard loop on the east side of the bridge was replaced by a just-meeting-standards loop on the west side. There were also major re-configuring of the pedestrian access (an overpass to 22nd Street, re-opening of the east side sidewalk, hanging the sidewalk off the side to increase traffic lane widths and allow protective barriers be installed). It is, however, the re-configuration on the North abutment that causes the most consternation.

But what changed in that re-configuration?

BEFORE – click to zoom in. 

Before the change, there was exactly one lane entering the bridge from the east (combining the traffic from Stewardson Way, 20th St. and Sixth Ave.) and one from the West (off of Marine Way). The merge from the east was kind of sketchy, as through-traffic (that bypassing the bridge) from Stewardson and Sixth entered in the left lane and had to get to the right while mixing with vehicles entering from the right who are trying to get left. At the same time, they are entering a low-radius curve, and merging with traffic coming around the loop from the right.

Rather fortuitously, the orthophoto on Google Maps caught one of the big safety issues with the old configuration:

Look at the truck-trailer combo on the curve, and how the geometry of the curve makes it difficult for her to maintain her lane. With cars on both sides, people still completing merges, and the blindness of the turn for anyone in a car- this was not an optimal setup.

In the new set-up, the curve was made larger-radius, and all of the turning happens where it is a single lane, significantly increasing safety and reliability. The merges take place well before the curve, and the two sets of merges are separated by space, simplifying action for drivers. There are also barriers between the curved lanes, removing the risk of head-on impacts. There is no doubt this is a safer configuration for drivers.

But note the number of lanes entering the bridge. There is exactly one lane entering the bridge from the east (combining the traffic from Stewardson Way, 20th St. and Sixth Ave.) and one from the West (off of Marine Way). Exactly as it was before. The only difference is that the merges start further back and are more controlled.

I contend that any alleged increase in traffic back-ups on Stewardson, 20th and Sixth are not caused by the lights and re-configuration, but by all three lanes trying to fit into one lane on the bridge- a condition that existed before the changes and simply cannot be fixed without building a bigger bridge.

“But, But, it is worse now! Look at all the cars! It was never like this!”

That may be true, there may be longer lines and more vehicles now, but that has little to do with the most recent intersection changes. The proof is that the pinch point is not at the intersection or the lights, it is at the merge where everyone is trying to enter the bridge. The light cycles on Sixth seem short, but rarely does it turn yellow when there is room enough to run the intersection. The same with 20th. There is always a line-up of vehicles west of the lights, and the Stewardson Traffic is unaffected by the intersection, but is still congested.

Where the real traffic back-up is. 

The reality of the matter is that there is no way to stream more cars onto the 4-lane Queensborough Bridge. During morning and evening rush, it is at capacity. Removal of the traffic lights at 20th and Sixth will have very little effect on the queues on those roads.

This is something to keep in mind when people talk about changes on Stewardson, Front Street, or Royal Ave that are designed to “get the traffic moving”. How much will we spend to make this pinch point worse?

Ultimately, the situation on the Queensborough was improved – by allowing queue-jumping by transit buses and making the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure safer- both giving people a better alternative than sitting in traffic and getting steamed over that jerk who scooted up the open left lane and just dove in front of the container truck you have been patiently following in right for the last 10 minutes…

On Moles and Retorts

The Blog is rarely much of a dialogue. It’s just a place where I shoot out ideas wrapped in questionable grammar. Occasionally, someone comments below, and I might comment back. Mostly however, this is just me spouting off, and never claimed to be anything else.

So some time last week, an extended comment appeared in my e-mail inbox in reference to a post I recently did on the proposed / alleged Q2Q Pedestrian Bridge. As that post obliquely (through an external link) referenced the person who wrote me, I suggested he add it as a “comment” on my blog. He was having technical issues with Blogger’s commenting form, so we agreed I could post it on his behalf. So here I include, in its entirety and exactly as send to me, the comments of one E.C. “Ted” Eddy:

Dear Mr. Nwimby,

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t respond to anything posted on media that isn’t fair and balanced or has a limited following. I decided to make an exception to your NWIMBY BLOG. Feel free to post my first whack-a-mole response to yours. 

The tenor of the piece seemed to attempt to paint the Quayside Community as being “NWIMBY” (NOT WELCOME IN MY BACK YARD) with respect to a pedestrian/bicycle crossing to Queensborough. Selective historic references were utilized to underpin that shaky premise. We proceed here to whack some other mythical moles that popped up on your blog. 

First Mole – The original Queensborough Ped/cycle crossing had been proposed to cross at Poplar Island in a Queensborough Community Plan of June 2008 – a laudable enterprise that would have opened up Poplar Island as a first Nations eco-tourist destination complete with the entire environmental cleanup paid for by the Federal Gov’t. This is a good idea if it took off from the west side of the Third Avenue Overpass and solicited funds from developers of land on either side of the river. No one at the Quay was against it that I can recall. Indeed, people on the Quay have never been against an interconnection with our Queensborough neighbors. 

Second Mole- Your “who could be against it?” hyperlink was an old newspaper article and the number of signatures on the petition has grown to more than 1,000. Recall that same year the city explicitly stated in a report to council they would provide community consultation . You were fair and balanced by repeating the problems of cost, visual pollution, extreme length and destruction of the Children’s Submarine park (which is busier than the Pier Park) but failed to mention the biggest concern that there was none of the promised Public Consultation, Environmental Impact studies, usability report, etc. Indeed when the Quayside Board pressed for these requirements we were rebuffed with the comment that such consultation would create “unnecessary expectations”, or in your parlance more “whining” in any attempts to provide senior’s access, save taxpayer dollars and the only children’s park. One would think that the SRY being chuffed about encroachment should have been uncovered prior to spending any Engineering Study dollars on the three failed overpriced, over engineered and overbearing earlier options -especially in light of the comments by the rail company they wanted completed assurances the rail bridge would be safe. A cost, by the way, that was not established in the original cow pie-in-the-sky bridge proposal. 

Third Mole – Your characterization that somehow we, or possibly just me, plays whack-a-mole with all city projects is reflective of your position as an “insider mole” that everything the City proposes is great “grandeur wise” and “cost-wise”. Some of us are more circumspect about creating legacies with taxpayer dollars with neither usage studies nor public consultation. I guess you missed NEWSLEADER JUNE 17th article wherein I was quoted as follows: 

“Quayside resident Ted Eddy, an outspoken critic of the earlier verions (sic) of the bridge, says these new designs address many of his concerns — particularly the $5-million option that would pair with the existing rail bidge (sic). This low-level option with the swing bridge looks like it could be a winner,” Eddy said. “I think I could sell this to my [Quayside Community] Board quite easily. We’ve never been opposed to some kind of connectivity.” 

Perhaps a correction to your blog is in order. 

Forth Mole – The Ferry Service alternative -“show me the business case”. I venture you have not seen any business case from the city on other ventures such as the office tower but I digress. Tom Littlewood’s presentation to the Quayside Community Board a week ago was compelling with no cost to the city. There is a dock already in Queensborough along with two wheelchair accessible/bike-friendly covered ferries in his possession, a suitable dock, purchased by his business partners, for use at the Quay and two years of discussions with the city, in particular the Mayor. All that’s needed is the city to utilize the Port Metro Vancouver offer of up to $100,000 to put a dock near the Fraser River Discovery Centre (whose DAC funds have also been redirected) or at the Inn at the Quay to complete the linkage. Tom’s willingness to proceed is business case enough for me and indeed he has put forth a plan that warrants consideration at little if no cost to the taxpayers of New Westminster. What is the problem with that I ask? We don’t need second guessing, hand wringing or “whining” from City Hall. He needs their cooperation and speedy approval after two years of inaction and their already touted “enthusiasm at all levels” – not a whack-a-mole parade of negatives and hurdles. Who knows, usage of the Ferry Service could provide a proxy for figuring out if a $3,000 per person swing bridge link could be justified. Recall here that car-dependant Queensborough residents have just lost a bus route that was costing about $3.80 per trip to run based on a business case done by TransLink. If the City is to spend more than the $6 million of DAC funding remaining after raiding the DAC funds, specified for other earmarked projects, for another showcase project in cost-overrun mode, then where is that business case?” 

All-in-all, I look forward to your portended BLOG on the Water Taxi Option and assume you might want do a little research by perusing the more recent media links that I have conveniently provided in the attached. You might even go to the horse’s mouth, Tom Littlewood (whom I have copied here) rather than continue to BLOG from viewing the past from the other end. 

Become a “Ferry godfather” rather than continue to put lipstick on the legacy projects of the “Spinderellas” at City hall. 

E.C.”Ted” Eddy

Thank you, Mr. Eddy, for taking the time to express yourself so eloquently. Allow me to retort.

The only reason I would suggest the Quayside Community Board was not enthusiastic about the bridge is that the only vocal opposition I have heard to the idea of the bridge came from a couple of well known and outspoken “leaders” of the QCB. I further suggested this may not be a universal opinion of Quayside residents – and purposely linked to the story where Mr. Eddy expressed tacit approval of the new plans to support that point. I even pointed out that many of those original concerns were very much valid, and should be addressed. I’m just not sure any of them are a game-ender. I also don’t think the Quayside residents speak as a single voice on this issue. I ride with a couple of Quayside folks on a regular basis, and they are anxiously looking forward to the bridge..

First Mole – Actually, the 2008 Queensborough Community Plan documents I could find (and they are all here, scroll to the bottom of the page) only reference the Poplar Island route for the bridge as a possible “backup” plan if the direct route is considered too difficult or impossible. Looking through those documents, it appears that option was not initially considered, but was added to the conversation through community consultation. I have already written a long post about why this is a terrible plan if one is hoping to build this as a useful piece of transportation infrastructure, so I won’t go deeper into that here.

Second Mole – The submarine park will not be destroyed. Council has said they will not destroy it, and as a worst-case scenario, they will move it. The rest of this “Mole” seems to be a criticism about the format of consultations and planning, and we can all have opinions on how those should work in an ideal world. I think Mr. Eddy and I have differing opinions here, and nothing wrong with that. Here is the process best I can figure from watching the media and Council reports:

1) The community has an idea for connectivity that was included in the Queensborough Community Plan in 2009 as a priority;
2) Council secured some funding through DAC with a fairly long planning window;
3) Staff hired some consulting engineers to do an initial assessment, and scope out potential opportunities, problems, and rough costs. Included in this would be general feasibility issues- including Senior government issues location and potential for conflict with the Train Bridge;
4) Recognizing that being close to the Rail Bridge is the best spot, talks with SRY begin to suss out concerns;
5) Take the assessment to Council to seek opinions (after all, they are the elected representatives of the public), and IF council thinks we are on the right track- take it to public consultation;
6) Report out on Pubic consultation, and either move ahead, fix the plan to address public concerns, or go back to Step 1.

It sounds to me like they got to Step 5 and there were enough concerns at Council or problems for staff to iron out (i.e. railway discussions) or enough public negative reaction that they stepped back and re-assessed by going back to Step 3 and re-jigging the plan.

The point is, the plan, such as it was, was clearly not ready for a detailed public consultation, and the new plan may also not quite be there yet (as it sounds like there are some issues to work out with the Port and SRY about how a lift or swing bridge might operate). There is no point going to the public asking them to approve an idea if the Port or another agency will not allow that idea to be built.

Of course, these tentative plans and technical reports are sent up to Council and read into the public record for a reason: so that people like me and Ted Eddy can talk about them and get the public thinking about the project. We also have a Council that allows open delegations- if anyone has a strong opinion about the bridge, or a great alternative model, they should go to Council and use their allotted 5 minutes to make their case to Council. Or write them a letter. Or Blog. This is what the public conversation looks like. I don’t want valuable staff time wasted holding evening “consultation” meetings for a half-baked plan that is not feasible, but this has hardly been a secretive process – both Mr. Eddy and I have seen the plans presented so far.

Third Mole: “Insider Mole” is an interesting accusation. I am afraid everything I know about this project comes from press accounts and reading the reports on the City’s website (and therefore, I am free to admit my knowledge of the project is incomplete), but I have worked for a consulting engineering firm and inside of a City Hall (not New West City Hall, mind you), so I can read between lines with more nuance than some. I am also out and about in the city a lot, so I have occasional conversations with Councillors or Staff, and am not afraid to ask them questions. Hey, I pay their wages, the poor people have to listen to me!

As for the inference that I am secretly working for the City (that’s what an “ insider mole” is, isn’t it?), I can only refer back to several posts on this same blog where I am highly critical of some of the moves this City has made (or refused to make). I call things as I see them, and that includes when I actually agree with the City as much as when i disagree with them.

PS: “Missed” the June 17th Newsleader Article?! I linked to it in the 10th paragraph of my post!

Forth (sic) Mole: I’m not one to challenge Tom Littlewood’s plans. I worked with Tom on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and he is indeed a visionary who loves to spread the good word about bicycles and safe cycling infrastructure. However, I think a ferry service is a very different consideration than a bridge.

A fixed bridge provides a reliable, permanent link between the communities, something the City and the burgeoning neighbourhoods of Queensborough can plan around in the long-term (and something the DAC funds were earmarked for). A ferry service (for all its benefits) does not provide this security. It may work great in 2013, but any number of factors (rising fuel costs, change in safety regulations, change in business interest of the owner, unexpected mechanical issues with the floating stock) could make it disappear in a flash. That is not the kind of transportation infrastructure one can plan a community around.

The example of TransLink cutting bus service to Port Royal is a perfect one – a quick business decision made, a transportation link is lost, and the community has no say. This is the biggest reason why I am such a big fan of the fixed bridge, I like to think of the long game when we are talking about building this community.

I don’t want to say more about Tom’s plan until I get a chance to talk to him about it, so I’ll leave it at that. Then maybe I’ll write a blog post about it and other alternatives to the bridge, as previously suggested.

Anyway, thanks for the comments, Mr. Eddy, and feel free to comment below if I have missed any points, or am missing something. You can even do it anonymously, if that suits you…

Connecting QB to the Quay

Amongst the great legendary structures of New Westminster, none has seen as much rumour and speculation as the mythical Bridge to Queensborough.

Not the Queensborough Bridge, but the allegedly announced, apparently planned for, and suspiciously funded but not-quite-yet-built fixed pedestrian crossing from the Quayside boardwalk to the east tip of Lulu Island, where the burgeoning neighbourhood of Port Royal is remaking the shape of Queensborough.

The reality of the bridge is that it is, indeed, “planned”. There is even a bit of money set aside for it. Any time I raise the issue with anyone at the City they assure me it will definitively be built. It is next on the list for DAC projects, done by 2016. Or 2017. Or 2019.

Now, for most people, a fixed piece of transportation infrastructure between the Quay an Queensborough seems like a great idea- who could be against it? It is like being against the Quayside Boardwalk, or the Central Valley Greenway, or the Seawall. The only people seemingly against it are those few familiar names who are against everything the City does. In a curious game of whack-a-mole problem-finding, they raised various complaints: it was too costly; it was an eyesore; it would destroy the “Submarine Park”.

These complaints were based on an early, and very preliminary, engineering assessment done on potential crossing options. This original plan was what you get when you give engineering consultants as free reign to build a bridge: it is big, expensive, and does the trick. A good starting point, but hardly the best of all possible solutions.

The reason we are even entertaining this idea to build a pedestrian bridge to Queensborough is due to DAC funding. The bridge is one of several identified projects that rose out of a slick deal cut between the City and the Provincial Government related to the old Riverboat Casino (which morphed onto the Starlight Casino). The background is complicated, but when the Province wanted to change the funding model for Casinos, New Westminster asked to be compensated for loss of potential income, and the Province agreed, but the money had to be earmarked for specific projects (could not be put into things like general revenue, or operating a ferry service, or paving Daniel Fontaine’s back alley). Amongst the earmarked projects were the newly-completed Queensborough Community Centre upgrades, other park amenities in Queensborough, and the Anvil Centre. Long version short, the City has a small pile of money from the Province they need to spend on building a pedestrian link to Queensborough.

This led to the 2009 report which provided early design ideas (including the drawing above), and led to a significant amount of whinging from the Quayside residents (although there is a general ambivalence about the project displayed in the Quayside Community Board minutes from 2009 when the project was announced).

That is not to say the original bridge plan was not without problems. The projected cost was much greater than the DAC funding available. A fixed crossing would need to be 22m above the water (~20m above the landings) due to requirements for maintaining a navigable channel for river traffic, which would potentially make for ungainly ramps of something like 400m length to accommodate pedestrians, wheelchairs, bikes, etc. Apparently, the Railway was not so chuffed about the idea of the City driving piles to support a 20-m-high bridge next to their 100-year-old pilings. The original landing spot for those ramps was where the current “Expo Submarine” park is located. Finally, the eyesore issue that if the City built the cheapest bridge possible, it was going to be ugly, and if they went for the grander vision, it might not be a vision shared by everyone (grandeur-wise, and cost-wise).

There were some creative alternatives floated. A ferry service, or a gondola. Maybe I will cover those in a future post, but extremely short version: show me the business case.

So it was exciting a couple of weeks ago when the City announced a new set of plans developed in partnership with the owners of the railway bridge: Southern Railway. The big difference this time around is the low elevation of the bridge, which makes life much easier to pedestrians and cyclists, but means the bridge must swing or draw to allow marine traffic to pass. A City Councillor I was chatting with last week even suggested it could be built to accommodate an ambulance for emergency use.

The problem? Who is going to open and close the bridge? The current train swing bridge stays “open” to marine traffic and is swung closed only when a train needs to pass. This would make a pedestrian crossing pretty much useless, so there is discussion of making the default “closed” to marine traffic, opened only when a boat has top pass. The Port would need to agree, as would the owners of the rail bridge. And someone would have to be on staff to flip the switch.
These are not minor details. SRY currently staffs the swing bridge and the one that connects Queensborough to Annacis Island adjacent to Derwent Way. That second bridge has the default position of “closed”, but that is just a minor channel approachable from both ends, not the entire North Arm of the Fraser River. If the City will be required to staff, or compensate SRY for the staffing, of a swing bridge, then the economics of this “less expensive” option may go away fairly quick.
Ultimately, I only hope the crossing will be reliable – one you can count on being there when you need it, and not unexpectedly opened for a hour at random times – because I see this bridge primarily as a transportation link, not a tourist draw or a nice place for a walk on the weekend (although it will be both of those, if done well!). Then it will be the link we have been missing up to now.