Tower Sold

At yesterday’s council meeting, the annual “State of the City” address by Mayor Wayne Wright and the 2013 Highlights and Accomplishments review by CAO Lisa Spitale were overshadowed by the announcement that the office tower on top of the Anvil Centre has been sold.

For people not paying attention, The Merchant Square office building is the 137,000 square feet of LEED Gold Class-A office space being built next to the New Westminster SkyTrain station. When the deal between the City and the UpTown Property Group (who were supposed to build and own the office tower) went south around last year’s election, the City made the bold choice to go ahead and build the tower itself. To the chagrin of some.

At the time, there was much speculative financial discussion on the internet about what the different aspects of the Anvil/Merchant Square cost, and where that money was coming from. Using the City’s info at the time, I drew these two sandwiches:

Where the $94 Million Budget was being spent. 
Where the $94 Million was coming from. 

As all of those were budget projections from three years ago, they can now be updated based on the new data released yesterday, (and please note, I have not had much time to look these over – so all the normal short work caveats apply) with a new calculation of the “shell cost” vs. the fit-out cost of the tower, and can include the cost of selling the tower:

Revised cost of the Anvil / Merchant Square project. 

The sale of the tower will cover the top bun of the sandwich. The deal put the cost for fit-out of the building on the purchaser, so the taxpayer is off the hook for that. The most important part of this is that all of the money the City borrowed from its Capital Reserves (budgeted at $33 Million, turned out to be $30 Million) to fund the construction of the tower will be returned to the reserves. The clear point made by City staff: No taxpayer money went into building the tower.

The Casino funds will still pay the $41.5 Million for the Anvil construction. The cost of listing and facilitating the sale is about $0.5 Million, and that will come out of the proceeds from the sale.

The parking structure cost $12.5 Million to build. This will be $1.5 Million from Casino funds, and $6 Million from the proceeds of the sale. The rest will need to be debt-funded from the Municipal Finance Authority. The short version is that the City is spending $5 Million to build a $12.5 Million parking structure. The Office Tower tenants will have first dibs on the parking, but will pay the City, at full market rates, to use it. That revenue will be used to pay for the parking structure. The new revenue sources look like this:

More importantly, the City will receive tax revenue from the 137,000 square feet of office space (estimated at $50 Million over 50 years), they will keep the revenue from the restaurant and coffee shop leases, and all of the spin-off economic benefits of having an office tower with 500+ workers downtown, and we got a spectacular Community Centre out of it all.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

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.

Todd Stone and the Mayors (Part 2)

I am so glad I waited a few days after I wrote the first half of this story before posting the second half. It gave me an opportunity to hear Brent Toderian speak about the fundamental lack of provincial leadership that is represented by the face we are still discussing this issue. Of course, he says that nicer than I do, but the message is clear: “There needs to be a consequence for this lack of political leadership”

It is clear the failure here is on the province, trying force a referendum where one should never be, not the Mayors’ Council or TransLink for seeking clarity about how this alleged referendum will work, and the consequences of its failure.

It is important to note that TransLink, the Mayors’ Council, and indeed Municipal governments, exist at the pleasure of the provincial government. Saying “no” is not an option the Mayors have. The Minister is within his rights to introduce these legislative changes, and the Mayors need to do what they are told, or they will be in violation of that legislation. That’s the reality of being the third level of government.

However, this is not a legislative debate at this point; it is an argument about governance. The Minister has not done his job, which is to administer the Transportation System of the Province for the good of all British Columbians, including the 60% that live in the TransLink catchment. He is new to government, and arguably his Boss gave him an impossible task with an idea she sketched on a beer coaster. So now he has a Transportation Problem without a palatable solution. That creates a different kind of problem: a Political Problem.

With this letter, we have to question which problem the Minister is trying to solve. Is he even interested in finding a solution to the region’s Transportation Problem? In reading that letter, one might surmise that he has given up on that task, or (worse) it was never the problem his Boss charged him with fixing. After all, they have referendum-free tunnel/bridge replacements to build.

Instead, all the Minister’s thought and action seems directed at the Political Problem. Tell the mayors to solve the referendum fiasco for him, put them on a tight deadline, issue a few threats, cut their purse strings and remove any possible way for them to demonstrate creativity on leveraging funds. If they don’t get it done, you can kick the entire issue down the road for 3 or 4 more years, and call it their failure. Hopefully everyone will forget you failed first.

It is brilliant in its cynicism. This guy isn’t a Minister of Transportation, he’s the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert, as drawn by Machiavelli!

The mayors are being set up to fail, and as such, they are unlikely to find a solution that works here. The best they can hope is to change the conversation.

The message they need to send back has to be clear, unified and public. They need to demand that the province stop putting up roadblocks and issuing threats, and they need to start working collaboratively towards solutions. They need to point out that the province needs to work with them to do this because it is in the province’s best interest that the region has a robust, affordable, accessible and effective public transportation system. And because that is Todd Stone’s job.

Then the mayors need to point out to the public, very clearly, that there are three ways we can move forward in the region:

Option #1: We invest something in the order of several hundred million dollars a year on large and small scale expansion, and get back to building a world-class public transportation system envisioned in Transport 2040, and beyond. We can fuss later about chosen technologies (Light and Heavy Rail, Rapid Bus, 99-Line style medium bus, and regular bus, gondolas, HandyDarts, whatever works and makes the most economic sense to solve a local transportation problem). Before we have that debate, we need to know what the funds available are and when they can be delivered, as that will ultimately decide on the technology and priorities. We need this funded in 5- and 10-year commitments, so that longer-term growth can be properly planned for: no more random build-what-some-minister-wants pet projects that set us back a decade (I’m talking to you, FalconGates).

I don’t know the number, but $220 Million per year is probably the right order of magnitude. I pick that number out of the air because that is equal to 1% of the Provincial taxation revenue. We can raise taxes 1%, or the 1% that is easy to find through belt-tightening according to Grandpa Cummins and some local municipal pundits.

Option #2: We put no more money into TransLink, and we keep the transit we currently have, operating at full capacity. This is the feared “failed referendum” outcome. Of course, there will be 1 Million new residents moving to the Metro area over the next 30 years who will then lose any freedom to choose how they travel, and will be dependant on cars. Transit is full, there will be no more room for them. At the current car ownership rate, that’s 700,000 new cars. If you line those cars up, bumper-to-bumper, they will make a line more than 3,000km long. If moving, they will take up 4 or 5 times this distance.

To accommodate these cars, the Province will need to double or triple the number of lanes on all Provincial Highways (Hwy 91, Hwy 99, Hwy 1, Hwy 17, etc.) and concomitantly to build more expensive new crossings of all of our watercourses. The local roads budgets for all of our municipalities will similarly rise, as will healthcare costs, police and fire costs, and our greenhouse gas emission. To deal with these cars when they are not moving, we will need to build 2 Million new parking spaces in increasingly congested and expensive real estate.

So this option will “save” us a couple of hundred million dollars per year, but preliminary conservative estimates suggest this savings will come at the cost of ten times that amount. To quote the Minister- there is only one taxpayer.

Option #3: We do neither. We let the transportation system we have today limp into the next generation, and make only the most modest changes that we can afford without raising anyone’s taxes. This will no doubt kill our growth projections, as our livability will disappear and the economy will stall. Even at half the projected growth, we will still be stuck with almost 350,000 new cars on the road. Then we will learn what real traffic congestion looks like. Now that AirCare is being deep-sixed, our air quality will worsen, and the entire region will become less affordable and less livable. Your commute times will double or triple, it will restrict the Port’s dreams of doubling the number of containers they plan to move. Cities will struggle to keep up with road repairs as the load on them increases. It will make every business and the entire region less competitive in the global market. It will kill jobs, re-draw our landscape, and transform Greater Vancouver into a something we will no longer recognize, mostly because we will no longer be able to see the mountains. Imagine Mexico City with worse weather. Actually, that’s not fair, because Mexico City is investing the rapid transit at a rate that would make Todd Stone blush.

Which brings me to the Billion Dollar Question. If the mayors are indeed responsible for putting together the question for a referendum they don’t want, what should it look like?

One of the Minister’s primary talking points through this entire escapade is “Making sure that traffic congestion is reduced to improve your daily commute is important to our economy and maintaining this region’s great quality of life.” Let’s take the Minister at his word, and assume from this that Option #3 above is not an option the Minster can abide. So the referendum question is really between the first two options. We cannot have a “none of the above” option, as much as Premier McSparkles™ likes the idea.

The option of not funding transit improvement hurts the livability of our region, and does not achieve our Regional Growth Strategy, Transportation Plan, Greenhouse Gas Reduction, or Goods Movement goals. More importantly, the option of not funding transit expansion throughout the region is a very bad deal for the Province and the taxpayers. The Minister of Transportation can repeat the messaging that this the Mayors’ problem now, or repeat how the Province will not contribute because the Province will not ever raise your taxes. However, it is the Ministry of Transportation that will have to pay for the major freeway and bridge building projects that will be required to move the extra 700,000 cars through out region by 2045 if the million people joining our region are not given the choice of using more sustainable modes. Those are your taxes.

And this is the message the Mayors’ Council need to get out right now. Hopefully they can find a pithier way to say this than I could. Perhaps something like:

Please choose your favoured option:

1: Transit Expansion! (1% increase in your taxes, buy your own Compass Card).
2: Freeways and Bridges for all! (10% increases in your taxes, buy your own car).
3: Doom! (free, but you can’t have this).

That should effectively demonstrate what a foolish idea this referendum really is.

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.

The $1 Toll – Updated!

When the media start talking about bridges and roads and transit and referenda and all the stuff that is rolled into the Lower Mainland and BC’s plan to move people about, there is a common theme that arises. Go to any recent on-line story about these subjects, and someone will inevitably comment that the “solution” is to toll all of the bridges equally, the number usually proffered is $1 per bridge. This is suggested as being more “fair” than just putting these more expensive tolls ($3-$4) on the newer bridges.

That usually gets shouted down in the comments when someone else comes along and says any toll at all is a “cash grab” and there is no way a piece of infrastructure should be paid for by the people who use it, and the comment thread goes from there.

Example, Example, Example.

There is rarely any deeper analysis of that first idea. What happens if we toll all the major bridges at $1 a crossing? What problem does this “fair” solution solve?

First we need to define our terms. When people talk about tolling “all the bridges”, they surely don’t mean the bridge on Gaglardi Way that spans the Brunette River or the King Edward Overpass, but they likely would include the two North Shore crossings and the major crossings of the Fraser (Golden Ears, Port Mann, Pattullo, Alex Fraser, and Massey). Ambitious tollers might include the Pitt River and the Knight, and really, you couldn’t do the Knight without doing the Oak and Laing as well (lets assume the Queensborough is spared, as it is really an access to the Alex Fraser or one of the other crossings)

Seeing as how the False Creek bridges (Cambie, Granville, and Burrard) belong to the City of Vancouver, and the Middle Arm bridges (Moray, No. 2 Road, Dinsmore, and Sea Island) to the City of Richmond, it is pretty unlikely they could be included in any regional tolling scheme.

This raises an interesting jurisdictional issue, especially around Richmond. Most of the bridges belong to the BC Ministry of Transportation, so tolling could be accomplished with a wave of a Minister’s hand, but three (Golden Ears, Pattullo, and Knight) belong to TransLink, and the Laing belongs to YVR, so some interesting revenue-sharing complications would ensue.

But let’s put those complications aside for a moment, and look purely at the revenue side. Traffic counts for most of those bridges are available from the MoTI website, and it took only a bit of digging to find the numbers for the rest. Let’s use 2012 traffic numbers, as they are the most recent available and complete. Here is the average daily vehicle count on the bridges:

Bridge           Operator    Daily Vehicles
Golden Ears   TransLink     30,000
Port Mann     TI Group     110,047
Pattullo         TransLink     65,000
Alex Fraser    MoTI           105,108
Massey          MoTI             81,729
Lions Gate    MoTI             60,285
Ironworkers  MoTI           115,331
Pitt River      MoTI             80,000
Laing             YVR              70,000
Oak               MoTI             68,150
Knight           TransLink     90,000
                     Total:          875,650

So if you slapped a $1 toll on all 8 “major” bridges (including the Pitt River), you are looking at $650,000 per day in revenue, 365 days a year. Add the jurisdictionally-problematic North Arm bridges between Richmond and Vancouver and that number boosts to $876,000. Annually, this works out to just under $240 Million and $320 Million per year.

Wow, that’s a lot of money. Except two of those bridges already collect tolls ranging from $2.50 to $9.00, depending on the vehicle type. Although neither bridge is yet reaching its “revenue goal”, the amount of toll revenue promised the contractor at Port Mann is about $184 Million, and for the Golden Ears, $38 Million. Assuming that TransLink and the Ministry could somehow break these long-term contracts, we would need to remove this $222 Million from our net increase in revenue, bringing it down to less than $100 Million. Let’s ignore, for the benefit of the argument, the cost of setting up and running all of these tolling locations.

To put that $100 Million into perspective, TransLink collects $450 Million in fare revenue every year from people riding public transit, which is about a third of its annual $1,400 Million operational budget. The tolling revenue at $1 per car only represents about 7% of the TransLink operational budget: hardly enough to fund even the most modest growth of the transit system.

The fairness or palatability of $1 tolls on all bridges seems less relevant when you realize it will hardly make a dent in the money we need in this region to build a reliable transit system, never mind building more bridges and lanes of highways (upwards towards 3,700km of new roads!) that will be required to support the region’s growth if we don’t build a more robust transit system.

This is why municipalities with region-wide bridge-tolling policies, like San Francisco or New York, are charging $5- $15 to use the bridges. If we are going to talk about a “fair toll on all bridges”, it most certainly won’t be $1. The numbers don’t work.

Update:
Despite the positive response I got for doing a little bit of basic math with publicly-available data, I was not surprised to hear the “$1 Toll Everywhere” suggested again as the panacea to TransLink funding on the CBC “Early Edition” this morning. This was only shocking because it was being put out by Colin Hansen (the man who brought us the HST debacle, and should know a little about referenda), only to be immediately supported by Moe Sihota. Neither stopped to think if a “toll under a dollar” was going to actually generate any meaningful revenue.
Alas, that is the state of political journalism in 2014. A series of he-said she-said talking point arguments, no-one doing basic fact-checking.
Regional Transportation rabble-rouser Eric Doherty on another forum asked an important question in relation to the “$1 Toll Everywhere” Plan: What does it cost to set up a toll collection system? Installing toll collection infrastructure on 11 bridges, and the bureaucracy to run it, would surely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and would cost tens of millions a year to operate. If it takes three years to pay off the toll collection system, and another 20% of our $1 Toll is lost to overhead- the net revenue numbers get even worse.



Larco, Rails, and the Waterfront Vision.

I am cognizant that things are preliminary and there are many details yet to work out, but my initial reaction to this is very positive.
The Larco Property has been, for a few years, the missing front tooth in the smile of New Westminster’s waterfront. For those not paying attention, this is the lot between the Fraser River Discover Centre (FRDC) and the New Westminster Pier Park – the big pay parking lot at the end of Begbie Street. The development of Larco has been an on-again-off-again affair, but the last time we saw approved plans for the site, it was, to borrow a phrase commonly used in ironic understatement by my old sedimentology Prof: “sub-optimal”.
The plan was for 5 tall, thick towers on a pedestal of parking, rather the same as Plaza88 but 66% larger. It was out of scale with the surroundings, and threatened to create a permanent barrier separating Downtown from the waterfront, and burying Front Street for all time. As a trade-off, the plan was to bury a few hundred metres of a new freeway – the now-defunct North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR) – under the pedestal. Little regard was given to how this “traffic solution” would impact areas east or west of the Larco Property, but I don’t want to drift off on that story here…
With the establishment of the Pier Park, the cancelling of the NFPR, and new ideas around accommodating parking in Downtown in a post-Parkade era, the plans for Larco no longer really fit the bill, so the City asked Larco (who, in the City’s defense, had not acted for a decade on the previous plans) to go back to the drawing board and try to re-imagine the site through the lens of these new factors. It is what Larco brought back that has me (tacitly, with all the regular devil-in-the-details caveats) feeling pretty positive about the prospects for that site.

Sketch drawing, click to make bigger, or go the City site to look at the entire report.
The number and mass of the towers have been reduced. The new plans call for narrower towers with greater spacing, which should help preserve the view corridors down the important streets, and allow some sunlight to hit Columbia and Front streets. With some clever design, these towers might fit very nicely without feeling like a wall separating us from the river. The towers will vary in height (which further reduces the wall effect), but the tallest will be at least as high as the tallest at Plaza88). I’m not generally in favour of super-tall buildings on the waterfront, but if done well, not completely out of scale with the surrounding buildings, and lined up so not to block established view corridors, 3 towers will not overwhelm. Note that Larco is reducing the overall number of residences from over 1000 to around 800, which is something significant for a developer to give up, but will definitely allow the buildings to fit the site better.
The second big plus is that the development will allow expansion of the Pier Park to the west, and will feature a significant amount of public greenspace filling the gap between the FRDC and the Pier Park. This will no doubt come with access improvements to the east side of the park, but just by connecting the River Market/Quay to the Park more cohesively, the whole will exceed the sum of the parts. With longer-term plans to connect the Quay to Queensborough with a pedestrian bridge, and to connect the east end of the Park to Sapperton with a Greenway, we can now envision a future where New Westminster’s waterfront becomes a one of the greatest community amenities in the Lower Mainland- we will truly “Own the River” as the best place to spend some time on the banks of the muddy old Fraser.
The third (and perhaps most surprising) positive coming out of this plan is the disappearance of the parking structure. I don’t mean there will be no parking, I mean that Larco wants to build the “human space” at the same level as the bottom of the Pier Park, and stick the cars down under the pier. New construction techniques and tanking technology definitely allows this to be done safely, and with the entire breadth of the lot used for parking (and driveways and walkways above) there is enough room to build parking to the tower residents, and to have an extra public parking area to accommodate the FRDC, River Market and visitors to the Pier Park. The plan will not have several levels of above-ground parkade creating a garage tunnel effect we see on some other streets (I’m looking at you, Carnarvon!)
All of this had rightfully raised the same question among several people: what about the rails? Don’t we need to build overpasses? Won’t the whistles and bells and idling trains just cause more conflict? How will all these people rely on Begbie Street crossing?
These are serious concerns: both the need for level crossings vs. overpasses, and the issue of adjusting rail operations to deal with whistle cessation and reduced community impacts. Apparently, the City is working on them, and this is an area where serious work needs yet to be done. However, I will argue that complete separation may not be the best solution. (Unless the separation involves moving the rails, but I’m going to assume the Federal Government is not interested in spending any money moving goods by anything but truck, and this idea will never fly).
I don’t want multiple overpasses with elevated concrete flying over our streets. They are ugly, they are expensive to build and maintain, they act as obstacles to pedestrians, and (especially) people with disabilities. They loom over the human spaces below, create traffic barriers at times of emergency, and serve to actually separate us from the places they are meant to connect. Instead, we need to take a more rational approach to level crossings in New Westminster.
And we don’t need to re-invent the wheel here. We are not the only City in the world with industrial rail lines along a re-imagined post-industrial waterfront. We don’t even need to tax our imagination too hard to see  how it would work, we can just look around the world (thanks to Google Street View):
White Rock:

The Old Port area of Montreal: 

New Orleans:  

Or even dusty ol’ Peoria, Illinois:

 I’m just saying, if it plays in Peoria, you can’t tell me we cannot do it in New Westminster. We (and by “we”, I mean the railways and the governments that regulate them) just need to grow up.

Like or hate what you see? Go the the City’s Open house on Wednesday and give them a piece of your mind! 



Build a Playground with a click!

Short note, as I am getting really busy planning my December off (more on that later) and working on stuff that will fill our Januaries (yikes!), but I there is something important enough going on THIS WEEK that I wanted to add my voice to those getting the word out

It is a sad sign of our priorities as a society that the Ministry of Education will not pay for playground equipment at an elementary school. I like to think it is more reflection of the kind of Government that raises rates for the electricity needed to run schools, refuses to give the schools extra money to pay those rates, then tells the School Boards to just close some schools if they can’t afford to keep the lights on, as opposed to being the sign that our community doesn’t value our kids or recognize how important exercise and unstructured play is to learning outcomes… /end rant.

Clearly our community cares, as there is a group of aroused rabble who have been moving on a campaign to get funding from an Insurance Company to buy the playground equipment that an Elementary School should have at the new Elementary School called Qayqayt Community School which is being built currently on the old St. Mary’s Hospital site.

As the Aviva Community Fund is a national program, there are several programs competing for a few funds, but the good news is that this project has already jumped several steps in voting and promotion, and is a semi-finalist. They have 8 Days to get as many votes as they can. So go there and vote. Right now. You can even vote multiple times (once a day) and every person with a different e-mail address in your house, at your work, or in your universe can vote. Every day. So you, (yes you) can probably get 100 votes here.

The local group organizing this campaign has even made it easier for you by creating a webpage link to get you straight to where you can vote:

www.vote4robson.com

Here are the instructions sent to me by Tim Mercier from the École John Robson Community, and it was easier than the 7 steps below make it look, especially if you already have a Facebook account:

To Register;

1- Go to www.vote4robson.com
2- In the top right corner of the site (inside the yellow and above the search box) find “Sign in – Register – Francais” and click on “register” to get to the registration page;
3- Connect using your Facebook account or enter your email address and create a simple password for your account. Then scroll down the page to find the yellow “Register” button and press it;
4- Aviva will send you an email (to the address you used to register) and you will then need to open the email and click on the link;
5- This will bring you back to the Aviva page. The Sign in tab is located on the top right of the page in the yellow, click on it to go to the sign in page where you will need to enter your email address and password.
6- This will take you to your account page and Dashboard, if you want to find our entry either search for ACF17525 or just go back to www.vote4robson without logging off the Aviva site and it should get you there.
7- Once you have voted once, we will be in your supported idea tab and you can find us there.

Here you go, New Westminster – time for us to do what a great community like ours does best when a few people start a good idea – support them by showing up and give a few clicks to give the kids of the Downtown neighbourhood and all of the Qayqayt catchment a place to blow off steam so they can get some fresh air, learn better, and be healthier and happier #NewNewWest Citizens.