Engaged in a heated but friendly debate last evening with an engineer who worked on Gateway. 

His position: Gateway – the highway widening and new bridge – is serving an already existing need, namely the growth that has occurred south of the Fraser.  Cars aren’t going away, even if we have to switch to electricity.  Land use is in the hands of municipalities, and not a responsibility of the Gateway project.

Next day, I opened the Sun to the business pages:

Massive mall near Abbotsford interchange stirs up debate

A new shopping mall planned for an eight-hectare site near Abbotsford’s Mount Lehman interchange will be a major retail draw for Fraser Valley residents, according to the city’s mayor.

Abbotsford Mall  “The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.

It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”

Opponents of commercial sprawl say the new plaza is an example of the type of retail they expect will pop up all along the highway because of the provincial government’s Gateway Program to add lanes to Highway 1 and double the size of the bridge.

I confess, I get annoyed by highway planners and advocates who ignore, discount or wash their hands of the consequences of their projects, especially when the evidence is so obvious.  Highways generate car-dependent urban form, which then produces the congestion that the highways and arterials were meant to address.   It’s a self-defeating cycle they seem not to acknowledge.  (Which means that TransLink , Metro and the municipalities must have a pro-active startegy to offset the consequences.  Otherwise we get more and more Abby Lanes.)

So, as always, I asked him this question: name me one good example of a place that had successfully addressed congestion with more roads and bridges.  A place that can serve as a model for what we are doing.  A place you want the South of the Fraser to become more like.

No answer from the engineer.


  1. Dead on with your question to the engineer! The mayor’s gushing about the mall is the flip side of the issue regarding the focus on automobile based infrastructure. It is entirely too bad that more (read some, or any?) elected officials are not able to ask your question and have a full understanding of the consequences of not asking.

  2. Remember that the determining factor for development of any retail centre will be the population of the catchment area.

    This project doesn’t look too bad – The buildings come to the edge of the parcel and it has two levels of underground parking in a “lifestyle centre” format – i.e. much better than the Village at Park Royal which is surrounded by parking lots. The brochure mentions the possibility of a hotel. Not sure what Abbotsford has in mind in terms of densifying the surrounding area.

    More info here:


  3. So let’s see if I understand this correctly. The mayor of Abbotsford apparently likes sprawl, and talks about a project that will attract people from far and wide, who will travel to the area on roads that are not even remotely connected to the Gateway project.

    And this is somehow the Gateway traffic engineer’s fault?

    And because the mayor of Abbotsford doesn’t understand about global warming, peak oil, the evils of sprawl and irresponsible urban development, we should punish the people of Surrey and New West?

  4. I would ask this question instead – name me one good example of a place that had successfully addressed congestion period.

  5. I’m a huge opponent of the Gateway Project and automobile oriented design, however, the project actually looks quasi-decent when compared to some of the other monstrosities that are being built. That being said it could be a whole lot better with some seemingly simple and obvious changes, particularly in its land use.

    -Abbey Lanes will feed off passing traffic, but it does have a very large (and growing) catch area.
    -It has very little surface parking.
    -Lots of trees.
    -Shows some promise of outdoor seating, and maybe outdoor dining? (Just please don’t build fences around these areas! Does everything have to be segregated??!)

    -It could be a lot more inviting if some of the buildings were actually facing the neighbourhood they serve. They are all oriented towards the middle (parking lot), with their big concrete backs facing outward, whereas it could be much more transparent (for visitors on foot) if the retail outlets were facing the neighbourhood (or maybe had entrances on both sides with shipping/receiving options in the parkade or in the surface parking lot).
    -My big question is why no housing? These could be even more sustainable if the development built housing on top of the retail outlets. This could be a small urban enclave, but instead it will just be another segregated, single-use development.

  6. Pay attention to the verbs that politicians use when talking about congestion. Smart ones don’t talk about “fixing” or “solving.” In both the US and Australia I hear increasing talk of “tackling” congestion. The football-sourced meaning of “to tackle” is basically “to jump on, so as to inhibit without harming, while appearing fierce and masculine.” That pretty much describes what politicians can do about congestion until they’re ready to talk about pricing.

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  8. It doesn’t matter what this project “looks” like. The problem is that it is a destination shopping centre far from downtown Abbotsford and any major population centres. We really need mixed use development that people can walk to shopping and other services.

  9. Not that I want to defend the Gateway project, but I think this mall probably would have been built even if the gateway project wasn’t happening. I’m not sure it’s so much a consequence of the Gateway project as it is a consequence of the existence of the highway in the first place.

    That stupid looking Colossus space-ship movie theatre monstrosity got built where 200th Street meets the highway in Langley, and that was like 10 years ago, well before Gateway.

    Highways generate a car-dependent urban form no matter how many lanes they have. There are avenues in Manhattan, New York that have just as many lanes as the Trans-Canada Highway does, but they don’t generate a car-dependent urban form, because they’re not highways.

  10. I agree with Bruce’s comment on making the outside walls of the complex more street friendly (i.e. maybe incorporate shallow outward facing retail units) – you see that in all retail developments – i.e. even at Pacific Centre in downtown Vancouver (i.e. in an urban environment).

    For a new project, this project has more appeal than even, say, Oakridge Mall in Vancouver – which is still currently surrounded by surface parking lots.

    And it’s far better looking than the big box malls surrounded by surface parking in Big Bend in Burnaby.

    I think that this area may become a retail/commercial neighbourhood hub area. There are adjacent commercially zoned sites and there looks to be more commercial sites across the highway (maybe some of those could be mixed use higher density). There are single family homes up to the perimeter of one side of the site (i.e. walking distance) – I suppose if it were in a less developed area, then more surrounding higher density could have been pursued.

  11. I think those who say this mall would have been built regardless are right, and the intelligent questions are around design quality. Those design quality questions can be asked about downtown Vancouver developments such as Pacific Centre mall just as easily as they can about retail complexes in the Fraser Valley.

    What I believe is needed is enforcable provincial or national legislation on design standards for retail and other structures, standards around things such as the amount of landscaping in parking lots and on rooftops.

    I have two questions. First, who is the engineer Mr Price publicly debated, and where/when was this debate? Second, was the zoning of this property changed or is it going to be changed in order to accommodate the Abby Lanes proposal?

    Besides myself, does anyone not find it curious that the complaint of “urban sprawl” is only raised when the development in question is located in the Fraser Valley? What about such recent additions as the Big Bend development in South Burnaby? Why isn’t that project criticized as well, given that all its customers and workers arrive by car along Marine Way?

    Could it be that the so-called experts such as Stephen Rees hold back their criticisms in the case of Burnaby projects because Mayor Corrigan and his principal planning bureaucrats, Luksun and Ramsey, are fellow PMH1 opponents and public devotees of “peak oil” doctrine?

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