A letter to The Province asked this:

Massey tunnel is brutal

Where does SFU city program director Gordon Price get his data indicating less use of the Massey tunnel? He claims a 7.5-per-cent drop from previous years.

Which years? He obviously doesn’t live south of the tunnel.

–  Jim MacDonald, Ladner

The total number of vehicles per day in 2008 was 390,972, which reflects a minor decrease of 2.6% from 401,227 vehicles in 2004; the greatest decreases were at the Deas Tunnel (-7.5%) and the Pattullo Bridge (5.8%).

– p. 46,  TransLink 2008 Regional Screenline Survey

Do these facts matter?  They should, of course – how else can we make decisions, set priorities, avoid waste?

But in another way, they don’t – or at least they don’t trump people’s personal perceptions.  When I posted the chart that demonstrated traffic counts have dropped to 1965 levels in and out of downtown Vancouver, said one reader: “Well then, they have to explain why it doesn’t feel that way.”

It’s somewhat analogous to temperature data* that indicate, once again, “the 10 hottest years on record have been in the last 12 years. The 20 hottest years on record have been in the last 30 years. There is a lot of science around this.”  And yet, it matters not a whit to those whose beliefs and benefits would be negatively affected if they acknowledged climate change.

One figure Price can’t mess with: the Massey tunnel is over 50 years old and most assuredly not designed to handle the peak loads being experienced today.

So let’s spend a billion to increase tunnel capacity, worsen congestion downstream, accelerate sprawl upstream, and, after we’ve loaded up with debt, cut funding for transit that might actually make a difference.


* [T]he last 12 months have been the hottest since recorded-keeping started in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Average temperatures in the continental US for the month of June were a full 2 degrees above the average for the 20th century. … NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center says that the odds of this heat wave occurring randomly would be 1 in 1,594,323.


  1. Figures from 2004 and 2008 don’t matter much to people sitting in traffic in 2012. Their personal experience trumps any facts, particularly old ones. That’s human nature.

    The graphs really show almost no change from 2004 to 2008, but one thing that did happen was the morning peak got sharper: fewer total vehicles over a span of 3 hours, but more during the busiest single hour. If you were trying to travel at that time things really did get worse. Almost every other time of day, however, it got better.

    My personal experience exactly matches the time frame you’re discussing. For the past 8 years I’ve made occasional trips southbound through the Massey Tunnel in the afternoon rush. The first time I planned for it to take forever. I envisioned traffic backed up to 91 with a 10 minute wait just to get to the HOV lane. I did find a nasty little delay at the too close to each other 91 and Westminster on-ramps followed by remarkably steady flow to the Steveston off-ramp. The biggest delay on the entire trip was nowhere near the Massey, it was waiting to get onto the Knight St. bridge.

    Over the years I’ve left Vancouver at a variety of times between 3:30 and 6:30, most often between 4:30 and 5:30. My totally unscientific opinion of that pseudo random trip pattern is that things are getting better.

    The actual tunnel itself is a whole different matter. Drivers appear to suffer temporary insanity when they enter it.

    When I was young the Massey Tunnel was just another stretch of the highway. Cars entered and exited at the posted speed limit. Today, even when traffic is light, some people drive like a school crossing guard is about to jump in front of them at any moment. It’s not uncommon to find yourself crawling along at 55km/h with your foot planted firmly on the brake pedal. At night it completely reverses and doing 90 will get you rear ended by the idiots who think 140 is too slow.

  2. I can assure you, traffic is worse now than it was in 2004-2008. It is a foolish assumption that all cars are heading downtown. It is even more foolish to ignore the impact of Delta Port and the truck volume that is using the tunnel.

    The money lost in idle time for truckers and the emissions spewed while trucks and cars try to funnel 4 lanes into 2 is insanity.

    I live in Ladner. I add 50% to my travel time if I am trying to get into town between 7:30 am – 9:30 am and 3:30 – 6:00

    I used to take the bus downtown until Canada Line was opened. My commute went from 45 minutes to 90 because my direct one bus trip was replaced by 3 buses and a stop in Richmond. Guess what – I now drive.

  3. Julia, it’s unfortunate that the opening of the Canada Line has affected you so significantly. While I imagine that the loss of a single-seat ride in a highway bus all the way downtown is frustrating, to say the least, the increase in the length and complexity of your commute is probably the bigger factor.

    I’m curious, though, how it is that your commute from Ladner now requires three buses in addition to the SkyTrain Canada Line? It was my understanding that the original highway bus routes have simply been shortened to connect to SkyTrain to Richmond-Brighouse and Bridgeport stations. Would the same bus that you took all the way into downtown not be the same bus that you now take to Bridgeport station? How has it come to be that two additional buses are now required for your commute? If that’s the case, then no wonder there has been acrimony expressed by transit commuters from the far south of the region.

    I should add that it was also my impression that the reduction in the length of the routes that formerly when all the way downtown has resulted in greater frequency.

    I’ve looked up the schedule for the 601 Ladner and to my eyes the frequency in the mornings are pretty good, especially considering Ladner’s location in Metro Vancouver:

    (departing from LADNER TRUNK RD @ 53 ST)

    Every one of these will get you downtown by 8:30am and each trip from this stop is estimated to take about 50 minutes.

    If my impression about the route changes are incorrect and your commute has doubled in length and now requires two additional bus routes in addition to SkyTrain, then you and your fellow riders truly do have a grievance with Translink and the Canada Line.

    1. My destination is Broadway and Granville. The 601 used to stop at Broadway and Granville. It was fabulous. Now, the route is 601 to Brighouse, Canada Line to Broadway and Cambie and then Cambie to Broadway.

      I gave up my symphony tickets for the same reason. 1 bus ride became 3 and 90 minutes instead of 45 with the alternative being $18 to park.

      1. Ladner Exchange to Broadway at Granville (arr. 8:30am) is 49 minutes. (TransLink Trip Planner) with lots of slack in the schedule. Probably if you hustled between connections you could do it even faster. (Canada Line frequency is 3 minutes in the morning, 99 B-line also frequent and fast).

        Moreover your trip is much more predictable than driving since the 601 can use dedicated bus lanes on Hwy 99 and the Canada Line misses all bridge traffic. Unless your transit/walking segment within Ladner is 40 minutes or so I can’t believe it takes 90 mins to get to your destination. But this component would have been there before the new Canada Line routing.

        Getting to the Orpheum at 6:30pm is even faster (44min)… with only 1 transfer.

        I expect there are days when driving takes much longer than 50 mins AND you still have to pay $18 to park. Are you sure you got your transit facts straight?
        Not sure why you’d want to support a tunnel project which will only encourage more people to live in and drive from Ladner…

      1. If you are headed to Granville and Broadway then the diversion to Cambie instead of Granville really does put you at a disadvantage. Now if only the SkyTrain Millennium Line were extended under Broadway…

        That’s a shame, too, about the Symphony. Not only is the travel time a factor, but the early hour at which many buses south of the Fraser end service is a major factor. I must be on a SkyTrain leaving downtown before 9pm in order to be able to make the necessary connections (502->375) to be able to take transit home along 152 in Surrey. Ridiculous.

  4. If they ever do replace or expand the tunnel they better put in a tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians. It is now the only dumb crossing that one can’t get a bike over. The one bright spot for the Gateway project for me is that it will be possible to cross it by walking or cycling. Why was there not at least a shuttle operating on that bridge these last few years. Why does a shuttle only go every hour at the George Massey?

    This is what I will require to support expansion at George Massey

  5. I am sure people will admonish me for choosing to live in Ladner and work downtown and therefore I should simply suck it up.

    For me, it was both and economic and lifestyle choice. I make above average income but when I looked at what my $400,000 would buy in Vancouver vs Ladner it was a no-brainer. Besides, I love the small village atmosphere where everyone chats out in front of the veggie market or attends the May day parade.

    My solution – work from home when I can, time shift to avoid the peak hours for the tunnel, and hope the 601 goes back to its old route one day.

    I hear the same complaint from folks that used to come in to the Broadway/Granville corridor from White Rock.

    1. It’s not admonishing. You choose something you value (village atmosphere) over something that is deemed to be less valuable (an easy commute to work). It’s what’s important for you and I haven’t seen anyone judge that. But that doesn’t mean there has to be billions spent on expanding roads when transit continues to lag years behind and expanded roads will simply encourage more driving and congestion in the long-run anyway. If it’s simply a question of most efficient use of resources combined with the best outcome for the health and sustainability of the city and residents then expanding this tunnel doesn’t make sense. There are so many more important projects that would have a much better impact.

      A larger bridge will also mean more cars in Ladner. More traffic jams on the village streets, and will make the village less safe, as all those cars that are currently backed up at the tunnel will flood into the village and overwhelm the grid. It will also mean much longer waits at the Oak Street Bridge, and more traffic there, which does nothing to improve your commute – only moves the problem. Why not instead push for a Millennium Line extension along Broadway to make Granville Street easier to access from the Canada Line?

  6. Julia,

    this is not admonishment for living in Ladner and working in Vancouver. I’m glad you appreciate the village atmpshpere and lower land costs that Ladner offers. I only ask that you do not demand that the taxpayer (i.e. me) pay for expensive and avoidable road upgrades to improve your personal comfort.

    If you do, I will indeed suggest that you suck it up (or pay the premium costs of living closer to your primary destination).

  7. TKO, I also pay those taxes. May I submit we also both bear the environmental and economic consequences of trucks sitting in a line waiting to get through the tunnel. May I also submit that without my season ticket subscription, the symphony and Bard on the Beach is one step closer to insolvency. What is that worth to YOU?

    Don’t ask me to pay for a transit line that just made my life harder if you don’t want to offer me something in exchange.

    1. The fact is every single project cannot please every single person. You are unfortunately one of those people. However the Canada Line has made the lives of so many people much more convenient. Yes many people have been disadvantaged, but the overall net effect is positive. The government cannot cater to every individual’s needs because it’s simply not possible. So let’s focus on ‘everyone’ instead of ‘you’ or ‘me’.

  8. Based off observations thanks to the Replay of the day. I have observed the following congestion periods

    Morning Northbound: 7-10 am
    Morning Soutbound: 7-counterflow close

    Afternoon Northbound: Counterflow open-6:15
    Afternoon Soutbound: 2:30-counterflow open p.m.

    There are time where afternoon soutbound volume builds before those times and after counterflow is taken out, it can take longer to relieve the queue. There are a few solutions I could see which would be cheaper to alleviate congestion.

    1) Widen Steveston from 99 off ramp to the Port. That would allow more vehicles to access the Port and maybe relieve some of the congestion on the off-ramp that causes spill overs onto the 99 mainline

    2) Redesign the 99-Steveston interchange. I think doing this to allow for volume optimization would reduce spill-overs and effectively use available capacity during the rush-hour. This would hopefully reduce the morning backups caused by spillover which can be as bad as afternoon counterflow

    3) FGS: 72nd Ave. Grade Separation, way too much lost capacity on 91 because it isn’t grade separated. More people would then use 91 during the afternoon counterflow period.

    4) Automate counterflow lane. I am not sure how much this would help but if it could be controlled from a traffic control centre, this could reduce the amount of lost time from changing over the lane direction.

    So I think those improvements would solve the northbound issue but what about southbound? If those who go to KGB and beyond utilized 91 during the morning it wouldn’t be too much of an issue, I am not sure if extending counterflow in the afternoon is the best option though. Maybe at certain times when capacity is being met turn it over. The goal would be to reduce the total delay for travelers.

    Widening would make sense to add an HOT lane if replacement was needed. The HOT lane could be programmed for 80 km/h minimum to facilitate fast transit and it would eliminate counterflow impacts. However, I like the drop-lane concept. On the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, one on-ramp has a dedicated lane, but then it drops at the other end through a merge. These faciliate merging traffic and permit smoother flowing without another through lane. Having one across the tunnel for Steveston and 17 I think would be highly beneficial to build an 8 lane tunnel or bridge, whichever is most cost-effective

  9. There’s nothing wrong with driving to work.

    And for all the people disappointed with the change in bus routes or the Canada Line not being built under Granville St., there are many others who are happy it was built near their destinations on or near Cambie.

  10. both could be right, traffic volume has decreased, but congestion at the tunnel has increased.

    2 main reasons for that.
    (1) the counterflow lane increasing the capacity on peak, make also off-peak travelling less appealing (or hard to fathom…worst congestion at the tunnel is not necessarily at “peak hour”, see http://voony.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/bridge_traffic.png )

    (2) the deliberate policy to make thing worst by the Province and the city of Richmond

    The Province
    Under the cover to improve transit, The province build new lanes along the 99 (and explain it is a transit investment)…then to avoid the “syndrom of the empty lane” open the transit lane to virtually everyone…
    result -> 99 south bound is 3 lanes, tunnel is 2 lanes.
    as mentioned above, this pseudo “HOV” lane should really be an HOT lane/queue jumper…
    but the Province policy is to deliberate piss off drivers, to have people like Julia asking for a new tunnel…

    the city is encouraging rat running by all means: recently the city has embarked on the widening of road 4, as well as Steveston Hwy…it is totally counter productive, since it encourage more people on those road instead to keep them on 99. What they should have done is put some traffic calming indeed.

    Result: an over congested Steveston interchange, penalizing everyone, and mainly the local traffic not in need to cross the tunnel.

    The tunnel congestion is clearly a result of outright counter productive policies. Since i don’t want believe that our traffic engineers are so dump, I have to think it is a deliberate conspiracy to justify more road investment.

  11. I have no problem with Canada Line going down Cambie and it is a great service – otherwise it would be empty.

    I just wish they would have continued at least some of the express routes that stopped along Granville. Many folks chose employment or housing based on that transit service and now it is gone.

  12. May I also submit that without my season ticket subscription, the symphony and Bard on the Beach is one step closer to insolvency.

    WRT Julia, the symphony and parking, this is a very topical article on the LA symphony and disney hall. What is a city to its cultural instituions, and vice versa?


    “Yet before an auditorium could be raised [at Disney Hall], a six-floor subterranean garage capable of holding 2,188 cars needed to be sunk below it at a cost of $110 million—money raised from county bonds. Parking spaces can be amazingly expensive to fabricate. In aboveground structures they cost as much as $40,000 apiece. Belowground, all that excavating and shoring may run a developer $140,000 per space. The debt on Disney Hall’s garage would have to be paid off for decades to come, and as it turned out, a minimum schedule of 128 annual shows would be enough to cover the bill. The figure “128” was even written into the L.A. Philharmonic’s lease. In 2003, Esa-Pekka Salonen opened Frank Gehry’s masterpiece to a packed house with Mahler’s Resurrection, and in the years since, concertgoers—who lay out $9 to enter the garage—have steadily funded performances that exist to cover the true price of their parking.

    Gehry’s auditorium may be wonderful, but it is also a fine example of poor planning. The garage—designed to serve the public good—instantly made the Metro immaterial to concertgoers, placed several thousand cars on the road every week, and pumped a few hundred tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Like any parking lot entrance, the one on Bunker Hill sucked air from street life. “L.A.,” says Shoup, “required 50 times more parking under Disney Hall than San Francisco would allow at their own hall.” Downtown already had an oversupply of garages and lots where music fans could leave their cars. “After a concert in San Francisco,” says Shoup, “the streets are full of people walking to their cars, eating in restaurants, stopping into bars and bookstores. In L.A.? The bar next door at Patina is a ghost town.” Receipts that should have gone to the philharmonic’s endowment instead are funding enough parking for nearly every ticket holder to park a car every night downtown.

  13. Have a look at how many parking spots around the Orpheum have disappeared in the last 5 years. My loyalty has its limits.

    Provide me adequate transit, or give me an affordable parking, or I will simply stay home and watch PBS. Please don’t suggest I ride my bike.

  14. If every car going through the tunnel is heading into vancouver, then why does the richmond exit back up well into the tunnel heading northbound every morning???

    Unless you commute during peak times through the tunnel, your opinion is not valid.

  15. I think the tunnel set up is stupid. Also the HOV on 99 is just ridiculous. I come from White Rock and there is no HOV access till a good way into the commute. Then if you want to go into Ladner you are stuck sitting in all that traffic as you cannot enter the HOV lane till it ends and that is almost impossible as there are huge trucks (with one occupant) zooming along the HOV lane. God forbid that you should be daring and duck into the HOV just a little before the sign signifying that the HOV lane ends like I just did as I wound up with a ticket for being in the HOV lane before it ended. A hundred bucks and an anal cop. Something should be done! Not everyone going down 99 is going beyond the tunnel. There is no planning for people getting off at the Ladner exit. RIDICULOUS!~!!!!!

  16. Additional traffic count data to more current dates can also be found on the Ministry of Transportation’s website (below), which also further support what Gordon was highlighting. There are natural variations year over year, but overall, it’s hard to say that traffic hasn’t been decreasing. The comments about the Port and other goods movement issues are good ones, but accommodating growth of single occupant vehicle commuters is not. Respecting that this is also an aging piece of infrastructure, and is currently very inflexible in it’s current use, there is opportunity to make things better. Should replacement be required, and maybe it should, it would be most appropriate to put focus on alternative transportation modes for any new structure rather than just additional traffic lanes.

    Permanent highway traffic counter just south of the tunnel:


  17. What’s funny (not) is that people believe the figures put out by Translink. An organization that’s so brilliant they spent millions (tens?) of dollars here in Richmond to build bus lanes down the middle of #3 road only to tear it up a few years later because of the “known” Skytrain expansion. And then the brilliant minds figured no lets not put the Skytrain down the middle of #3, where the bus lanes are and it’ll at least look okay, we’ll put it down the side of the road. Because wow does that ever look better. Not like some slum. Not to mention that it was moronic to put it down #3 in the first place and not Gilbert where there’s room and a place at the end where you could put parking for commuters. But of course that’s the BC way. Waste money to create temporary jobs. Make things inefficient so we can tear it down and create another “make work” project a few years later.

    As far as the Massey Tunnel goes…this guy who wrote this…wow…he must be the David Suzuki type born into wealth, works from home, and doesn’t realize people commute to work. Not everyone can afford two million dollar homes in Vancouver. But forget that his solution is to do nothing. As though the tunnel’s structural integrity will just miraculously withstand the test of time. Or is he saying there should be no tunnel. Just let it implode. Hmmm then where will all that commuter traffic go? To the other entryways to Vancouver so they can get to their jobs. I wonder what that will do to worsen congestion downstream, accelerate sprawl upstream and lets not forget about the environmental affect of all those cars exhaust emissions sitting in a traffic jam. That does seem to be the BC way. Like the Lions Gate Bridge. Spend a billion dollars and increase the width by a foot and a half. FFS.

    Here’s a concept. How about creating an infrastructure that caters to commercial efficiency and allows for a free flowing of traffic so that people with jobs and those that transport goods can be competitive in the free enterprise market. Keeping the cost of those goods lower so people can afford them. Then lets speak up when people with no understanding of how the world works and think that everything can be fixed with magic pixy dust make moronic assertions. Let them know that the free enterprise market, and not some tree hugging so called environmentalist who has his/her head up their butt, will most definitely create a vehicle that runs on efficient energy and causes no harm to the environment so there’ll be no reason for them to complain about automobile commuting. Though I’m sure their types will find something to complain about. The rest of us will just pay through our taxes for the things modern societies need.

    1. > “What’s funny (not) is that people believe the figures put out by Translink. An organization that’s so brilliant they spent millions (tens?) of dollars here in Richmond to build bus lanes down the middle of #3 road only to tear it up a few years later because of the “known” Skytrain expansion.”

      The RAV Line was not actually Translink’s next preferred project. Translink had been operating on the assumption that the Evergreen line was next, until the Province rode in and funded the Canada Line for immediate construction. Translink didn’t build or design the Canada Line. They were handed a completed, turnkey project by the province (same with the new Port Mann – Translink had no virtually role in its design or project selection, but will be handed a finished asset to manage).

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