Motordom
April 5, 2007

Gateway project will fail, planning prof warns

In today’s Province, Valley columnist Brian Lewis reports on the panel discussion in Surrey yesterday, sponsored by the GVRD.

(By the way, I’m not actually a planning professor. I do teach a course as an adjunct at the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC – but that doesn’t qualify for the ‘prof’ moniker.)

Problem isn’t fixed by doing more of what created it

  Brian Lewis The Province

Gordon Price is a Simon Fraser University professor of regional planning who also served six terms on Vancouver City Council — but I think he’s missed his calling.

The 57-year-old should have been a chef because, as a panellist yesterday in a Greater Vancouver Regional District-sponsored meeting on transportation south of the Fraser River, he displayed a talent for stirring pots.
“The Gateway proposal, as it currently stands, will fail,” he said.
“We know it will fail but we’re going to do it anyway,” he told mayors, councillors, bureaucrats and ordinary citizens who gathered for the discussion at a Surrey golf course.
When Price dropped that gem, his co-panellists — Fraser Port Authority president Allen Domaas and B.C. Trucking Association boss Paul Landry — grimaced like any golfer would when the tee shot finds water.
That’s because their organizations have a huge stake in seeing the multibillion-dollar Gateway Project completed.
Greater Vancouver’s ports and its trucking industry play a vital role in this region’s economy — and the national economy, for that matter — and completing mega-transportation projects such as the Golden Ears Bridge, the South Fraser Perimeter Road and twinning the Port Mann Bridge under the Gateway label are all seen as vital to our growing trade with Asia.
Gateway is also being billed as a solution to regional traffic congestion and as a way to make the commuting lives of those who live south of the Fraser much easier.
But Price says allowing the ports, truckers and the B.C. government’s backers on Howe Street the most input on these projects is like letting the fox design the henhouse’s security system. Nor has there been enough input from other public stakeholders.
“Never let the guys who drive the big trucks design your region, because they’ll only do what works well for them,” he warned.
And this, Price maintains, is what has happened to Gateway.
He says it’s being pushed through by the B.C. government as individual projects with little focus on the overall consequences. And many of the negative impacts will occur south of the Fraser, especially in Delta, where a major port expansion is already under way.
“I recognize that in a growing region like ours you have to make a commitment to [building] infrastructure, but simply expanding the road system, even with modest tolls, will only result in people becoming more car-dependent,” Price said.
“The new capacity will only be quickly filled up, so instead of four lanes of trucks stuck in traffic you’ll have eight lanes of trucks stuck in traffic.” He also said before we spend billions expanding the regional road system, we should improve efficiencies in the current system.
Nor have Gateway planners taken into account the consequences of climate change, the increased concerns about fossil-fuel emissions or the loss of local farmland to make way for new roads, he added.
“In the end, you don’t solve a problem by doing more of what created that problem in the first place,” Price said.
Yes, I think the professor would have been a dandy chef because he cooks up some tasty food for thought.

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At the provincial Liberal Party convention in Penticton this weekend, there’ll be a support motion for Gateway from Burnaby-Willingdon. Not surprising, that – but it goes further….

“Encourage the transportation ministry to construct grade-separated interchanges at high-volume intersections on the provincial highway network, with the ideal of building them to freeway standards. “

And here’s the audacious one:

We support funding a third bridge span crossing Burrard Inlet, when the province’s fiscal situation allows it. We reinforce our interest in the environment by establishing high-occupancy vehicle lanes on this crossing”

The Third Crossing lives! And dontcha love the title:

Burrard Inlet Automotive Pollution Reduction.

By keeping the traffic moving, you see, you reduce pollution. It’s good for the environment! And it means you’ll never stop widening roads and building bridges, so the traffic will never, ever again congest.
It’s nonsense, of course. But let’s see what the Vancouver MLAs do, particularly Carole Taylor, Colin Hansen and Lorne Mayencourt, who, regardless of what they may think about Gateway, aren’t likely to want to go into the next election with their party supporting a Third Crossing.

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From Civic Strategies (worth subscribing to):

How the Wheels Came Off a Highway Proposal
When a local highway authority proposed this summer building a 120-mile toll-road “beltway” around the region, it seemed perfectly in line with reality. Tampa Bay’s highways are congested, toll roads are in vogue, so let’s lay some pavement! And on the day they announced it, authority planners thought they had a sure thing. “Every elected official and every staff member at all the agencies we have talked to have been supportive,” the authority’s planning director told the Tampa Tribune at the unveiling.But in no time the proposal started hitting walls. The first was Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who told the Tribune, “Mass transit is really the future of our community. There can always be another roadway that could be built, but building new roadways isn’t cost-efficient anymore.” Others weren’t even that charitable. Some elected officials lashed out at the tendency of highways to produce sprawl, particularly perimeter highways. And environmentalists noted that the proposed road ran through sensitive lands, including well fields that supply the region with its water.
The business community, too, was cool to the idea. Over the last year or so, business leaders have come to share Mayor Iorio’s belief that building more roads is a waste of money and only transit, including some kind of regional rail transit, could actually solve the region’s congestion problems. “With the growth of this area and the amount of traffic that we’re going to incur over the next 10 years, we have to find alternative ways to get people from point A to point B,” one leading developer told the St. Petersburg Times.

Complete article here.

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What happened to car alarms?
I may be totally wrong on this – especially since we moved to a quieter part of the West End – but I don’t think I’m hearing as many car alarms going off.  Particularly at night.  I asked a few others about this, and they concurred.
Maybe it was because car owners realized the alarms were being ignored, or reset their sensitivity, or replaced them with bars on the steering wheel, or I’m going deaf.   Whatever.  But thank you, thank you.

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It’s not clear yet whether this motion from the Greater Vancouver Regional District on elements of the Gateway Project – widening Highway 1 and twinning the Port Mann Bridge – constitutes a turning point in the debate, but it was certainly a big boost of support for those opposing the project as currently planned. (For the motion, see below.)
So far as I know, there has been no response from Kevin Falcon, the Minister of Transportation. No doubt we’ll get more of the same: decision made, we’re laying asphalt. Nor have we heard from the Premier – which is increasingly mysterious.
The GVRD’s main point is that the expansion of general-purpose traffic into the Valley undermines the direction of regional plan – of which Gordon Campbell was an author. It looks like his legacy will not be a more sustainable region, but just the opposite: a web of freeways from Squamish to Hope to South Surrey that will lock a generation into wasteful transportation modes and urban development at exactly the wrong moment in history. The fact that he has nothing of consequence to say about climate change is another indication of, perhaps, denial, more likely a fear of the risk involved in changing direction.  Sad.
Here’s the motion that will go into the minutes to be approved at a subsequent board meeting. The last paragraph, which “strongly opposes the freeway expansion project and twinning of the Port Mann Bridge” was the part added by Vancouver Councillor Suzanne Anton. That’s the part that counts.

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The GVRD has politely asked the Province whether it would like to talk about our future. It wants to know whether the Province is truly committed to sustainability (one of the Premier’s Five Great Goals) in its rush to widen Highway 1 and twin the Port Mann Bridge.
On September 12th, the Land Use and Transportation Committee accepted the recommendations of a staff report that clearly identified the problem with the Gateway Project: there are no strategies to deal with its impacts. There’s no regional goods movement strategy, no transportation demand management, no mitigation for the land-use impacts, and no cost-sharing for alternatives.
For me, the best part of the report was the exposure of how the Gateway Program disingenuously used the GVRD’s own model to justify its project. The provincial staff and consultants used a modified version of the GVRD’s own Growth Management Scenario to forecast traffic to 2031. And while they acknowledged the connection beween road improvements and development patterns, they concluded the land-use impacts could not be estimated. It’s all up to the municipalities, you see. And so they based their forecasts on the assumption that the bridge and highway widenings would have no real effect.
Let me explain what’s really going on here. The Province knows that when the bridge and highway are widened, it will unleash forces that will sprawl across the green fields of the Fraser Valley with auto-dominated development. That’s what has happened with every other bridge we’ve ever built in the Lower Mainland. Only the Province doesn’t want to have to admit that such development will fill up all the new road space with more congestion – as it has every other time – thus defeating the whole purpose of Gateway. And it will never, ever acknowledge this inevitability in a report.
So it’s positioning the municipalities to take the hit. Even though the regional plan is opposed to more general-purpose highway capacity into the valley – for the very reason that it will undermine the plan – the Province is going to go ahead and build it, and then blame the municipalities for the consequences which it refuses to predict.
The GVRD is asking for “a provincial commitment to provide adequate mitigation and compensation for the impacts of the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1 projects on agricultural lands, regional parks and ecologically sensitive areas.” It wants to develop “an appropriate regional growth strategy which ensures the Gateway Program has minimal negative impacts on the desired pattern of land use in Greater Vancouver.”
That’s the nice, polite way of putting it.
We’re talking about the destruction of a half century of wise planning, of the legacy of our regional plans, including “Creating Our Future” which Gordon Campbell pioneered. We’re talking about one of the last chances to avoid screwing up the Lower Mainland. Ironically, we’re talking about whether, after several billion dollars, the Gateway Project itself will deliver what it promises.
That is – if the Province is willing to talk.

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August 20, 2006

Here’s a revealing editorial from the Langley Times

Caught up in the congestion, Seattle experience shows advantage of rapid transit

By Frank Bucholtz
Aug 16 2006

On many occasions, I have stood up to support expansion of Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge.
I continue to do so. There is too much traffic now to delay any longer. However, an experience last week reinforced the importance of ensuring that rapid transit be a part of expansion of the bridge.
At the Gateway Project open house, many Langley residents said they supported the bridge expansion, but also wanted to see rapid transit built down the freeway at the same time. Green Party leader Adriane Carr, who opposes the bridge expansion, also calls for rapid transit down the freeway, with plentiful park and ride lots.
My experience? Last Wednesday, a group of us attended the Real Madrid-D.C. United soccer game at QWest Field in downtown Seattle.
I researched driving, transit and parking options on the Internet, and found that there was a free park and ride at Northgate Shopping Centre in north Seattle, just off Interstate 5. A bus from there would take us directly to the field, while making stops throughout downtown Seattle.
The park and ride lot was easy to find, and parking was plentiful. However, traffic was badly congested on the freeway from a point north of Everett until well past the downtown area, so we didn’t arrive at the lot until just after 6 p.m. No problem — the game was at 8.
It’s important to note that the freeway is four lanes wide (in each direction) from Everett into Seattle. It has been constantly widened over the years, but congestion has followed just as quickly. (Emphasis mine.)
 
The bus we were to take was 20 minutes late arriving at Northgate — likely because of congestion. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. The articulated bus (filled with riders) travelled downtown on the freeway, so we were moving at a crawl amidst the congested traffic.
We finally arrived at the field at 7:30 p.m.
The bus stop for the ride back was quite easy to find. But the traffic congestion because of the game (which attracted 66,000 fans) and a Mariners’ game at the same time was so intense that the bus, which only runs once an hour at that time, was 15 minutes late getting to the stop. It was now 11:20 p.m.
We arrived back at Northgate fairly quickly. But the fun wasn’t over yet. At 12:30 a.m., we got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam between Lynnwood and Everett, because two of the four northbound lanes were closed for paving. It took an hour to get through that mess, because there was far too much traffic at that hour for two lanes to handle.
Had there been a rapid transit line along I-5, from Everett into downtown Seattle, all this could have been avoided. The transit system would not be subject to the vagaries of congestion.
Seattle has chosen to expand its freeway system steadily, as it has grown. The expansion of transit, particularly on rail lines, has come much more slowly. There is now a commuter rail service between Everett and Tacoma, but mainly during rush hour. Most transit is in the form of buses, and they get caught up in the long line-ups of mainly single-occupant cars.
Rapid transit along Highway 1 would ensure that a similar scenario doesn’t happen here.

Bad news, Frank: this scenario is going to happen here. (1) Kevin Falcon, your MLA and Minister of Highways, is determined to widen Highway 1 freeway to eight lanes. (2) There is no intent to build rapid-transit.
The important point of this article is that the writer at least recognizes it won’t work. Seattle tried. Result: “congestion has followed just as quickly.”
Presumably the logical position of the Langley Times now is that the freeway should not be widened unless rapid-transit is guaranteed.
Then we can have an important discussion about what kind of transit – and more importantly, what kind of land use and form of development – should follow.
But at the moment, South of the Fraser is heading for the worst case scenario, and a tragedy as sad as Seattle’s,

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July 19, 2006

Couldn’t say this better ….

Translink Report: Commuters will abandon transit and take cars
19 July 2006
VANCOUVER – Today the Translink board voted to support the provincial government’s Highway1/ Port Mann Bridge expansion plans, despite its own study that found transit ridership would decrease if the roadway was twinned, said the Livable Region Coalition, a group of concerned citizens, city planners, environmental organizations and transportation experts.
“This is a huge U-turn for the GVRD,” said Ian Bruce, climate change campaigner with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We’re heading down the same congested road as cities like Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, and Toronto.”
If the highway1/Port Mann project goes ahead as planned, Translink staff stated, ridership on the SkyTrain Expo line would decline by as much as 500 trips during the morning rush hour, while the proposed Evergreen Line would lose as much as 5% of its potential commuters. Construction of the Evergreen Line is already in jeopardy due to a lack of funding commitments from the B.C. government. A forecast of lower ridership numbers as a result of Hwy1/Port Mann expansion means operating costs for this line would be more expensive than budgeted for….
“Putting a priority on more roads makes future rapid transit projects like the Evergreen Line less feasible, if not impossible,” said David Fields, Transportation Campaigner with Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC).
The project has yet to go through an environmental assessment and will go before the GVRD board this fall.

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