Policy & Planning
November 24, 2017

Double Decker Buses Trial Suburban Routes


From south of the Fraser River  TransLink  CEO  Kevin Desmond is acknowledging a growing “suburban demand in communities” and he’s looking at new innovative ways to make transit attractive and accessible. And he may have found a magic formula-using double-decker buses on the 351 and 601 bus routes in Delta ( hose routes are the Bridgeport Station/South Delta/Boundary Bay routes) and on trips in Langley, Surrey and White Rock.
As reported in the Delta Optimist these two buses were lent by British bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis and can seat 80 to 86 passengers, doubling the capacity of older highway buses. The trial use of these two double-decker buses will allow evaluation from a service and customer perspective, as well as being pretty nifty.
As Desmond observes “Double-decker buses have worked well in other cities, including nearby Victoria, and I have personal experience with buses like these in Seattle where they worked very well. I’m confident they’ll work well here too.”

 
 

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It was one of the most prudent decisions of the new Provincial government.  Instead of implicitly accepting the proposed ten lane bridge and decommissioning the Massey Tunnel, the new government declared they wanted to know why an overbuilt bridge on the floodplain with the most arable farm land in Canada was the preferred option. They also wanted to figure out why every member of the Mayors’ Council nixed this concept except for Delta, who stood to gain mass 20th century industrialization of the Fraser River if  the bridge went ahead.
As reported by the CBC an engineer with experience consulting on public infrastructure projects is the contracted person leading the technical review of the multi billion dollar proposed bridge. Stan Cowdell, the president of Westmar Project Advisors Inc., is expected to report back in the Spring of 2018 with his findings. Mr Cowdell was also involved in the W.R. Bennett floating bridge in Kelowna which was a private sector partnership to design, build, finance and operate the bridge.
Earlier  Claire Trevena the Transportation Minister  stated that this review would examine whether the ten lane bridge, a smaller crossing, or  different tunnel configurations would be the best option. The review will look at the existing tunnel’s  lifespan, congestion and safety concerns. All the previously produced information will be reviewed and the need for more technical work may be identified in the course of the work.
The independent technical review is expected to culminate in a report by Spring 2018.

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The Province Images
In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department, double salary dipping Provincial MLA Ian Paton thought he had a very good idea. A newly minted Liberal MLA and also  happily continuing the strange conflict of interest of being on Delta City Council,  Mr. Paton still is representing Delta’s one hand clapping for the new Massey Bridge. Instead of productively working with the new Provincial government which is overseeing an evaluation of the Massey crossing options, Mr. Paton had the time to go the Massey Tunnel and hammer in some political billboards. Seriously.
Instead of those billboards saying something constructive, those billboards contain  one-sided tired 20th century political rhetoric. Those billboards don’t say that a multi-billion dollar overbuilt bridge on the sensitive Fraser River delta is being re-evaluated, that the lack of public process and the lack of buy-in of the Mayor’s Council on the size and the location was a concern. Oh no. They embarrassingly tell drivers that they are stuck in traffic because of the current government.  The signs are also placed on property not surprisingly owned by Ron Toigo of White Spot fame, who of course would greatly benefit if his farmland was rezoned industrial due to the location of a ten lane bridge. It’s all so transparent.
As Mike Smyth in The Province observes Andrew Weaver of the Green Party notes  what many others are thinking of these billboards: “It’s hilarious. I’ve had dozens of people contacting me to say, ‘Thank you for stopping the reckless path of an unreviewed bridge that was promised out of nowhere by the Liberals.’”
It’s really time to stop thinking of the Massey crossing as a political boondoggle and evaluate it for what it truly is. No one is disputing the need for better, more efficient access across the Fraser River. Bullying tactics don’t work~and future generations living in Metro Vancouver may inherit a prudent crossing that is respectful to the existing Agricultural Land Reserve and sensitive delta conditions, or a ten lane crossing that will speed up  the industrialization of the banks of the Fraser River. It’s our choice and we need to take the time to make the right decision for future generations.
 

 

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You can learn a lot about the previous Provincial government’s Massey Bridge process by looking at how other observers view it. This article from the Windsor Star compares the Gordie Howe International Bridge project connecting the Windsor and Detroit regions to the halted George Massey bridge project in Metro Vancouver.  That six lane international bridge is estimated to cost two billion dollars and is a public-private partnership, with a suggested opening for 2022.
A community advisory group member of the Gordie Howe Bridge project noted  that the “scuttling” of that bridge could occur without sound financial backing, drawing a comparison to the George Massey bridge which ” was scrapped on the eve of construction despite years of planning, plus $66 million spent on site clearing and other preparatory work.”  
While the Windsor article describes the  Massey Bridge ten lane crossing as being built to ease metro Vancouver commuter traffic, it also describes the intent as replacing “a crumbling, four-lane tunnel feared to be at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake”,   that had a poor planning process and a lack of support from impacted communities. The article also states that local mayors were critical of the Massey Bridge which would increase congestion by throttling traffic into a four lane road.
Local Member of Parliament Peter Julian (NDP — New Westminster-Burnaby), weighs in calling the Massey Bridge plan “as “back of the napkin” thinking despite the large amount of money spent and preparation work completed.“Maybe it was a large, expensive napkin, but you had 10 lanes going into four lanes,” Julian said Friday. “There was no out (for traffic). It was absurd. It wasn’t well thought out and you had municipalities rejecting the idea.”
Ontario Member of Parliament Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor-West) for the Windsor and Detroit bridge said the two bridge projects appear eerily similar “on the surface,” but in reality are not. “One is an international bridge, the other was a provincial initiative that posed problems for a lot of municipalities which opposed the idea to begin with,” he said. “There seemed to be a lack of consultation, while we had full community consultation as part of a long public process.”
The Massey Tunnel/Bridge Crossing will be re-examined by the Provincial Government, with an expected study completed by late 2018.
 

 
 

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One more  reason for the Mayor of the Corporation of Delta supporting the Massey Bridge, despite all the other Mayors in Metro Vancouver nixing the project-Delta is getting a new casino! Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the casino debacle in Delta . This new addition will be located directly east of the  Massey Tunnel on the Delta Town and Country Inn site. The British Columbia Licensing Commission (the BCLC)   apparently made the decision “after listening to the community and the clear feedback from the Corporation of Delta that the only suitable site on which it would consider a gambling and entertainment facility at this time is the Delta Town and Country Inn.”
The commission hired a third-party consultant that “undertook a detailed analysis of this location utilizing existing player data. This analysis shows that the Delta Town and Country Inn site will capture incremental revenue, with minimal impacts to adjacent gambling facilities in Richmond, Surrey and New Westminster.” 
So why is this detrimental? As the Atlantic magazine notes, a  Canadian study found that the  75 per cent of  casino customers who gamble casually only provide 4 per cent of revenues. “A range of studies reviewed…estimated that between 40 to 60 per cent of casino revenues are earned from problem gamblers…drawn from the ranks of the vulnerable elderly.Half of casino visitors are over age 50, but casinos market themselves to the over 70 and even over 80 market, to whom gambling offers an escape from boredom and loneliness into a hypnotic zone of rapid-fire electronic stimuli.”  With more than 15 per cent of the population in Delta over 65 years of age, the new casino will have a captive market driving to the casino’s  motordom location.
Meanwhile the Richmond News reports about a theatre group that performs theatrical plays for seniors  in Richmond with only one theme-the deleterious impact of gambling. Supported by the “community engagement provider” of the B.C. Responsible and Problem Gambling Program, the plays aim to warn vulnerable and lonely seniors about the danger of gambling.
“We came up with the idea five years ago to deliver meaningful messages to the public, especially seniors, through drama. We found that seniors often have a shorter attention span, so traditional methods like lectures are not very effective on them…Things that happen to older adults might make them a vulnerable group, like retirement from work and bereavement. Also, they have access to pensions and savings, and gambling might be an attractive source of recreation for them.”
The Licensing Commission continues with the party line. “BCLC respects the authority of local governments to choose whether they want a gambling facility in their community. Throughout this process, BCLC is committed to engaging with stakeholders and the public to incorporate their feedback into these plans.” 
Delta gets another industry that is not 21st century focused, and certainly not sustainable in any way other than the 10 per cent revenues the Corporation will receive, which will be in the 1.5 to 3 million dollar range. All of this for a business that is all-consuming and only spits out their customers once they have no money.

 
 

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In truly one of the most bizarre events south of the Fraser River, the  Mayor  of the Corporation of Delta was invited to speak to the Surrey Board of Trade as part of their 2017 Surrey Environment and Business Awards. Subject?  Why the business community must force the Provincial government build a ten lane overbuilt multi-billion dollar bridge which will industrialize the banks of the  Fraser River. No mention that most of Delta’s economy is based upon trucking and transshipment, with no diversity into more 21st century businesses. Delta needs the bridge to continue their industrial economic base which is all about motordom.
As quoted in the Delta Optimist “The impacts are not just felt in Delta, but in Surrey, White Rock, Langley, even out in the valley. The replacement of the tunnel with a new bridge will relieve on of the worst traffic highway bottlenecks in Canada and save businesses and commuters millions of dollars lost as a result of congestion, accidents and travel delays” the Mayor said.
To the Surrey business community that might not know that you cannot build a ten lane bridge to solve congestion, the Mayor had an enthusiastic audience. The Mayor also trotted out the  Angus Reid survey that showed that the business community and residents supported the bridge. Without comprehensive road widening and new bridges at Oak Street, congestion at the bridge will simply transfer to other areas of Highway 99.
The clearest statement comes from the new  Provincial Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena who stated  We have talked to mayors who were very concerned that their vision for the Lower Mainland was not being recognized. As minister I think this is a responsible way to be acting when you are talking what will be, no matter what we do, whether it is a bridge, whether it is twinning the tunnel or tunnel and bridge combination, who knows what will come of this, but we are responsible with public money. We want to get this right.”

 
 

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You can feel the desperation of the Liberal party in this latest incident-someone in the defeated Liberal provincial party came up with  a crumpled document  that they are sure is from the NDP camp before the Provincial election. Even though it is not on letterhead, or has any identifying signatures or references, the opposition party has pounced on it to try to make a news story. Their story? That the NDP planned to implement the Transportation Plan as approved by the Mayors’ Council  which does not include the Massey Bridge.
This of course gives the rookie Delta MLA (who has also not given up his Councillor job in Delta) the chance to rail on about congestion in the tunnel and all those folks inconvenienced by using the tunnel, which of course is all the fault of a new government. The multi billion dollar cost of this proposed bridge is more than the cost of NASA’s Cassini project, which is now sending its last photos from space.
And as the Delta Optimist observed, “The document does not appear to be official, nor confirmed party policy. However, that didn’t stop the Liberals from accusing the government of quietly planning to kill the $3.5 billion project right off the bat despite assurances from Transportation Minister Claire Trevena”.
And the rookie MLA doing the dual job as Delta councillor continues the same rant against any reasonable evaluation of the bridge, and has not demonstrated any ability to work towards the mutual interests of the region, as expressed by the Transportation Plan approved by the metro Mayors’ Council. If anything instead of getting a reasoned rationale approach to working towards mutual interests, this MLA is distancing Delta from the rest of the region in his dual roles.
Expect to see more of this posturing, so reminiscent of the way the last Provincial government treated Metro Vancouver. Here’s to a more rationale, interest based approach that would be helpful to explore the issues and ensure that transportation concerns for the Delta part of the region are addressed.

 
 

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Back to the south of the Fraser River where the Massey Bridge is getting a serious rethink by the Province, who are evaluating whether a nearly 4 Billion dollar bridge  located on the sensitive river delta in the wrong place for regional growth is the right thing to do. As Graeme Wood in the Richmond News reports  the Mayor of Richmond Malcolm Brodie expressed gratitude for the pause, saying  “The current government appears to be listening to our concerns that we’ve been expressing over and over for the last four to five years.”
Mr. Brodie is hoping that the Province will consider a twinned tunnel to achieve eight driving lanes. Costs for a twinned tunnel or a bridge are similar, but the tunnel will preclude the port from having large ships navigate upriver. A tunnel would also get rid of the huge highway interchange planned for Steveston Highway.
The Minister of Transportation says that there “was not a thorough business case, a thorough look at all the options.”   The proposed review will  involve the Metro Vancouver mayors and  “focus on what level of improvement is needed in the context of regional and provincial planning, growth and vision, as well as which option would be best for the corridor, be it the proposed 10-lane bridge, a smaller bridge or tunnel.”
Meanwhile in Delta  the Mayor and Council headed up the “We Need A Bridge” campaign counter to the expressed vote of every other mayor in the region.  But residents are starting to notice that their new rookie MLA Ian Paton is serving two roles-he has not given up his position as councillor for the corporation of Delta, and attended the last council meeting via Skype.  The next civic election will not happen until October 2018. While Mr Paton continues in his dual roles he is also lashing out at the work stoppage  on the bridge, repeating  the earthquake in the tunnel safety scenario and reiterating the fact that the tunnel gets congestion. No mention that the congestion, like water, will just plug up closer to Vancouver with a ten lane bridge. You just can’t build your way out of congestion. It doesn’t work like that.
Mr Paton’s refusal to give up his councillor position despite being an MLA brought out a strong reaction from a resident who stated in the local paper “As a taxpayer, it is money well spent to have a by-election and it is unacceptable that Paton continues to draw a salary as councillor at the same time drawing a salary as MLA. Paton quite simply cannot function objectively in the two roles at the same time.”
The practice of dual mandate or as the British call it double jobbing is against the law in many places, but not in British Columbia-or Belgium. You can’t serve as a member of parliament and be a member of the provincial legislature.  But you can be a member of the provincial legislature and a municipal councillor.  The Province of B.C. did try to enact dual office prohibition legislation  but it did not pass a second reading.  There is one  precedent  from twenty years ago when MLA Jenny Kwan also served as a city councillor for a very limited time. But for an emerging municipality like Delta which needs critical thinking about diversifying the economy and energizing new industries, it just makes sense-two heads at two different levels of government are always better than one.

 

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Get a little bit of rain and everyone gets back to business in Vancouver where the The CBC reports on the optimism arising from Greg Moore, the chair of Metro Vancouver and the other cities that comprise this region.  Everyone knows that housing affordability and transportation are the two most important factors in every conversation about this region. The relationship with the new NDP government and the Metro Cities has been encouraging so far, in a refreshing type of way.
After dealing with the  transportation referendum debacle  for Metro Vancouver (which was part of the former premier’s election promises in 2013) the Mayors want to advance the Ten Year Mayors’ Vision they had all agreed upon (except for the Mayor of Delta) .  That plan includes increasing rapid transit in the region and replacing the aging Patullo bridge. And that time is now.
With the new Provincial government actually talking to the Mayors and with the multi-billion dollar Massey Bridge (which was unsupported in the region except by the Mayor of  Delta) on hold, there are now active talks on working together between the region and the Province  to fund the agreed upon transportation initiatives. Instead of the Mayors finding out about the Province’s transportation priorities in the newspaper, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena is following up on her  pledge to work directly with the regional municipalities on advancing their agreed upon plan. It was Mayor Mussatto of the City of North Vancouver that said it best-“The (previous) provincial government didn’t really value our input. We didn’t feel like we were playing as equals at the table.”
That appears to have changed, with more open lines of communication and a renewed interest in moving forward with the important task of making this region accessible to everyone.  As the Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore observed about working with the new Provincial government  “We have disagreements on different things, but we work through them together. If you’re sitting at the table and working together, although you might have even major disagreements on one topic, you can still work together on other topics.”
It’s a simple and direct approach for these two levels of government to advance transportation and accessibility across the region.

 
 
 

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At the end of August Angus Reid  conducted a survey of Metro Vancouver residents about their preferences for a new Massey Bridge at the Massey Tunnel crossing on the Fraser River. Remember that this survey was paid for by the Association of Consulting Engineers of B.C. and the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association. Both of these organizations would have a lot of people quickly employed if the multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge was  to be built. Indeed, that was solidly in the Liberals’ Provincial election platform-build the Massey Bridge, employ 6,000 British Columbians. Don’t ask whether the bridge is in the right place, is sustainable, overbuilt, or a threat to the estuary. It’s about jobs.
Respondents throughout the region were asked the following survey question: “As you may be aware, the provincial government has developed a plan that would see the four-lane Massey Tunnel replaced with a new, higher-capacity bridge over the Fraser River. What are your views on replacing the tunnel with a bridge?”
Now that question has a little bias-it is assuming the replacement of the existing tunnel with a new, shinier, higher performance huge bridge. Respondents were not given any other alternative. The way it was written and said will of course make folks go for the unseen shiny penny, not the existing plodding tunnel which has been so slandered by the Corporation of Delta as antiquated, congested, and dangerous. Never mind the fact that it has performed like a solid workhorse for nearly 60 years and has 80,000 daily vehicles, and that similar designs to this tunnel are still in daily use in Europe. Let’s not consider that the tunnel technology could be part of a hybrid solution of either twinning with a  new tunnel or working in concert with a  smaller new bridge.
Local press including The Vancouver Sun’s Stephanie Ip  reported the survey results, which (of course) suggested that 75 per cent of regional respondents “said they would like to see a higher-capacity bridge built to replace the aging tunnel.”  Those results were even collected by political party, showing that ” those who voted for the B.C. Liberals in the spring election were most likely to support the Liberal-launched bridge project, with 90 per cent voicing support. However, 64 per cent of those who voted NDP also support the project.”
And there’s some interesting stuff-only 37 per cent of respondents in Richmond/Delta, the people most impacted by tunnel “congestion” favoured the new bridge. Which gets us back to why this survey was even conducted in the first place-if you are asking folks farther out in  the region what they want for an efficient driving experience, of course a new bridge sounds perfect. But for Richmond and Delta drivers, the loss of Class 1 arable farmland, the degradation of the banks of the Fraser River for industrial businesses, and the honking huge size of this multi-billion dollar bridge brings up more questions about the most efficient way to support regional transportation. An overbuilt bridge in the wrong place doesn’t solve congestion. It merely moves it.
Kudos to the current Provincial government for reviewing the billion dollar Massey  bridge and working with Metro Vancouver and the Mayors’ Council to figure out what the transportation needs are on a regional basis. Let’s start planning our transit and transportation to ensure that all residents have  mobility and accessibility. Let’s ensure the  plan at the Massey crossing is truly the best fit, and considers all the options, not just an “either/or” on an overbuilt expensive 20th century bridge.

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