Governance & Politics
July 9, 2012

“The message couldn’t be clearer: transit is not to be taken seriously …”

My Business in Vancouver column – Part 1:

TransLink has no more money. Gas-tax revenue is down, there’s no new source of funding from the province, no more property tax from the municipalities and not even approval for an anticipated fare increase.

Indeed, one wonders whether Martin Crilly, the TransLink Commissioner, realized he was giving cover to all the authority’s critics when he turned down the fare increase and sealed TransLink’s fate: it was now “officially” inefficient and would have to find any new money internally.

Wham!

That took any expansion plans for already-promised transit off the table.

So why is TransLink moving forward on planning for a new Pattullo Bridge that will be one of the widest structures in Western Canada?

Before the Golden Ears Bridge opened, there were nine lanes across the river. When the new Port Mann Bridge opens, there will be 19 lanes. With a new six-lane Pattullo, that would be 25 lanes – all for cars and trucks.

As experience with Golden Ears has shown, tolls might even reduce demand below conservative projections – this at a time when vehicle use by the younger generation is dropping, energy prices are volatile and every regional and local plan has sustainability as a priority.

The message couldn’t be clearer: transit is not to be taken seriously, especially south of the Fraser. Suburban growth will be mainly car-dependent sprawl. Regardless of our visions and plans – and even the promises (like express buses on a widened Highway 1) – the Fraser Valley will be built out like a typical American urban region: freeways, arterials and parking lots.

The Lower Mainland will consist of two overlapping and conflicting urban environments: car dependence where growth is greatest, and then places like Vancouver and New Westminster, where the freeways stop.

Part 2 tomorrow: Questions for TransLink on the Pattullo Bridge, and for Surrey.

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Chris Bryan, editor of the New Westminster NewsLeader, tweets:

Wonder what @MayorWatts and #Surrey might think of this Pattullo pitch, inspired largely by @pricetags comments.

His column is here, with this proposal:

… what I propose is a compromise.

Let’s keep the existing bridge, but rehabilitate it. Make the lanes wider and safer, as was done in 2001 with the Lions Gate Bridge. Add ample cycling and pedestrian sidewalks. And paint it, too. Make it look pretty.

TransLink estimates this would cost about $200 million.

That’s about $800 million less than the cost to build an entirely new bridge.

And now, I propose we immediately gift that $800 million to Surrey, to give it what it desperately needs. Better transit. Fast track light rail between Surrey City Centre and Guildford, get the rapidbus plans for King George Highway and over the new Port Mann back on the table.

With a new Port Mann Bridge doubling capacity in the coming months, my guess is that if we put our new money into transit south of the Fraser, we’ll soon find ourselves in a situation where everyone wins.

Sincerely,

Your New West Neighbour

Don’t know about Mayor Watts, but I find it inconceivable that TransLink could proceed with (or Surrey support) plans for an expanded Pattullo but not be out vigorously fighting for expanded transit.

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“… at his best” – really?  Those aren’t my words, so you can be the judge. 

My thanks to Daniel and Keith and 24 Hours for putting on the forum where I had a chance to speak.  I feel more strongly than ever that the decision on the Pattullo Bridge will be critical for the future of this region.  For all the reasons mentioned below.

Gordon Price, former TransLink board member and present Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University discusses the TransLink’s proposal for a 6-lane replacement for the Pattullo Bridge.

His conclusion, it is a really bad idea at a time when TransLink can’t even afford the transit service to Surrey already promised, never mind the rapid transit lines envisioned for King George Boulevard and the Fraser Highway.

The forum was held in the La Perla Ballroom New Westminster’s River Market, with views across the Fraser River to Surrey’s historic Bridgeview neighbourhood. As you can see on the video, it was sponsored by the 24 Hours transit newspaper.

More here.

UPDATE from CKNW:

As Translink and the City of New Westminster battle over replacing the Pattullo Bridge, the Province is prepared to play peacemaker.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom concedes New West has a point over traffic clogged roads with a new 6-lane span, “Part of the discussion I had with them were based on that. What we could do to actually bring the parties to the table to make sure. Because you are right, bringing a six lane bridge into gridlock on one side of it doesn’t make a great deal of sense. So, is there work that has to be done there? I believe there is but that is through discussions that have yet to take place.”

Lekstrom says he is willing to play a role to bring both the City and Translink to the table for frank discussions on the Pattullo proposal. He adds as part of Metro Vancouver, New Westminster must face up to the traffic movement within the region.

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Chris Bryan at the New Westminster News Leader did good coverage on the community meeting to discuss the future of the Patullo Bridge on Wednesday evening: .

It was touted as a chance to explore what could be done with the old Pattullo Bridge once a new bridge was completed.

The event, held Wednesday night at New Westminster’s River Market, was organized by local residents Keith Mackenzie and Daniel Fontaine, who hoped to discuss visionary ideas such as a bridge re-purposed for restaurants and cafés, a linear park, or even housing—judging by the preview posts on the event’s Facebook page.

Instead, the event was immediately gripped by what are perhaps the more pressing questions of how will the Pattullo be replaced, where, and should it be scrapped altogether.

TransLink wants to build a new, six-lane bridge near the old span’s current location by 2018. New Westminster residents have voiced strong concerns about the impact this larger bridge could have on livability, while the City of Surrey is clear that a six-lane bridge is needed.

At Wednesday’s event, Gordon Price, director of The City Program at SFU compared the current situation to the opening of the original, five-lane Port Mann Bridge in 1964, which paved the way for rapid development in the Fraser Valley. This bridge created communities that were car-dependent, he said.

“I’m not going to beat up on the car or the truck—they are absolutely indispensable,” said Price. “It’s the dependent part that is the problem.”

Price and fellow speaker Anthony Perl, an SFU professor, said the current discussion about the bridge should look to the future, and the changes in energy prices and people’s habits that are already underway. It would be unfair to criticize the decision makers in 1964 who decided to build the original Port Mann, Price said, but “are we going to lock the next generation into further car dependence, by not looking at other options?

“To do that today in 2012 is breathtaking.”

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