NWEP hosting AGM and Energy Resiliency and Energy Transition Planning Forum

2011 NWEP AGM Poster
2011 NWEP AGM Poster

Never heard of energy resiliency or energy transition planning?  Neither had I until a few weeks ago, however will become a growing topic of importance in New Westminster over the coming years.

New Westminster Environmental Partners (NWEP) would like to invite the public to learn more at a forum on Energy Resiliency and Energy Transition Planning on Monday December 5th. This forum will be preceded by the NWEP’s Annual General Meeting and election of directors for 2012. The AGM will start at 6:00 with the public forum presentations starting after 6:30pm. The event will take place at the New Westminster River Market.

The economy is foremost in most people’s minds these days as news of a possible financial meltdown in the European Union mingle with the spectre of out-of-control debt in the USA, and uncertainty how these events might impact Canada’s export-based economy. Just below the surface is the awareness of ever increasing energy prices. While the prospects for the   development of new energy sources remain good, more of these new supplies will go towards the growing appetite in developing countries, leaving ever-depleting traditional sources on which our economy has depended. The environmental costs of these new sources of energy – tar sands extraction, natural gas fracking, pipelines and tankers, – are significant, though typically out of sight of consumers. Yet, the bill has yet to come in for our green house gas emissions, and their impacts on climate change. The net effect is the end of traditional sources of cheap, abundant and reliable energy to power our economy into the next generation. We will be less able to control the price and impacts of our own energy supply. The resulting social impacts of energy uncertainty range from the cost of living, quality of life and the types of employment which are generally available.

Energy is at the heart of the sustainability agenda promoted by the NWEP and binds sustainability’s three pillars of environment, economy, and society. Increasingly, policy makers are speaking of the need for “energy resiliency” in our society, and the need to plan an orderly transition to a less energy intensive economy. In 2011 the City of New Westminster embarked upon a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP). The CEEP aims to put in place programs and practices which enable residents, businesses and the City Corporation to reduce their energy consumption and green house gas emissions over the next 20 years to significantly below 2007 levels while at the same time growing in population, employment and business activity. The impacts of such a plan can have a profound influence on how we live, move about, carry out business and the types of employment we might find in the City 20 years from now.

The NWEP supports the City’s CEEP developments and would like to promote Energy Resiliency and Energy Transition Planning as topics to engage and promote in 2012. For our AGM public forum we have invited two local speakers with significant experience on energy, energy policy and energy transition solutions. Together our speakers have considerable experience on transportation and building energy use, by far the two greatest demands for energy and sources of green house gas emissions in New Westminster.

Leading the evening will be Stuart Ramsey, a transportation engineer with over 25 years of experience working in the private and public sectors and has focused on urban transportation issues in Metro Vancouver for several years. Mr. Ramsey was involved with research for a local municipal report which was the first “peak oil” report to be received by any government in Canada. He is a regular speaker on transportation topics.

The second speaker will be Steven Bishop, a curriculum developer and instructor with the Building Energy and Resource Management Program at Douglas College, and a consultant for sustainable building practices. Mr. Bishop has 35 years experience in the building industry in roles ranging from residential builder to commercial and institutional construction project management. He is an accredited professional LEED sustainable building advisor and is currently involved with designing the curriculum for the Provincial Instructors Diploma program for sustainable building advisors.

The presentations will be followed by Q&A and open discussion about the evening’s topics.

To learn more about NWEP and other issues we’re addressing visit our website at http://nwep.ca

First you vote, then you party! Vote Party May 2 at the Heritage Grill

The Vote Party (AKA Green Drinks: Election Edition) will be held Monday May 2, 2011 at the Heritage Grill starting at 5:30.
The Vote Party (AKA Green Drinks: Election Edition) will be held Monday May 2, 2011 at the Heritage Grill starting at 5:30.

For a second month in a row NWEP and Tenth to the Fraser will be teaming up to host a special Election Edition of the popular New Westminster Green Drinks.

The event will be held on a special night, Monday May 2nd (election night), from 5:30-late at The Heritage Grill Back Room, New Westminster.

You may be alone in the voting booth, but when it’s all done you’re welcome to join us in raising a glass as we watch the election results roll in. If you think you’d like to come, please RSVP via Facebook or leave a comment to let us know so the Grill can plan for extra staff if necessary.

Even if you can’t make it out to this fun night, NWEP and Tenth to the Fraser still urge everyone eligible to get out there and vote! It’s your right which people are literally dying elsewhere in the world to share.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the first Election Edition Green Drinks two weeks ago, it was a fantastic night with great engagement between voters and the candidates. We’ll definitely be examining this format of event for future election.


Transit cuts coming to New West

This isn't the first time creeping service cuts have led to the extinction of a New Westminster bus route, does anyone remember the 108 Eighth Ave which slowly was cut into oblivion?
This isn't the first time creeping service cuts have led to the extinction of a New Westminster bus route, does anyone remember the 108 Eighth Ave which slowly was cut into oblivion?

Translink has been undergoing a “service rationalization” process for the past year. This is part of a complete service review the Provincial government has mandated before any consideration is given to approving other revenue streams for Translink.  Until now, this has been a fairly abstract concept when it came to transit services on the road, however as we are about to learn, “rationalization” means cuts to basic services in New Westminster.

On the surface the cuts may look fairly benign: reductions in early morning and evening service levels when buses are nearly empty. However, if one views transit as a holistic system,  these cuts undermine the overall viability of the public transportation system in New Westminster.

The planned “rationalization” will see several local bus routes reduced to 60-minute service in the off hours (101, 154 and 155, as well as smaller cuts to the 123 and Community Shuttle conversion of half the 112). People who rely on transit to actually get places will tell you instead of reducing to once an hour, you might as well save even more money and not run a bus at all, particularly in a city the size of New Westminster where one could walk clear across the city in that amount of time. You’ve instantly eliminated all the casual trips and relegated bus service to only those who can’t afford any other means of transportation, or are physically unable to walk any distance.

Case in point: the shift worker who is coming home from their job in the evening is now faced with a 60-minute wait if they miss their connection by a minute (and heaven forbid if it’s a woman waiting alone at a dark bus stop for an hour). Given this challenge, this worker is far more likely to drive to work, if they can even afford to do so. Transit, for this worker, is no longer an option. You now have a new driver on the road in the afternoon going to their job, adding to congestion and polluting GHGs in to the air.

Or the couple out for dinner with their friends, trying to be responsible by not driving in light of the potential shared a bottle of wine. With a 60-minute wait on their journey home they are much more likely to elect to drive, again contributing to congestion and putting all road users at risk should they misjudge their wine intake over the evening. Every trip home in the evening by a bus rider is a trip taken to somewhere earlier in the day. And let’s be realistic, with the suburban nature of where these “rationalized” routes go, these are going to be riders on their way home from somewhere.

From a transit planning perspective you can see the rationale: 5 people on a bus every 30 minutes, if you make it every 60 minutes that’s 10 people per bus. That logic may work for busy urban routes with short headways; riders will hardly notice a shift from a bus every 8 minutes to a bus every 10 minutes, and they’ll be packed in a little tighter when the bus does arrive. But when you’re talking anything over 30 minutes service it is completely unrealistic to think you’ll maintain all these passengers. Your ridership will decrease at all times of the days because riders won’t be able to depend on the route whenever they need it, the viability of the whole route will be at risk.

The sad part about these cuts is they’re not even the result of overall system cuts. Instead, there is a shift of service hours from one part of the region to another. We’re taking from Peter to pay Paul, while the appetite of both Peter and Paul are increasing. Rather than build strong transit intergrated and reliable system across the whole region, Translink and the Province have mandated we have a set number of service hours that does not increase with our exploding population and transit usage. We are turning a mediocre transit system across Metro Vancouver into a completely unreliable one for most of the region.

At the same time that Translink is diluting our regional transit services by not keeping up with growing demand, they’re committing hundreds of millions of dollars to boondoggle projects such as the United Boulevard Extension (a road expansion that directly competes with existing transit infrastructure, and a project Translink can’t even afford even if it were approved) and the Golden Ears Bridge (which has failed to meet traffic expectations, and will now cost millions in pay-out to guarantee the profit of the private partner, draining much-needed funds from other operations). Meanwhile, the Evergreen Line remains unfunded and unbuilt nearly two decades after it was first planned.

If Translink is serious about meeting it’s mode shift goals and reducing vehicles on our roads, they, the Board, and the Mayors Council must take a serious look at their priorities. The idea of a zero-growth transit system in a region growing by thousands of residents per month while simultaneously funding unneeded and unaffordable road building mega-projects, is a serious misjudgement. Metro Vancouver deserves better and New Westminster deserves better, and we need our mayor and council to send a strong message that any cuts to New Westminster bus services are unacceptable. We need to be growing public transit, not shrinking and diluting it.

The United Boulevard Extension is back!

Straight and relatively free flowing Lougheed and Trans-Canada Hwy versus narrower, curing, traffic light filled United Blvd
Straight and relatively free flowing Lougheed and Trans-Canada Hwy versus narrower, curing, traffic light filled United Blvd
We’ve all seen the movie before. Just when the village was taking a breath, confident that after a long struggle they’d finally killed the monster… Surprise! It’s still alive!

For those who haven’t yet heard, Translink is back with a new round of consultations on the Highway Nobody Wants.  The first in a series of United Boulevard Extension workshops is this Saturday, 9:30am-12pm at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall, 318 Keary Street.

More public consolation was one of New Westminster city council’s requirements for Translink when it put the brakes on the project earlier this year. So good for Translink in organizing this very comprehensive series of workshops to engage citizens on this large infrastructure project. They’re planning a series of 6 half-day workshops that will really take the public through from their concerns to visioning alternative designs.

Unfortunately, the other requirement Council put on Translink was not embraced by Translink: that the North Fraser Perimeter Road be planned and built as a whole project, not a piecemeal with the United Boulevard Extension being built years (or decades) prior to the rest. Which raises the question of why is Translink dragging it’s poor staff members to what are probably very expensive consultations for a project that simply won’t be approved by New Westminster because it still doesn’t meet their clearly-stated requirements? It seems like a fool’s errand, and a waste of money; something Translink isn’t exactly rolling in right now.

New Westminster Environmental Partners’ transportation sub-committee met last weekend to discuss the upcoming workshops, and every time we think about and discuss this project, new questions continue to pop up.

We began discussing this project as part of the bigger picture of the Gateway Project, and in relation to the King Edward Overpass project. By our count, when all these projects are completed, there will be 16 lanes of road running parallel to United Boulevard only a few hundred metres away. That’s 10 on the Trans-Canada Highway and 6 on Lougheed: an enormous increase in capacity.

It is also apparent looking at a map that these three roads are designed quite differently. Highway 1 is a straight, wide, with no traffic lights slowing vehicle free-flow (one of Translink’s stated reasons why they didn’t like “Option A” for the UBE is because it involved a traffic light). Lougheed Highway (note the word highway in it’s name) is another wide, straight road with few traffic lights. United Boulevard, on the other hand, is relatively narrow, barely wide enough for 4 lanes, and definitely not wide enough to accommodate the bicycle and pedestrian improvements Translink has promised. It’s also quite curvy, with a significant number of traffic lights, poor sight lines, and perpendicular driveways emerging on to it. It’s a local access road, not a connector road for hundreds of trucks per day. And with all the driveways emerging on to it, it would become a very dangerous road with a significant increase in car and truck traffic, unless all the businesses along United are willing to have their driveways closed off. We’ve all seen the traffic back-ups just to dump trash at Wastetech!

Wide, straight Lougheed Highway, this looks more like a truck route.
Wide, straight Lougheed Highway, this looks more like a truck route.
So why route the North Fraser Perimeter Road, a purportedly regional truck through-fare, along United Boulevard?  At this point the NFPR west of Mary Hill is just a grey line on a map, nothing’s been built. It would certainly be a lot safer and cheaper to shift that grey line to one of the two recently upgraded, wide, relatively free-flowing roads parallel to United Boulevard!

Narrower United Blvd full of driveways and traffic light, not ideal for free flowing traffic.
Narrower United Blvd full of driveways and traffic light, not ideal for free flowing traffic.
But what about Braid and Brunette?  The choke point Translink keeps telling us about?  The light causes traffic to back up (or acts as a valve for traffic in to New West some might say) and prevents it from reaching these wide, straight roads that are being built just across the border in Coquitlam. Wouldn’t, logic suggest we first try to fix the intersection?

Another observation that came out of the meeting was how this traffic light operates. When a train passes through the intersection, traffic in all directions comes to a grinding halt. You might ask “why does all the traffic stop when the train only intersects one side of Braid?” The simple answer is, for safety reasons, when a train approaches the level crossing the lights automatically go in to green for only the cars exiting the Sapperton Industrial Area, in order to clear the cars any vehicles that which are illegally blocking the crossing. Then the lights stay that way, forever, or until the train passes, whichever comes first.

Now we have identified one of the main “flow problems” at the intersection beside a very busy rail corridor: for safety reasons the cars illegally stopped on the crossing need to be cleared. However, after the crossing is clear, can we not get the traffic on Brunette flowing again? Get those cars and trucks over to the new, wide, straight freeway, rather than sitting there watching a train go past beside them.

Translink continues to say this $160-180 million project is about getting traffic flowing (except when they say it is about “goods movement”), but we contend there are cheaper, less invasive ways to do so, without even considering the previous discussion about reducing demand rather than trying to build our way out of congestion. With their ongoing tunnel vision regarding the United Boulevard Extension, it seems the only “flow problem” Translink is trying to solve here is the flow of $65 million of your Federal Tax Dollars.

United Boulevard Extension: What’s next? (Part 2)

A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road? Photo: Matthew Laird
A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road? Photo: Matthew Laird

Today in part 2 of our series we ask the question: Can the North Fraser Perimeter Road, creating a four lane truck route through New Westminster even be built?

How will that work? Let’s examine the feasibility of the City’s mitigation wish list. A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road?

There have been mentions of stacking the roads – how does that fit with Provincial dangerous goods regulations? There’s a reason why dangerous goods aren’t allowed in the Massey Tunnel or Cassiar Connector.

There’s been talk of pressuring the railways to remove one of their tracks – that still only frees up one more lane of traffic, we’re still not up to four if we want to maintain access to the retail fronts along Front Street.

What about behind The Interurban and Keg, there isn’t physically enough room to put four lanes between the existing building and the railway tracks. Are they going to shave a corner off this newly restored historic building for a truck route?

All of these are questions that have to be answered in order to make the City’s dream mitigation a reality, and despite years of talking about the NFPR and Front Street with ample opportunity to address these challenges they all remain unanswered. And now we’re asking Translink to suddenly plan and fund this route as one singular project, with adequate public consultation, before the March federal deadline? Really?

2011 is going to be an important year for transportation in New Westminster; the City is updating their Master Transportation Plan, the blueprint for transportation in the City. It’s up to all of us to push the City to get off the fence on these issues. If we truly want a four lane truck route down Front Street, show us the plans on how it will work. How will they make it all fit or which businesses and residents are they willing to sacrifice to shoehorn the road in there? Or should we look at alternative ideas and end the road building paradigm? The time for vague hand waving is over, we need a solid plan on how we want to see transportation in our city evolve over the next decades, the politicians have to get off the fence and make their opinions known.

Getting out of the car mentality is hard, for 50 years this is how we’ve designed and built our cities. We’ve allowed developments where eventual transit service which must follow will be difficult and expensive. As oil prices rise, the idea of cheap living in the burbs will quickly evaporate. With climate change and peak oil the days of motordom are numbered. Even if the fabled electric car becomes a reality we’ve already seen the private car paradigm doesn’t scale. On a recent trip to Seattle it occurred to me, throughout my entire life, over 3 decades, any time I’ve been to Seattle, I-5 has always been under expansion and yet it’s still gridlock during rush hour. The simple reality is no city, anywhere, has ever built themselves out of congestion. And if we think we have the magic plan to do so, we’d be very rich selling it to cities around the world.

But what are the alternatives when it comes to the NFPR? Parallel to the NFPR are three alternative transportation corridors. The Fraser River. The rail lines. And Skytrain. Could the travel demand that Translink projects for the NFPR be satisfied by shifting some of the current and future demand towards this existing infrastructure at a savings of over over $1 billion dollars to the taxpayer?

Studies say, yes. A report on Short Sea Shipping has stated there is a good opportunity to reduce emissions and traffic by sending goods by barge. With the completion of the Evergreen Line, we’ll have the equivalent capacity of a 10 lane freeway between Coquitlam and New Westminster. And the Langley-Lougheed rapid bus the province has promised upon completion of the Port Mann Bridge again has the opportunity to remove a significant number of vehicles from the road at a much more modest cost.

The stumbling block in creating an integrated goods and people movement system is there is no single body charged with creating it. Fraser River issues are a matter for the Port Authority, Translink has admitted it’s a good idea but has no mandate to get involved. Rail transportation is a Federal issue and the domain of private railways. The NFPR and Evergreen Line are a Translink issues. The Gateway project and Highway 1 are a Provincial issue. Zoning on where we put sprawling, low-density developments and business parks are a municipal matter. There is no coordination in creating a unified development and transportation plan, and hence we have the chaos and missed opportunities we see today. In this sea of competing interests and jurisdictions its important that we have a clear vision of what works for our City and what doesn’t. Its up to us to champion a workable transportation system for our City while respecting the need to move people and goods throughout the region.

But the obvious conclusion from all of this is if New Westminster council truly believes in protecting New Westminster’s liveability and IF we’re committed to building the NFPR as one unified project, keeping a standalone UBE on life-support for the sake of some Federal dollars which are pennies in the full project price tag makes no sense. Let it go and let’s start making a real plan for the future.

We have to have the hard conversation; can we make a 4 lane truck highway fit down Front Street? If the answer is no, as I suspect it will be, the city must stop dancing on the fence about conditional support for the NFPR only if unrealistic criteria are met. Development in our downtown and waterfront have been held hostage for far too long, we either need plans on how the NFPR will fit in to downtown New Westminster or to put our foot down and say no thank you, but you’re welcome to take one of the several other modes of transportation our City is fortunate enough to have on offer.

United Boulevard Extension: what’s next? (Part 1)

Photo: Matthew Laird
Front Street. Photo: Pat Johnstone

We won; we stopped the flood gates of the United Boulevard Extension from opening and releasing the hordes of new commuter traffic on to already chocked New Westminster streets. Or did we?

New Westminster council has asked TransLink to continue consulting, designing, and to request an extension for the Federal money committed to the project. That sounds like a green light to me; despite a lot of public posturing by mayor and council that they wouldn’t support the project they haven’t actually said no to the UBE, they’re just tinkering with the details. A, B, C, or D are out, but something else might be acceptable.

But the lingering questions which have never been answered still remain. What about Front Street? What about the Queensborough Bridge which is already backed up during rush hour halfway down Stewardson Way? Where will all this new traffic the UBE enables actually go? How will TransLink ensure a route which is supposed to be for goods movement doesn’t get clogged and gridlocked with commuter traffic? The City and TransLink have danced around these issues but never actually directly addressed them. Sadly because of policy or in some cases geography they simply can’t, which should ring loud alarm bells for residents.

To their credit council has again asked that a UBE extension be tied in to Front Street mitigation, that the NFPR shouldn’t be done piecemeal with a decade or more gap between sections such as the UBE and Front Street. Fair enough. However the key in all this is what a full project with proper mitigation will look like. This is the detail the City has never defined, there’s only been vague hand waving about plinths, tunnels, “mitigation” and a few pretty drawings. In fact in the few details that have been released there’s been conflicting plans and flip flops with issues such as the future of Front Street as a retail corridor. A detailed plan on how such a project would be designed, how it would affect the existing Front Street, how it would fit in with newer City approved projects like The Interurban, have never been shown. The last estimate I’ve heard from a source inside City Hall about 5 years ago was over half a billion dollars to get everything on the City’s wish list, a number which is obviously far larger now.

Now that TransLink has been granted a 3 month extension on the Federal money, this raises the question, why didn’t TransLink produce a complete plan when they announced they were proceeding with the UBE project last fall? New Westminster council’s December 2010 motion on the UBE reaffirms their 2007 position that Front Street mitigation must be part of the UBE project. It was a key requirement when New Westminster agreed to engage in the UBE process more than 3 years ago. If they couldn’t produce such a plan after 3 years, why should we expect them to now produce a plan in just 3 months?

Which leaves two options. Staff (both in TransLink and City) will waste hundreds of hours developing a new UBE plan which will never be approved by the City because it simply isn’t possible to plan and fund a project costing well over half billion dollar by March. Or City Council will drop the demand for Front Street mitigation as part of the UBE, approve a new UBE design and the flood gates will be opened with nowhere for the traffic to go. Which is it going to be?

But let’s talk about the realities of the entire NFPR and its funding. What will it cost and how will it be funded? The project New Westminster is demanding, when all the pieces are put together (UBE, Front Street, Columbia/Front intersection, fixing the Queensborough again) will likely come in well over a billion dollars. If you include a new Pattullo Bridge, we’re talking potentially up to $2 billion. In any projects of such magnitude (and we’re told of strategic importance for goods movement in the eyes of higher levels government) both the Federal and Provincial government would most certainly be at the table.

In the scenario of a billion dollar project, which is what New Westminster council currently demanding, whether they realize it or not, as a condition of approving the UBE, a tiny $65 million contribution by the federal government is meaningless. If council is going to stick to its guns for an all-at-once project, why get worked up about $65m? We’re talking about a much bigger pot that needs to be filled to complete the whole project. Regardless, there is only one taxpayer, whether it’s from the Federal, Provincial or Translink, it’s still our money, and we still pay the bill. The quibble is over which set of politicians get to be the bad guys in having to find the money and which get to be the good guys in cutting the ribbon. They’re playing a game involving their egos and political careers using our money.

But lets say we could come up with funding in the ball park of $2 billion, what are the physical realities of building a 4 lane truck route through New Westminster? In the second part of this article we’ll examine the limitations of building a road through the heart of the oldest City in Western Canada.